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2500 years of Development in 100 Seconds

This marvelous video from 498 BC to 2011 AD shows the location and concentration of events mentioned in Wikipedia at different dates.

A History of the World in 100 Seconds from Gareth Lloyd on Vimeo.

Taking that as an informal history of development, the main takeaway is that for most of history, things were mainly happening along the line between Birmingham and Baghdad.

PS as far as your kneejerk reaction that “Wikipedia is Eurocentric”,  could this be because Development has also been Eurocentric until recently?

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  1. RobertB wrote:

    Britain does seem to get a disproportionate amount of love in the 500-1000 period. Pretty much nothing significant happened there during that time, but it’s one of the brightest areas on the map. What gives?

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 12:50 am | Permalink
  2. It’d be interesting to see somebody do this with wikipedia in other languages

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink
  3. joe wrote:

    Which just goes to show that so many people are out of work in the UK that they’re all wasting their lives writing wiki pages about minute local historical events. I know I am.

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink
  4. David Zetland wrote:

    More like a preserved written history, i.e., if it’s not in wikipedia, it didn’t happen.

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  5. Carol wrote:

    How do events mentioned = development?

    Also, is this just looking at the English language version of Wikipedia?

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  6. Vivek Nemana wrote:

    Yes, I think this is based on the English version of Wikipedia so there will be some bias.

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  7. William Easterly wrote:

    Carol, a very good question. Historical events are usually about states, religions and wars. Recent research suggest a long history of statehood makes for better institutions. Religions are about values, and wars are made possible by technology. So having a long history usually means developing institutions, values, and technology ==> Development. Thanks for the question, Bill

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  8. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    This has been one of the weakest post ever on Aidwatch and is so full of holes (as indicated by most posters) that Mr. Easterly is at a loss to answer in his 4:57 post. Who decides what constitutes a long history? Who determines what are values? what are the criteria to decide what is technologically adequate? And that is supposed to mean development? Accepting all this why aren’t the Chinese,t the Mongols, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas among others not shown on this “marvelous video”. It may be Eurocentric but then so is William Easterly, although most of his time he is denying it.

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  9. Dane wrote:

    This isn’t a matter of “some bias.” It’s a matter of such strong bias to be rendered completely useless as a graphic demonstrating development.


    The Han Dynasty in China (200BC-200AD) is considered a rival in both size and power to the Roman Empire, with a ridiculously rich culture (The same can be said about the Tang, circa 700BC). Neither is prominently displayed on this map.

    Is this because of a lack of written tradition? Or a lack of surviving documents? No. The real father of history (no, not Heroditus, who made most of his stuff up, but Sima Qian) was Chinese. He lived during the Han, and he is responsible for creating a culture among successive Chinese officials of meticulously recording data on daily dynastic developments.

    What this video really shows is just the personal interests and socio-economic status of the people who write articles for Wikipedia.

    Posted March 29, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  10. @Dane

    Socio economic status is a function of institutions. See Bill Easterly’s comment above. Chinese institutions were durable, but between the natural self-interest of the bureaucracy, the lack of competitive states in the are, the Confucian failure to solve the problem of political systems, the development of moralistic rather than empirical methods of political argument, the limitations of the chinese language, and the natural conflict between a political north and a commercial south, the state actively oppressed ‘creative destruction’. So yes, your premise is true, but it’s value judgement of it is at least questionably false. The european fraternal commercial city-state model simply produces more, and more consistent innovation in shorter time frames than any other model humans have come up with.

    This goes back to the normalized data across all cultures, and across all references, that shows that Aristotle is actually the most important person in human history. The lower classes each have prophets. But the creative classes all ‘worship’ aristotle. They have to. There aren’t any alternatives.

    Posted March 30, 2011 at 5:56 am | Permalink
  11. Dane wrote:


    Wow. There is a lot to dispute here, in the rather vague response you provided.

    First, what on Earth is “Confucian failure to solve the problem of political systems,” supposed to me?

    Secondly, ” the development of moralistic rather than empirical methods of political argument” — do you care to site evidence that explains how this problem both 1) existed in Han and Tang China, and 2) how it is limited to only China, and not Europe? Many Roman emperors had fairly moralistic arguments for various policies (Augustus and marriage comes to mind)

    Third, “the limitations of the Chinese language” — what limitations? The Chinese invented movable type 400 years before Gutenberg.

    Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly “The european fraternal commercial city-state model simply produces more, and more consistent innovation in shorter time frames than any other model humans have come up with.” — Read what I said. My examples were Han (200BC to 200AD) and Tang (600-900AD) China. I specifically mentioned these periods, because in that video, these years show almost no “development” in China, relative to Europe. You are talking about a city-state model from…when, exactly? Renaissance Europe? The Greek city states? Neither period overlaps with my examples.

    Furthermore, this notion that the “city-state model” is a necessary conduit for innovation is bunk. Paper, paper money, the compass, gunpowder (and its use in warfare, such as land mines and rockets), etc. are all Chinese.

    Lastly, just for fun “Aristotle is the most important person in human history” — I’d like to see the empirical evidence backing this whopper up.

    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  12. Quicksilversurfer wrote:

    Thanks for your post and response. From the post by Bill Easterly and some of the responses, It seems to me that unacknowledged Eurocentrism is really rampant Aidwatch of all places!

    Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  13. Dane wrote:


    I really like Mr. Easterly’s blog, and I’m glad he posted this, because it led to discussion. I think his purpose in the first place might have been to point out this Eurocentricism (thus his “kneejerk” comment, above). I just think that calling it a kneejerk reaction belittles those who see real problems with the video above as a suitable IV metric.

    And I think that “Development has also been Eurocentric until recently?” might be a premature diagnosis.

    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink
  14. Tony Roberts wrote:

    I would be wrong to allow the statement, “for most of history …. development has been eurocentric”, to go unchallenged. The statement is false and it is offensive.

    Native Americans, Mayans, Inca and Aztecs forged great nations, advanced science and technology and enjoyed substantial development long before Europeans ‘discovered’ America and wrote white man’s version of America’s history.

    In Africa magnificent libraries and universities were built with profits from the vast trading empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. In China the Han, Tang and Ming dynasties far outstripped the achievements of europe at the time.

    Yet this history of development is inadequately reflected in standard history, on wikipedia, and by the lights on Gareth Lloyd’s excellent video.

    Development has not been eurocentric; regrettably much teaching about development is.

    The content of wikipedia contributions merely refelects the education system and the prejudices and discrimination of society.

    It seems that white man’s version of history is now being reproduced in electronic form.

    Taking mentions of events on the English version of Wikipedia as a measurement of development is bad science.

    A fuller and referenced “Response to Bill Easterly” post can be found on my blog ‘LaptopBurns’ on WordPress.

    Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  15. Dane wrote:

    @Tony Roberts

    When I first read “Development has also been Eurocentric until recently” I thought Easterly meant the academic field of Development (thus the capital D).

    My main problem with the phrase is that is implies that now, the field of development (if that’s what he means) is no longer Eurocentric.

    Your comments about the achievements of other cultures is important, but let’s not go overboard. I don’t think it’s true to say the “Han… far outstripped” Europe. Equally impressive is an easier claim to defend, and still serves our purpose of not disregarding other societies’ advances.

    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  16. William Easterly wrote:

    I will produce a future post on the Eurocentric issue.

    Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

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