“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future”*…
From MIT’s Media Lab and it Pantheon Project, an interactive mapping tool that let’s one visualize the history of cultural production.
You were not born with the ability to fly, cure disease or communicate at long distances, but you were born in a society that endows you with these capacities. These capacities are the result of information that has been generated by humans and that humans have been able to embed in tangible and digital objects.
This information is all around you. It is the way in which the atoms in an airplane are arranged or the way in which your cell-phone whispers dance instructions to electromagnetic waves.
Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand the process of global cultural development. Dive in, visualize, and enjoy.
Pantheon allows one to select a time period, then see the results sorted by place of origin (as in the chart above) or by profession, and provides a ranked listing of people.
It’s all fascinating, but the “professional” sort is especially telling, as Kottke observes:
Up until the Renaissance, the most well-known people in the world were mostly politicians and religious figures, with some writers and philosophers thrown in for good measure. Starting with the Renaissance through the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, politicians, writers, painters, and composers become more prominent. For the past 50 years, athletes and entertainers dominate the list, with footballers making up almost a third of the most known. (If you only go back to 1990, actors dominate.)
Politicians rate slightly behind tennis players (but ahead of pornographic actors) and religious figures are not represented in the graph at all.
* Albert Camus,
As we put down the remote control and pick up a book, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904. After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.
The more that you read,
The more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
The more places you’ll go.
– I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)