We’ve seen gorgeous data visualizations of geotagged tweets to get a look into which countries are hot for Twitter, and even a real-time map of emoji usage around the globe, but one researcher is plotting a broader aspect of human life: the birthplace of culture and where it goes to die.
Maximilian Schich, an art historian at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues used Freebase—a crowdsourced database of facts—to record the birthplaces and locations of death of 120,000 people who were considered important enough to be included on the site. Then, he visualized the data on a map, tagging where notables were born in blue and where they died in red, turning the info into a short video called “Charting Culture” that details the findings from 600BC and 2012.
Over the course of the five-minute clip, we see that, yes, all roads (at one point) led to Rome, the growth of the Silk Road, the arts and culture burst in 19th century Paris, as well as the invention of trains sparking a cultural migration in the States. Oh, we even witness Florida become “Death’s Waiting Room” in the 70’s. In other words, the map visualizes that as certain cities became prominent in history, more people were born and died there.
For example, in the 20th century Paris was the sole epicenter of cultural migration within France—but in Germany, migrants were equally attracted to several major cities. Furthermore, as technology and transportation developed, we see the birthplaces of notables spreading wider around the world.
The research team also used Google Ngram Viewer—which illustrates how frequently certain names, words, phrases, locations, and other keywords were used in literature at a specific peroid in time—to suggest certain events in history that could have altered why people were attracted to certain cities.
The map is a fascinating illustration of the spread of human culture and history, even if the data (or possible lack thereof) is not totally foolproof. We’d love to see Schich take this to the next level and zone in on the migratory patterns of artists or creatives within specific cultural hubs like Paris or Brooklyn. Maybe it’d be like a cultural history visualizer with a gentrification twist. Until then, see some screenshots of important milestones “Charting Culture.”