This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Migration "Movie" Traces Cultural Shifts

A very interesting video of the expansion of Western culture has been posted online, using data on births and deaths of well-known persons, comparing the place in which they were born with where they died. The data come from FreeBase, which is owned by Google, but were assembled by Maximilian Schich, an art historian at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues. A description of the project was just published in Science, where the authors summarize the project as follows:
The emergent processes driving cultural history are a product of complex interactions among large numbers of individuals, determined by difficult-to-quantify historical conditions. To characterize these processes, we have reconstructed aggregate intellectual mobility over two millennia through the birth and death locations of more than 150,000 notable individuals. The tools of network and complexity theory were then used to identify characteristic statistical patterns and determine the cultural and historical relevance of deviations. The resulting network of locations provides a macroscopic perspective of cultural history, which helps us to retrace cultural narratives of Europe and North America using large-scale visualization and quantitative dynamical tools and to derive historical trends of cultural centers beyond the scope of specific events or narrow time intervals.
The video is available through an article by Alison Abbott in Nature.
Historians tend to focus in highly specialized areas, says Schich. “But our data allow them to see unexpected correlations between obscure events never considered historically important and shifts in migration.”
In the end, then, demography is the key to understanding the world. What a concept!

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