In Brief

An Interactive Timeline of Human History According to Wikipedia

"Sunflowers" by Vincent van Gogh on Histography (all screenshots by the author via histography.io)
Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” on Histography (all screenshots by the author via histography.io)

According to Wikipedia’s article for itself, the internet’s crowdsourced encyclopedia has some 35 million articles across 288 languages, representing an exhaustive portrait of human history from anthropodermic bibliopegy to Zero Mostel. A new data visualization tool called Histography transforms its entries on historic events into an interactive timeline.

Timeline on Histography
Timeline on Histography with “The Ironers” by Degas highlighted (click to enlarge)

Created by Matan Stauber as his final-year project at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and shared recently by Kottke, the timeline demonstrates the variety and density of information on Wikipedia. Each entry has its own black orb, and they sometimes jostle like balls on a pool table. Clicking on one connects you to a Wikipedia entry, video content on YouTube if it’s available, and related events. You can examine the 14-billion-year timeline by era, such as the Middle Ages or the Information Age, and zoom in and out on specific categories like riots, politics, wars, disasters, literature, and art. The last is a little light, although it’s possible a lot of art events aren’t tagged to show up in Wikipedia’s general world history entries.

Histography is an especially beautiful Wikipedia data visualization that joins previous projects like the Oxford Internet Institute’s Mapping Wikipedia, which breaks down geographic coverage of Wikipedia by language; Gareth Lloyd’s “A History of the World in 100 Seconds,” which plots the coordinates of Wikipedia articles to demonstrate the crowd-sourced site’s perspective on world history; and Brendan Griffen’s Graph of Influential Thinkers, which charts the languages and networks connecting entries on influential people in thought and philosophy. Each of these is only as factual and comprehensive as its material, which is constantly evolving as users update and argue over entries (these edit wars were themselves visualized by Aalto University physicists in chaotic charts). Wikipedia is not necessarily a balanced perspective — around 90% of its editors are male, for instance — but it offers a wealth of data on how we interpret and catalogue history. For an audio example, you can “Listen to Wikipedia,” in another project by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, and hear real-time edits turned to tones as people around the world collaborate to write articles on mortality salience, the War of the Polish Succession, Thomas Jefferson, and a “List of YMCA buildings.” Likewise, Histography offers a portal to this growing, changing, and chaotic online archive of the world.

The Wikipedia entry for "The Oldest Known Use of Pigment" on Histography
The Wikipedia entry for “The Oldest Known Use of Pigment” on Histography
Art in all of human history on Histography
Early art in human history on Histography

h/t Kottke

View the interactive timeline of Histography online. 

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