‘Each of us narrates our lives as it suits us…’ says Elena Ferrante in her novel Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. it is possible to recognise the great truth in this reflection. We strive to become what it is we want to be, even sometimes presenting a face to the world that we do not, in truth, cleave to inside us.
Now technology can map our journey from beginning to end. The humble laptop or mobile device can show this life track to the casual visitor. The wonder of the novel is it’s ability to draw us into the individual life, to be able to join the sole reflection of the journey.
The visual displayed below shows the power of aggregation. Making moving pictures of the lives of many. From their birth to the place of their death. In the aggregation comes another story.
It is an informative, broad brush canvas about the creation of communities, cities and centres of culture. It is also, to our mind, both art and science.
You can see the original film on YouTube here…
Researchers at The University of Texas, Dallas have tracked the beginning and end of life of notable figures in history from 600BC to the present day.
The database of notables was drawn from Freebase, a Google owned data service, and the skills and enterprise of the individuals is seen as a proxy for the spread of culture across the globe.
It is a ‘western’ view of cultural dissemination. It omits much influence drawn from the movement of Asian and African peoples through time. One of the most stunning sequences in the film is the movement of people from the east coast of the USA to the west.
It does visualise the rising importance of the West Coast, particularly in the Twentieth Century. Showing how inevitable the collapse of Native American culture had become.
On balance, a great presentation that shows the cultural spread of European ideas, over space and time.
You can find a thoughtful reflection on the novel by Elena Ferranti here. It is written by Rohan Maitzen.
The original research was featured in the journal Nature: see Schich, M. et al. Science 345, 558–562 (2014).