Sunday, January 24, 2016

The history of the world, as you’ve never seen it before

By Ana Swanson January 23 at 7:00 AM, WashPost

Quick, what famous historical figures were living roughly 500 years ago?

A few creative people might bring to mind the rhyme “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and recall Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella. Some clever souls might recall that Michelangelo finished the Sistine Chapel in 1512, and recall from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a few other names -- Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello. Or real history buffs might recall the astronomical work of Copernicus, or Henry VIII's diva dips in the early 1500s.

But for most of us, what will come to mind is probably the hum of nothingness, or the gentle chirping of crickets. Most of what people remember from history class is pretty pathetic, a weak smattering of names and random anecdotes, like Eli Whitney and his revolutionary cotton gin, or Ponce de Leon looking for the fountain of youth in Florida.

We tend to learn about history by following a particular life or a conflict through the years – what Tim Urban, who runs the blog Wait But Why, calls “understanding history in a vertical sense.” But in a new blog, Urban offers another fascinating approach to understanding history: Taking a big “horizontal” slice to look at who was alive around the world in a certain year.

(More here.)

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