5‑Minute Animation Maps 2,600 Years of Western Cultural History

Work­ing with his col­leagues, Max­i­m­il­ian Schich, an art his­to­ri­an at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Dal­las, took Free­base (Google’s “com­mu­ni­ty-curat­ed data­base of well-known peo­ple, places, and things”) and gath­ered data on 150,000 impor­tant artists and cul­tur­al fig­ures who lived dur­ing the long arc of West­ern his­to­ry (6oo BCE to 2012). The schol­ars then mapped these fig­ures’ births and deaths (blue=birth, red=death) and traced their move­ments through time and place. The result is a 5‑minute ani­ma­tion (above), show­ing how the West­’s great cul­tur­al cen­ters shift­ed from Rome, even­tu­al­ly to Paris (cir­ca 1789), and more recent­ly to New York and Los Ange­les. Maps doc­u­ment­ing the flow of ideas and peo­ple in oth­er geo­gra­phies will come next.

Accord­ing to NPR, “The mod­els [used to cre­ate the videos] are the lat­est appli­ca­tion of a rapid­ly grow­ing field, called net­work sci­ence — which uses visu­al­iza­tions to find the under­ly­ing pat­terns and trends in com­plex data sets.” And they could yield some unex­pect­ed insights into the his­to­ry of migra­tion — for exam­ple, even with the advent of planes, trains and auto­mo­biles, mod­ern artists don’t move too much far­ther from their birth­places (an aver­age of 237 miles) rel­a­tive to the art­sy types who lived in the 14th cen­tu­ry (133 miles on aver­age).

A com­plete report on the project was pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence by Schich and his col­leagues. Unfor­tu­nate­ly you’ll need a sub­scrip­tion to read it.

via NPR/Nature

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Social Media in the Age of Enlight­en­ment and Rev­o­lu­tion

Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es

Euro­pean Cul­tur­al His­to­ry in 91 Free Lec­tures by George Mosse

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Comments (3)
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  • Sam Anderson says:

    Nice­ly done, but lacks the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of sub­sa­hara Africa and the pharaon­ic empires’ impact on Greco­Ro­man cul­ture. In addi­tion, does not show the inter­con­nec­tion between the chat­tel slav­ery peri­od (1444–1888) and the rise of “New World” cul­ture… As well as the impact of wip­ing out the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of the Amer­i­c­as. Remem­ber: racism/white suprema­cy played a cen­tral role in influ­enc­ing “West­ern Cul­ture” on a glob­al scale.

    Last­ly, this map­ping makes Africa and Latin Amer­i­ca look like cul­tur­al vac­u­ums nei­ther receiv­ing nor trans­mit­ting cul­tur­al values/products.

  • Art Serotoff says:

    Stun­ning tech­nol­o­gy; an incred­i­ble tool. To extend Sam’s com­ments, it would be a ter­ri­ble injus­tice and hor­ri­ble gap in inquiry if the pur­suit of “cul­ture” end­ed here. In addi­tion to Africa and Latin and South Amer­i­ca, the near and far east are miss­ing too. It is dif­fi­cult for me to swal­low an ani­mat­ed map of cul­ture with­out see­ing the con­tri­bu­tions and effects of Tim­buk­tu, Chi­na, India, Peru, Mex­i­co, Guata­mala, etc.

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