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Watch 2,600 years of human cultural history in 5 minutes

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Abstractly, it's pretty hard to appreciate just how massive, and massively important, human migration around the world has been in the past several millennia. But this beautiful visualization of births and deaths over roughly the past 2,600 years convey the scale of human migration — and how much it's affected human culture.

The video, based on a recent academic paper, gets this across in a really clear way: one person's birth is depicted in blue, and their death in red. A line connects them, so you can see the distance between where they were born and where they died. The paper uses a public database of "well-known people" called Freebase, so it's not a comprehensive list of all immigration. Rather, the goal is to show the broader flow of culture over time: presumably, if famous and influential people are congregating in one place, that's evidence that this city or country is becoming a cultural hub.

When you run this process over time, you see some awesome things. How the Roman Empire pulled in people from around the world, for instance. How Cordoba became a cultural center while Spain was part of a Muslim empire. And how rural British immigrants rapidly populated the northeastern United States:

The video's story has real limits. The biggest is that it's super-Eurocentric; it barely looks at Africa, Latin America, or Asia. And its account of population movement inside the United States doesn't much address the forced migration of native peoples. That's likely a problem that comes from the database's definition of "well-known" people.

But for the subject the video chose to tackle — the flow of populations in and out of Europe and its effect on culture — it's a really interesting exercise.

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