Fathers of datavisualization: Nicolas Oresme 1320-1382

Nicolas Oresme, French philosopher and Bishop of Lisieux, wrote influential work on a wide variety of subjects, including economics, mathematics, physics, astronomy, psychology and philosophy. He is considered to be one of the most original thinkers of the 14th century.

A major contributor to data visualization, Oresme was the first to propose the use of bar graphics to show the evolution of a variable that depends upon another value. He invented a type of coordinate geometry before Descartes, finding the logical equivalence between tabulating values and graphing them in De configurationibus qualitatum et motuum. It is likely that Oresme's work influenced Descartes, as it was reprinted multiple times throughout the 100 years following its original publication.

Nicolas Oresme defied the norm and questioned some of Artistotle’s ideas, including his idea of time based on uniform motion. To counter this particular theory of Aristotle’s, Oresme proposed a definition of time that suggested that it is independent of motion. He was also the first person to prove Merton’s theorem, which discusses uniform acceleration and distance travelled, due in part to his use of datavisualization.

Although more progress would ultimately be made by other great thinkers in the following centuries, Nicolas Oresme helped develop a foundation on which the study of subjects involving datavisualization could grow.