I’ve been learning about Scotland’s urbanization during the first industrial revolution. The book—The Scottish Nation: A Modern History—gives a table of population counts for different countries in Europe from 1600 to 1850. But I had a hard time visualizing this in my head, so I decided to make a few graphics to help me understand how Scotland grew in comparison to other countries.

In the following graphics, Scotland is the black line, England and Wales are the dark gray line, and all the other countries are light gray lines.

The first graphic I chose to create was just a line plot of the population counts over time:

Here we can see how Scotland starts ranking near the bottom in 1600, but ends up as the second most “urbanized” country by 1850. England and Wales is always more urbanized than Scotland during this time, because the dark gray line is always above the black line. But what happens if we look at the rate of urbanization?

Suprisingly, from roughly 1725 to 1800, Scotland grew at a fast rate than England and Wales! This is why I wanted to try to visualize this data, because something like this would be much harder to discern if one were just looking at a table of numbers.

I’ve been reading through Prof. Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It’s a fascinating book on what makes good graphics, and what makes bad ones. It’s not math heavy at all, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in what separates the data-ink from the chartjunk.