A new video has been released with the idea of compressing 2,600 years of cultural history into five minutes.
The video, created by Maximilian Schich, an art historian at University of Texas in Dallas, shows the birth and death of 150,000 of the world's most influential people.
The figures shown in the video were mostly pulled from Google's Freebase, which is a database of historical figures. The video starts at around 600 B.C., around the start of the Roman Empire, and continues until 2012. With dots on the map showing blue for birth locations and red for death locations, the map ends up with a web of red and blue lines.
By connecting the birth and death locations of each individual, the researchers help in understanding large-scale cultural dynamics. According to Schich, a key finding in the study is that a number of the patterns in migration originate from a large number of specific events that have taken place.
"In practice, this means that cultural history is both an event discipline, where qualitative inquiry focuses on the specific, and a law discipline, where quantification helps to understand general patterns," Schich said.
While the map shows mostly figures from Europe, it still shows a very interesting depiction of the human race's development over the centuries since 2,600 years ago. The video certainly shows what the hubs of cultural development have been.
Near the start of the video, most of the dots are located near Rome, but as it progresses, more and more dots move toward Paris. They begin to cross the ocean to North American, and in more recent times, cities such as New York and Los Angeles show a large growth in the amount of important people.
"The study draws a surprisingly comprehensive picture of European and North American cultural interaction that can't be otherwise achieved without consulting vast amounts of literature or combing discrete data sets," said Schich. "This study functions like a macroscope, where quantitative inquiry and qualitative inquiry complement each other."
Another finding is that hubs of art, culture and the economy do not always coincide and that the number of people that live in a certain area does not necessarily make it a cultural center.
"There is really no average or typical cultural center," Schich said. "As a consequence, cultural historians really need quantification to complement their intuition based on qualitative inquiry. On the other hand, our results also send a message to complexity scientists. The massive fluctuations we find mean that qualitative inquiry has to complement quantification in order to fully understand the dynamics of cultural migration."
The research for the findings began in Boston, continued in Zurich, and was finally finished in Texas. The research was funded by the German Research Foundation, the European Research Council and the University of Texas, Dallas. It was published in the article "A Network Framework of Cultural History," on Aug. 1 in the journal Science.
Here's a video showing the migration paths.