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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. The poster cost $1 at the time, which would equal approximately $18 when accounting for inflation.

Although the distribution of power is not quantitatively 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 competing states, nations, and empires. Did Sparks see world history as a zero-sum exercise; a collection of nations battling one another for control over scarce territory and resources?

Timeline Caveats

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. Certainly, the creator’s biases and blind spots become more apparent in the information-abundant 21st century.

Lastly, 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. Indeed, the map’s publisher characterized the piece as a useful tool for examining the correlation between different empires during points in history.

histomap foreword

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.

Without a map who would attempt to study geography? –John B. Sparks

This post was first published in 2017. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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Misc

The Top 25 Nationalities of U.S. Immigrants

Mexico is the largest source of immigrants to the U.S., with almost 11 million immigrants.

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Bar chart showing the top 25 nationalities of US Immigrants.

The Top 25 Nationalities of U.S. Immigrants

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The United States is home to more than 46 million immigrants, constituting approximately 14% of its total population.

This graphic displays the top 25 countries of origin for U.S. immigrants, based on 2022 estimates. The data is sourced from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), which analyzed information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey.

In this context, “immigrants” refer to individuals residing in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth.

Mexico Emerges as a Leading Source of Immigration

Mexico stands out as the largest contributor to U.S. immigration due to its geographical proximity and historical ties.

Various economic factors, including wage disparities and employment opportunities, motivate many Mexicans to seek better prospects north of the border.

CountryRegion# of Immigrants
🇲🇽 MexicoLatin America
& Caribbean
10,678,502
🇮🇳 IndiaAsia2,839,618
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia2,217,894
🇵🇭 PhilippinesAsia1,982,333
🇸🇻 El SalvadorLatin America
& Caribbean
1,407,622
🇻🇳 VietnamAsia1,331,192
🇨🇺 CubaLatin America
& Caribbean
1,312,510
🇩🇴 Dominican RepublicLatin America
& Caribbean
1,279,900
🇬🇹 GuatemalaLatin America
& Caribbean
1,148,543
🇰🇷 KoreaAsia1,045,100
🇨🇴 ColombiaLatin America
& Caribbean
928,053
🇭🇳 HondurasLatin America
& Caribbean
843,774
🇨🇦 CanadaNorthern America821,322
🇯🇲 JamaicaLatin America
& Caribbean
804,775
🇭🇹 HaitiLatin America
& Caribbean
730,780
🇬🇧 United KingdomEurope676,652
🇻🇪 VenezuelaLatin America
& Caribbean
667,664
🇧🇷 BrazilLatin America
& Caribbean
618,525
🇩🇪 GermanyEurope537,484
🇪🇨 EcuadorLatin America
& Caribbean
518,287
🇵🇪 PeruLatin America
& Caribbean
471,988
🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica448,405
🇺🇦 UkraineEurope427,163
🇮🇷 IranMiddle East407,283
🇵🇰 PakistanAsia399,086
Rest of World11,637,634
Total46,182,089

Mexicans are followed in this ranking by Indians, Chinese, and Filipinos, though most immigrants on this list come from countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

On the other hand, only three European countries are among the top sources of U.S. immigrants: the UK, Germany, and Ukraine.

Immigration continues to be a significant factor contributing to the overall growth of the U.S. population. Overall population growth has decelerated over the past decade primarily due to declining birth rates.

Between 2021 and 2022, the increase in the immigrant population accounted for 65% of the total population growth in the U.S., representing 912,000 individuals out of nearly 1.4 million.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Visualized: Why Do People Immigrate to the U.S.? This visualization shows the different reasons cited by new arrivals to America in 2021.

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