He did so by plotting the birth and death points of notable figures -- some 120,000 of them. It's a dubious mix of supposed cultural history makers, including the antiquated, like Solon, the Greek lawmaker and poet born 637 BCE in Athens, and the (arguably) irrelevant, like Jett Travolta, son of actor John Travolta, who died in 2009 at the age of 16 after having a seizure in the Bahamas.
Schich and his colleagues sourced their data from Google-owned knowledge base, Freebase, which according to its homepage is a "community-curated database of well-known people, places, and things."
The animation is sure to make happy the many defenders of Western civilization and its cultural canons, but it's clear that large swaths of the world are left ignored by Schich's Eurocentric methodology.
Viewed within the context of a Western bias, the research -- dubbed a "macroscopic view of cultural history" -- does offer some unique insights, pinpointing the precise moment (1789) when Paris became the cultural epicenter of the world, leaving Rome on the decline.
Schich said many cultural historians hone in on specific regions and time periods. "But our data allow them to see unexpected correlations between obscure events never considered historically important and shifts in migration," he explained -- unexpected correlations like the fact that more architects than artists died during the French revolution.
The research behind the animation was published in the latest edition of the journal Science.