All roads lead from Rome, according to a visual history of human culture built entirely from the birth and death places of notable people. The 5-minute animation provides a fresh view of the movements of humanity over the last 2,600 years.
History’s most creative people have always flocked to cultural and intellectual hubs, and now, thanks to an amazing visualization from researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, we can see how that migration has changed over time.
Last week in the journal Science, the researchers (led by University of Texas art historian Maximilian Schich) published a study that looked at the cultural history of Europe and North America by mapping the birth and deaths of more than 150,000 notable figures—including everyone from Leonardo Da Vinci to Ernest Hemingway. That data was turned into an amazing animated infographic that looks strikingly similar to the illustrated flight paths you find in the back of your inflight magazine. Blue dots indicate a birth, red ones means death.
In the video you watch as Rome’s stronghold on cultural production dissipates around the 12th century and spreads to other european cities like Paris and Berlin. As the mid 20th century rolls around, you see a boom in the number deaths in Paris, nodding to its iconic art and literature scene in the earlier part of the century. As the years roll by, culture continues to crawl west to New York City and ultimately to Los Angeles, where you’ll notice many a movie star has been born and died.
The researchers used data from Freebase, which touts itself as a “community curated database of people, places and things.” This gives the data a strong western-bent. You’ll notice that many parts of Asia and the Middle East (not to mention pre-colonized North America), are almost wholly ignored in this video. But to be fair, the abstract did acknowledge that the study was focused mainly on Europe and North America.
Related: European Historic Mobility
Still, mapping the geography of cultural migration does gives you some insight about how the kind of culture we value has shifted over the centuries. It’s also a novel lens through which to view our more general history, as those migration trends likely illuminate bigger historical happenings like wars and the building of cross-country infrastructure. At the end of the video you see Florida blowing up in red. More proof that indeed, the sunshine state is a damn nice place to die.