What does written history say about a country in as concise a way possible? It’s a question that Martin Elmer has tried to answer with his typographic map “Laconic History of the World”, which manages to combine historical and geographical data in a stunningly simple visualization.
Elmer, a freelance graphic designer and cartographer based in Wisconsin, USA, drew this world map with 176 country-shaped words last December. Each of them is actually – and that’s the brilliantly simplistic part – the most common word in the corresponding country’s Wikipedia article titled “History of _____.”
This is reason why the map is called laconic, a word meaning `concise´ or `terse´, since it portrays human history with just a handful of words.
“The idea of pulling the most common word from Wikipedia’s history articles was strictly curiosity,” Elmer told euronews. “Wikipedia is written academically, but it’s nonetheless a crowdsourced product” with the specifics it entails.
Embedded below is the 12,500 pixel wide version of the map. Drag and drop to navigate. The vector graphics allow to zoom in without a loss in quality.
“To what extent would its articles reflect the ‘popular history’ perpetuated by our society?” the designer wonders. “And if one were to distill this popular history into its starkest components, what would the result reveal about our culture?”
Stories of money, fire and blood
The idea for the map, Elmer said, “essentially just arose on its own”. Tired of “the usual ‘spreadsheets and bar charts’ approach to information visualization,” Elmer decided to explore new territories of thematic cartography. What surprised him the most with the finished map? “The most striking thing is probably just how well it ‘worked out’, with so little editorializing on my end” Elmer told euronews.
Dubbed by its creator “an exploration of collective memory, geopolitics, nationalism, Wikiality, and historiography,” the map offers a completely unique, clear and compelling visualization of a broad set of data.
“Aside from some boring entries like the ones with “government” and “new”, pretty much every word happened to represent something uniquely interesting and meaningful about its representative country” says Elmer, who also blog about maps and cartography .
For instance, in the map’s reader companion, Elmer notes that 16% of countries had “war” as their most common world, including almost all of Western Europe. Also, about 25% of all countries are represented by the name of a colonial power; Britain thus appears 16 times.
“The fact that most of these involve either bloodshed, conquest, or plutocracy is probably predictable, but that makes it no less revealing” he notes.
But beware, some countries’ most common word are the name of a nearby country: India for Pakistan, Ethiopia for Eritrea. So euronews does not recommend you use this map if you have a geography exam.