- Researchers at Northeastern University have visualized America’s immigration history as a tree trunk, with rings that delineate the waves and patterns in migration.
- The colours represent groups of immigrants from different regions: Europe is green, Latin America is orange, Africa is red, Asia is pink, the Middle East is purple, and Oceania and Canada are blue.
- In an animated version, the metaphorical tree trunk can be seen growing and evolving as the years tick by.
After more than 200 years of immigration, America’s population has evolved into a vast mosaic of nearly 330 million residents, whose ancestors hail from every corner of the world.
For researchers at Northeastern University, visualising the nearly unfathomable magnitude and intricacy of the issue was a challenge that could only be symbolized by a living organism: the rings of a growing tree.
In a simulated dendrochronology, also known as the scientific method of dating tree rings, data visualisation professor Pedro Cruz and journalism professor John Wihbey used the metaphor of tree growth to map out the country’s history of immigration using census data.
They even broke the immigration patterns down state by state:
Cruz told Business Insider that he first conceived the project last year while visualising population flows into the US.
“I work with metaphors in visualisation, and experimenting with new figurative ways to make information visible and evocative,” he said. “It came as a personal reaction to some discourses that we find echoed in some media nowadays: I wanted to make something that celebrates immigration and sheds an integrative light on it, while showing how long it has been around in the specific case of the US.”
Those patterns and trends within America’s immigration history are clear from the colours and shapes of the rings – in the 1800s, immigrants almost exclusively came from Europe, represented on the tree by green dots.
“For this I though a lot about the metaphor, and found that the tree rings metaphor works perfectly for this discourse – it shows an organism that took hundreds of years to grow, that was built on a large set of individual contributions (being the cells, the immigrants),” Cruz said.
Throughout the 20th Century, as more migrants came from Latin America, the tree rings skew southward and change to yellow dots to visualise the evolution. In more recent years, as Asian immigration has skyrocketed, the rings shift westward and the dots turn pink.
See an animation showing the last two centuries, showing the tree rings growing and evolving as the years tick by:
- Read more of INSIDER’s immigration coverage:
- Denmark wants to isolate its ‘unwanted’ migrants on a remote island that once housed contagious animals
- 81 migrant children have been forcibly separated from their parents since June, despite Trump’s executive order
- Nancy Pelosi says funding for Trump’s ‘immoral, ineffective, expensive’ border wall is off the table
- Conditions are so dire at the US-Mexico border that migrants are getting sick and contracting lice and chicken pox
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.