New animations made by art historian Maximilian Schich show the remarkable paths that Western culture took over the last 2,000 years in just a minute.

Schich and his colleagues used Freebase, which is a database of historical figures, to find the birth and death locations of over 150,000 famous artists and cultural leaders. These include politicians, actors, architects, priests, and more.

Using that information, Schich was able to create animations of the paths that Western culture took in both the U.S. and Europe. In the animations, the blue dots represent birth locations, while the red dots depict death locations.

“We’re interested in the shape of the coral reef of culture,” said Schich, of the University of Texas at Dallas. “We are taking a systems biology approach to art history.”

Although Schich and his team only have two maps – one of the U.S. and one of Europe – they hope to make more in the future depicting other parts of the globe. Though it sound more like an art project than anything useful, the animations actually reveal pattern and trends that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

“From a very small percentage of the population … we get out these general laws of migration that were defined in the late 19th century,” Schich noted.

One of the things the models show is that even in an age of planes, trains, and automobiles, people still don’t like to move far away from home. The average distance between where a person is born and where is a person dies is only 237 miles, which is less than double the number of miles a person traveled 400 years ago (133 miles).

Of course, that data only takes into account famous artists, a title that many of us will not have. Despite that, the animations are still beautiful and fascinating to look at.

The two animations can be found in this article or on Schich’s YouTube channel.


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