Lab: Social Explorer

Social Explorer (accessible through the RCNJ Potter Library Databases) lets you work with historical census data to create map-based visualizations and reports. We are going to use it to learn more about America in 1919, by using the 1920 Census.

Explore Maps

1. Select the “Explore” the U. S. Demography data set option on the Social Explorer page ( You can look at other data sets as well, but note that not all sets can be explored for 1920. You should see a map of the United States.

2. There is a default data set. Our first step is to replace that with the 1920 U.S. Census. In the upper left you will see a button that says “Change Data.” Click this to open up the selecting tool.

  • There is a slide bar where you can select the year you want to study. Move this to 1920. You will note that a lot of the categories listed below will be greyed out now and only those captured in the 1920 Census will be available.
  • Select the category you want to investigate. Let’s select Race. Once selected you will see a list of the data fields. Click on “Total Population” and Social Explorer will generate a map on the fly that contains the population of each state.
  • In the upper right you’ll see a few drop downs:
    • Show data by State or by County. Select County to see a more detailed map.
    • Visualization Type allows you to see the data as shaded ranges (usually for percentages), bubbles (where larger numbers are rendered as larger bubbles), or dot densities (where each dot represents the same number and they are scattered randomly in the area represented.
    • Clicking the carat at the right of these two choices allows you to customize colors and dot and bubble sizes.
  • Going back to the data–Click Change Data and then click each of the boxes underneath Total Population – White, Black, and Other.
    • You now have different choices in Visualization Type. We can select the Shaded Area visualization. Click on the carat at the far right to play with some of the options.
  • To Title your map, Click on the “White, Black, Other Race” default title and add your own. You’ll see that the data set is shown on the second line.
  • To Save your selections, click the down arrow icon to the right of the Change Data tab.  You might want to save them so that you could create a similar map for another time period.
  • To Save your map, look on the top grey bar and either Save, or Save As.
  • To Share your map, you can use the sharing icon and select from embed, link, or allow other editors.

Comparing Maps

Sometimes you want to look at two maps at once. In our example above, the map that shows race on a single map isn’t as easy to read as two maps, one that mapped white people and one that mapped black people.

There is a circle icon with two rectangles in it at the bottom of the map page. If you click that, you can select

  • Side by Side which will show two maps. Change the data to select Black for one map and White or Other for the other.
    • In the center at the top of the map there is a Link icon that can make it so that both maps move together if you investigate.
  • Swipe allows you to move a bar across the map, seeing one map cover over the other as you move it across the screen.

Creating Reports

If you want to have the data from the visualization for use in creating infographics or for use in your blogging, there are a few ways you can do it.

  • From a Map: If you have a map that contains your data, you can generate a report, Excel spreadsheet, or data usable by a GIS system.
    • From the bar at the upper right (three lines) select “Create a Report.”
    • You can select the whole map, specific portions, or single states or counties.  Click on the geographic units you want to include them, or select them using a tool.
    • You can select specific topics to include in the report.
    • Click “Create” to see the report.
      • Save the report with a custom name by clicking the “Save As” button in the upper right.
      • Save the data as a Excel sheet by clicking the tab “Excel”
      • Save the data for download and use in a GIS system with “Data Download.”
  • Creating a Report from Scratch.
    • Click the Tables choice from the Home screen. Select your data — U.S. Decennial Census, and then Census 1920. Select Begin report
    • Select a Geographical Type, either National, State, or County.
    • Select “Proceed to Tables”
    • Click as many fields as you want to include in the report, and then press the “Add” button. You should see those fields appear in a list below.  Then press “Show Results”
      • Save the report with a custom name by clicking the “Save As” button in the upper right.
      • Save the data as a Excel sheet by clicking the tab “Excel”
      • Save the data for download and use in a GIS system with “Data Download.”

More help: