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Data Visualization

Histomap: Visualizing the 4,000 Year History of Global Power

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Imagine creating a timeline of your country’s whole history stretching back to its inception.

It would be no small task, and simply weighing the relative importance of so many great people, technological achievements, and pivotal events would be a tiny miracle in itself.

While that seems like a challenge, imagine going a few steps further. Instead of a timeline for just one country, what about creating a graphical timeline showing the history of the entire world over a 4,000 year time period, all while having no access to computers or the internet?

An All-Encompassing Timeline?

Today’s infographic, created all the way back in 1931 by a man named John B. Sparks, maps the ebb and flow of global power going all the way back to 2,000 B.C. on one coherent timeline.

View a high resolution version of this graphic
histomap timeline

Histomap, published by Rand McNally in 1931, is an ambitious attempt at fitting a mountain of historical information onto a five-foot-long poster. Although the distribution of power is not quantitively defined on the x-axis, it does provide a rare example of looking at historic civilizations in relative terms. While the Roman Empire takes up a lot of real estate during its Golden Age, for example, we still get a decent look at what was happening in other parts of the world during that period.

The visualization is also effective at showing the ascent and decline of various states, nations, and empires.

Timeline Caveats

Since this chart was created at the beginning of the Great Depression, one does have to consider to what extent Sparks saw history as a zero-sum exercise; a collection of nations battling one another for control over scarce territory and resources.

Crowning a world leader at certain points in history is relatively easy, but divvying up influence or power to everyone across 4,000 years requires some creativity, and likely some guesswork, as well. Some would argue that the lack of hard data makes it impossible to draw these types of conclusions (though there have been other more quantitative approaches.)

Another obvious criticism is that the measures of influence are skewed in favor of Western powers. China’s “seam”, for example, is suspiciously thin throughout the length of the timeline.

Lastly, the histomap refers to various cultural and racial groups using terms that may seem rather dated to today’s viewers.

The Legacy of Histomap

John Spark’s creation is an admirable attempt at making history more approachable and entertaining. Today, we have seemingly limitless access to information, but in the 1930s an all encompassing timeline of history would have been incredibly useful and groundbreaking.

Critiques aside, work like this paved the way for the production of modern data visualizations and charts that help people better understand the world around them today.

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Data Visualization

Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World

Freedom of speech on the internet has been on decline for eight consecutive years. We visualize the death spiral to show who limits speech the most.

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Visualizing Internet Suppression Around the World

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

When people think of freedom, they often think it in the physical sense, such as the ability to act and behave in certain ways without fear of punishment, or freedom of movement within one’s country.

When a nation chooses to restrict freedom in the physical world, the results are often hard to ignore. Protests are met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Road checks pop up along transportation routes. Journalists are detained.

In the digital world, creeping control often appears in more subtle ways. Personal data is accessed without us knowing, and swarms of suspiciously like-minded accounts begin to overwhelm meaningful conversations on social media platforms.

The Freedom on the Net Report, by Freedom House, breaks internet suppression down into a number of elements, from content filtering to detention of online publishers. Here’s how a number of countries around the world stack up:

internet freedom by country

According to the report, internet freedom around the world has been falling steadily for eight consecutive years. Today’s graphic is an international look at the state of internet freedom.

First World Problems

At its best, the internet allows us to seek out information and make choices free from coercion or hidden manipulation. Even in countries with relatively open access to information this is becoming increasingly difficult.

In Western countries, internet suppression often rears its head in the form of misinformation and excessive data collection. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was a potent example of how the vast amounts of data collected by platforms and third parties can be used to manipulate public opinion.

The backlash to this data collection by tech companies also produced one of the most promising developments in the past year – the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While the regulations are not applicable to government and military entities, it does create a pathway to increased transparency and accountability for companies collecting user data.

Control Creep

Around one-third of the people in the world live in countries that are considered “partly free”.

For most users, access to online information may not look too different from the internet experience in Iceland or Estonia, but there are creeping controls in specific areas.

In Turkey, Wikipedia was blocked and social media companies were compelled to censor political commentary. The country had one of the largest declines in internet freedom in recent years.

In Nigeria, data localization requirements have been enacted. This follows the lead of places like China and Vietnam, where servers must be located within the country for “the inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent state management agencies.”

Access Denied

For many people around the world – particularly in Asia – accessing information online is a fundamentally different experience. Content published by an individual can be monitored and censored, and online activity that would be considered benign in Western countries can result in severe real-world consequences such as imprisonment or death.

As today’s data visualization vividly illustrates, China has by far the most restricted internet of the 65 countries covered in the report.

Network operators in the country are obligated to store all user data within the country (which can be accessed by governmental bodies), and are required to immediately stop the transmission of “banned content”. The country is also further cracking down the use of VPNs, which are used to circumvent China’s Great Firewall.

Of course, China is not alone in the desire to implement tight controls over online access. Many places, from Vietnam to Ethiopia, are eager to embrace the “China Model”. The country, which is aggressively ramping up its influence around globe, is more than happy expand its influence through exporting models of governance to new technologies, such as facial recognition.

Meanwhile, in Russia, the popular messaging app, Telegram, was blocked due to its refusal to allow the country’s security service access to encrypted data. This example highlights a growing dilemma faced by tech companies operating internationally – acquiesce to government demands, or lose access to huge markets.

A Tale of Two Internets

Today, there are two prodominant flavors of internet on the menu – the Silicon Valley offering dominated by major tech companies, and the top-down, state-controlled version being spread in earnest by Beijing. It would be a mistake to believe that the former is the clear choice for jurisdictions around the world.

In many countries in Africa, communications infrastructure is still being built out, so assistance from Chinese companies is accepted with open arms.

Our Chinese friends have managed to block such media in their country and replaced them with their homegrown sites that are safe, constructive, and popular.

– Edwin Ngonyani, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communication

Even though the internet is now three decades old, its form is still evolving. It remains to be seen whether the divergence between free and not free jurisdictions continues to grow.

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Data Visualization

Assembling the World Country-by-Country, Based on Economy Size

How does the world map change if it gets assembled based on the size of economies, in ascending order of GDP or GDP per capita?

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If you had to sketch a world map, you’d probably start with a place that is familiar.

Perhaps you would begin by drawing your own continent, or maybe you’d focus on the specific borders of the country you live in. Then, you’d likely move to drawing the outlines of neighboring countries, eventually working your way to far and distant lands.

This would be a logical way for anyone to think about such a task, and it gives some insight as to how humans think about the world.

We start with what’s familiar, and build it out until it’s a complete picture.

Assembling the World by Economy Size

What if we assembled a world map in a completely different order?

Today’s two animations come to us from Engaging-Data, and they approach the world map from an alternate angle: assembling countries on the map in the order of their economic footprints.

GDP (Nominal)

The first map, shown below, uses nominal GDP to assemble countries in ascending order:

Country GDP

This version of the map shows the smallest economies first, with the larger economies at the end.

For this reason, the first economies appearing on the map tend to be developing nations, or nations with smaller geographical or demographic footprints.

For example, even though the Falkland Islands are wealthy on a per capita basis, the British Overseas Territory has fewer than 4,000 people, which gives it a minor footprint on a global stage.

GDP per Capita (Nominal)

Now, let’s take a look at the same map, constructed in order of GDP per capita:

Country GDP per Capita

This animation is more cohesive, given that it is not dependent on population size. Instead the order here is based on economic output (in nominal terms) of the average person in each country or jurisdiction.

In this case, developing nations appear first – and at the end, more developed regions (like Europe and North America) tend to fill out.

Note: All rankings here are in nominal terms, which use market rates to calculate comparable values in U.S. dollars, while omitting the cost of living as a factor. GDP rankings change significantly when using PPP rates.

Other Ways to Assemble the World

While assembling nations based on GDP provides an interesting way to look at the world, this same approach can be tried by applying other statistics as well.

We recommend checking out this page, which allows you to “assemble the world” based on measures like population density, life expectancy, or population.

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