“Where are you from?” a character at one point asks Babe, the hapless protagonist of the Firesign Theatre’s classic comedy album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All. “Nairobi, ma’am,” Babe replies. “Isn’t everybody?” Like most of that psychedelic radio troupe’s pieces of apparent nonsense, that memorable line contains a truth: trace human history back far enough and you inevitably end up in east Africa, a point illustrated in reverse by the video above, “A History of the World: Every Year,” which traces the march of humanity between 200,000 BCE and the modern day.
To a dramatic soundtrack which opens and closes with the music of Hans Zimmer, video creator Ollie Bye charts mankind’s progress out of Africa and, ultimately, into every corner of all the continents of the world.
Real, documented settlements, cities, empires, and entire civilizations rise and fall as they would in a computer game, with a constantly updated global population count and list of the civilizations active in the current year as well as occasional notes about politics and diplomacy, society and culture, and inventions and discoveries.
All that happens in under 20 minutes, a pretty swift clip, though not until the very end does the world take the political shape we know today, including even the late latecomer to civilization that is the United States of America. Bye’s many other videos tend to focus on the history of other parts of the world, such as India, the British Isles, and that cradle of our species, the African continent, all of which we can now develop first-hand familiarity with in this age of unprecedented human mobility. Though the condition itself takes the question “Where are you from?” to a degree of complication unknown not only millennia but also centuries and even decades ago, at least now you have a snappy answer at the ready.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.