When researchers attempt to chronicle the movement of ideas about the Earth’s surface, there are a few ways to go about it.
One is to look at the the mass movements of large groups of people. Another is to examine the lives of influential individuals.
A new study, published July 31 in Science, combines the two, looking at geographic movements of 150,000 “notable individuals” throughout their lifetime to create a map of “aggregate intellectual mobility” over the past 2,000 years — where influential people moved to.
By gathering the birth and death places of these individuals through databases like Freebase.com, the General Artist Lexicon, and the Getty Union Art List of Names, the study creates a map of intellectual migration about and between North America and Europe.
While the researchers acknowledge the data used has inherent biases, the analysis still creates an interesting “meta-narrative,” according to the authors, which not only show human movements, but in a sense, a flow of cultural history in certain parts of the world.
Visualising Cultural Mobility
The study produced several interesting graphics. The one below is by study authors Maximilian Schich and Mauro Martino and shows notable individuals moving from their place of birth (blue), to their place of death (red), in Europe from zero to 1856 BC. While Rome is a popular hub in the beginning, you can see Paris really start to light up around the 16th century:
Below is a graphic showing which cultural centres have been the most popular European death spot (and presumably place to live before death) for the notable individuals. Below you can see 120,211 people dating back to to King David (1069 BC). The blue dots are the places these cultural influencers left. [image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/53da48d569bedde90b4318f7/image.jpg" alt="A network framework of cultural history" link="lightbox" size="primary" align="center" clear="true" source="'A network framework of cultural history' Schich et. al."] Here is an interesting snapshot of one cultural niche: antiquarians, a person who studies or collects things from ancient times. The researchers connected the birth and death places to reveal cultural centres like Dresden, Paris, and especially Rome. Again, red is their place of death, while blue is their birth place. [image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/53da4980ecad04a65b074e13/image.jpg" alt="A network framework of cultural history" link="lightbox" size="primary" align="center" clear="true" source="'A network framework of cultural history' Schich et. al."] The researchers also looked at North America. Below you can see the travel of notable individuals from zero, all the way up to 2012. Perhaps the most staggering thing is the mass migration to and between the coasts, especially from East to West. [image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/53da81d8eab8ea5846c0cc6b/image.gif" alt="North america movement" link="lightbox" size="secondary" align="right" clear="true" source="Maximilian Schich & Mauro Martino, 2014"] They also plotted how a few cities rank on the notable deaths versus births. New York for example has a lot of both, while Hollywood had ten times as many deaths as it did births. These are culturally important cities. But the cities on this list reveal other unfortunate realities, like where large numbers of people died in wars or genocide. Auschwitz, for example, has very few births compared to its death rate not because it attracted culturally important people, but probably because it was home to Nazi concentration camps. [image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/53da4c786da811160ae15124/image.jpg" alt="A network framework of cultural history" link="lightbox" size="primary" align="center" clear="true" source="'A network framework of cultural history' Schich et. al."] While the paper paints an interesting portrait of cultural influencers, perhaps the most interesting thing is the researchers methods. "The paper relies on the fields of art history, complex networks, complexity science, computational sociology, human mobility, information design, physics and some inspiration from systems biology," lead author Maximilian Schich said in a press release for the University of Texas at Dallas. It is important to combine both qualitative and quantitative methods, he said, because in the end, "[t]here is really no average or typical cultural center," he said.
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