Rerouting: A Brief History of Counter-Vis

Lab Reports, Timelines, Visualization


If information visualizations are stories, there is a single type of author that always hits the Bestseller list  — usually the “wisest,” most Western and whitest climb to the top (based on their merit, of course) to expound their “unbiased” visual narrative as true. In timeline form, “Rerouting … a short history of counter-vis” is an adventure into the underbelly of mainstream visualization. I define these graphics as “counter-vis,” an expansion on Peluso’s (1996) notion of “counter-maps,” or a “ map-making process whereby communities appropriate the state’s techniques of formal mapping and make their own maps as alternatives to those used by the government,” to include other non-cartographic forms of revision. Counter-vis are argumentative in nature and despite their form or subject, they all function to dismantle indiscriminate narratives by revealing the other side. In the timeline “Rerouting…,”  I attempt to illustrate a revisionist history of visualizations, those not found the glossy pages of your elementary atlas.

Materials & Process

I produced “Rerouting …” with TimelineJS from KnightLab. I used their video, posted below, as a guide.

How to Use TimelineJS from Northwestern U. Knight Lab on Vimeo.

The intuitive open-source software allows you to edit your project in Google Sheets (Figure 1).

Figure 1

My venture into counter-vis began with a fixture of the information visualization canon: W. E. B. Du Bois’ “Exhibit of American Negroes.” Further research on this work led me to the book “Diagrams of Power: Visualizing, Mapping and Performing Resistance.” Thirty dollars later, I was hooked on researching alternative visualizations as advocacy measures. I began using Pratt Library’s academic search which unveiled the seminal work of Peluso and the introduction of “counter-mapping.” The terminology within her work provided standardized search terms that yielded broad resistance visualization results.



I amassed plenty of timeline-worthy demarcations, but I struggled in choosing a single representation that properly demonstrated the socio-political weight of each visualization. Furthermore, many counter-vis designs are extremely detailed but Knightlab does not come with a zoom-in feature. I attempted to look for sharable gallery embeds, but came up mostly empty-handed. Unsurprisingly, these graphics aren’t all well-publicized on the net with hi-res images, however, the ones created as art, like Mark Lombardi’s narratives, are well-documented. This is probably since their art is for sale (one Lombardi piece was auctioned at 30k). The irony is not lost that an attack on neoliberalism has such a high price tag. Out of the art world, I consider the risk the authors took in creating this work, how we can visualize their vulnerability, whether it is Copernicus against the Church or the current jeopardy the protesting cartographers in Hong Kong face. 


Beuys, J., Cruz, T., Dávila, P., DuBois, W. E. B., Akers, J., Brown, V., … Rekacewicz, P. (2019). Diagrams of Power: Visualizing, Mapping and Performing Resistance. Retrieved from

CABINET // Utterance Is Place Enough: Mapping Conversation. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2019, from

MIT Technology Review. (n.d.). The new battle in Hong Kong isn’t on the streets; it’s in the apps. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from


W. E. B. Du Bois’s Modernist Data Visualizations of Black Life. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2019, from