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History visualized through the life of the most important humans

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Art historian Maximilian Schich put together this pretty visualization that records humanity's cultural history over 2,600 years. The blue and red dots you see above are the birthplaces and deaths for over 120,000 people who were "notable enough" to have their births and deaths recorded.

The idea is that by tracking the lives of 'important people', you can find out a lot about which cities served as the cultural hubs of their era. The more people, the more 'important' the place.


In the beginning, most of the dots form around Rome. But then in 1789, more of the the dots start moving to Paris, marking a change in the world's cultural hub. More recently, New York and Los Angeles have gotten significantly larger with more people traveling there.

Nature writes:

The team used those data to create a movie that starts in 600 bc and ends in 2012. Each person's birth place appears on a map of the world as a blue dot and their death as a red dot. The result is a way to visualize cultural history — as a city becomes more important, more notable people die there. The work that the animated map is basedon was reported on 31 July in Science1.

The animation reflects some of what was known already. Rome gave way to Paris as a cultural centre, which was eventually overtaken by Los Angeles and New York. But it also puts figures and dates on these shifts — and allows for precise comparisons. For example, the data suggest that Paris overtook Rome as a cultural hub in 1789.


The data comes from Google's Freebase. It's obvious that there's a European bias to this visualization but it's still fascinating to see how the Western world took shape over the years.

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