A History of the Entire World in Less Than 20 Minutes

Thanks for watch­ing his­to­ry. I hope I men­tioned every­thing. — Bill Wurtz

Here at Open Cul­ture, we hap­pi­ly acknowl­edge that learn­ing is not a one-size-fits-all propo­si­tion.

The inter­net may be doing a num­ber on our atten­tion spans, but as the world has grown small­er, the edu­ca­tion­al buf­fet has grown rich­er, more var­ied, and vast­ly more afford­able.

Take for exam­ple the His­to­ry of the World.

Geog­ra­phy fans can approach the sub­ject via Ollie Bye’s year-by-year ani­mat­ed map.

John Green’s play­ful Crash Course series offers a won­der­ful respite for any kid grind­ing their way through AP World His­to­ry.

Those of a more tra­di­tion­al mind­set, who pre­fer a state­lier pace can lose them­selves in 46 lec­tures by Richard Bul­li­et, pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty.

And then there’s world his­to­ry accord­ing Bill Wurtz, above, a cre­ator of short, anachro­nis­tic-look­ing videos, whose YouTube fame was kin­dled by Vine, a now defunct app for shar­ing short-form videos.

Chaf­ing at Vine’s 7‑second time con­straints, Wurtz under­took a more ambi­tious project, a con­densed His­to­ry of Japan that would employ the same tech­niques he brought to bear in his short­er works: graph­ic text, clip art, and Microsoft Paint draw­ings. He zeroed in on the sub­ject because he knew pre­cious lit­tle about Japan, and looked for­ward to doing some vir­gin research.

Wurtz fol­lowed up the 9‑minute His­to­ry of Japan, above, with His­to­ry of the Entire World, I guess.

The non­cha­lance of the title is reflect­ed in Wurtz’s offhand­ed nar­ra­tion. Any word or phrase over two syl­la­bles runs a risk of being trans­formed into an infomer­cial-wor­thy musi­cal jin­gle: space dust, the moon, Egypt…

You may bri­dle at first, but stick it out. Its charms sneak up on you.

Time is not par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­a­tive in Wurtz’s com­pressed uni­verse. Whether it’s 10 min­utes pass­ing before some major devel­op­ment or 500 mil­lion years, their pas­sage is accord­ed equal heft.

Humans show up around the four minute mark, grab­bing stuff, bang­ing rocks, fig­ur­ing out agri­cul­ture…

(Mesopotamia’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion as a “sweet dank val­ley” between the Tigris and Euphrates is a par­tic­u­lar high­light.)

This is the rare his­to­ry video where sci­ence plays a major role. It takes time out for weath­er updates—the floor is no longer lava, the entire world is now an ocean… it’s sober­ing to remem­ber that ozone is what made it safe for mul­ti-celled life forms to ven­ture forth on land.

Empires rise and fall, uncon­quer­able rulers are unseat­ed and for­got­ten.

(That’s the Tamil Kings. Nobody con­quers the Tamil Kings. Who are the Tamil Kings? Mer­chants prob­a­bly and they’ve got spices…)

Of course the prob­lem with a great overview such as this is the back end’s shelf life can prove rather short. It’s been a lit­tle over a year and a half since Wurtz post­ed the video, and thus far, his part­ing shots still feel pret­ty rel­e­vant: armed drones, 3d print­ing, plas­tic-choked oceans, and a seem­ing­ly unbridge­able gap between the desire to save the world and an actu­al plan for doing so.

Fried by 11 months of inten­sive research and labor on His­to­ry of the Entire World, I guess, Wurtz is cur­rent­ly tak­ing a leave of absence from his­to­ry. These days, he’s pour­ing his ener­gies into orig­i­nal music videos like “At the Air­port Ter­mi­nal.” He also devotes a bit of every day to  answer­ing fans’ ques­tions, rou­tine­ly turn­ing in upwards of a dozen suc­cinct hum­ble, all-low­er­case replies:

1.18.19  7:00 pm   what inspired you to make “the entire world, i guess”? was it a project you already had in mind from before or did you start it when you saw you could do more than just japan

it’s always a nice idea to try to explain the whole world in one video. it’s sure­ly some­thing i’ve always want­ed to do, but was­n’t confident/experienced/stupid enough to believe i could do it until after i had done japan which worked so well

1.18.19  12:53 am   are you ever going to make any­thing else as in depth as his­to­ry of japan or the world?

that would take so much time that by the time it was done you prob­a­bly would­n’t care any­more, but some­one else will so i still might do it

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, he’s the sub­ject of a live­ly sub-red­dit. One fan, red­dit user n44m, was inspired to plot the time­line of His­to­ry of the Entire World, I Guess, below.

To learn more about some of the civ­i­liza­tions, events and per­sons fea­tured in His­to­ry of the Entire World, I Guess, check out anoth­er fan’s anno­tat­ed tran­scrip­tion here.

And rather than nit­pick about cer­tain crit­i­cal bits of his­to­ry that were left on the cut­ting room floor, try writ­ing a script for your own his­to­ry based ani­ma­tion:

The more you learn, the more you find out how much you’re gonna have to leave out. It’s like 99%. That was painful. — Bill Wurtz

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

A Crash Course in World His­to­ry

The His­to­ry of the World in 46 Lec­tures From Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in Feb­ru­ary as host of  The­ater of the Apes book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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