Thousands of the greatest scientific and intellectual minds have all helped to create and spread the collective culture of the world we experience today, but how did that culture and influence spread over time? A new animation explores that very idea in a visually mesmerizing way, charting 2,600 years of history in a five minute video with what almost seems like a deceptively simple method.

Using data from the Google knowledge database freebase.com, a University of Texas art historian by the name of Maximilian Schich, along with his colleagues, have charted the birthplace and death location of more than 120,000 influential intellectuals from the year 600 B.C.E to 2012 in a new study. Blue dots represent births, while red dots represent deaths. Watching the video in full screen will let you catch a glimpse of the individual names on their travels. While most will be unfamiliar, you can occasionally catch a glimpse of a more well-known name on their journey.

What we watch unfold over the course of the animated data is a fascinating look at how people, and their ideas, migrate from one cultural center to the next. Beginning with the journey of Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci from his birthplace near Florence, Italy in 1452, the video quickly becomes a mesmerizing show of flowing lines and names as intellectuals migrate from their places of birth to cultural hubs like Rome and then later Paris, New England and eventually San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The video does show some migration and activity in Asia and Africa, but for the most part focuses on Europe and later the colonization of the Americas. While the number of deaths in America initially far outweighed the births in the new world, it wouldn't last long. Soon Boston, New York and the rest of New England became a cultural hot-spot, with a large amount of intellectual births in the region. Slowly we watch the lines and dots, inch by inch, spread across the southern and Midwestern United States, but it is the invention of the railroad and later the automobile that makes the animation even more interesting. A near constant stream can be seen in the video going straight from the east coast to the west once the car comes around. Florida also becomes a popular destination for intellectuals, as they migrate south to live out their twilight years.

You can read more about the study here, which originally appeared in the most recent issue of Science.

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