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article imageIntellectuals on the move — New research maps cultural mobility

By Martin Laine     Aug 1, 2014 in Science
Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston have mapped the movements of thousands of notable individuals over the past 2,000 years, a unique approach that reveals patterns that are not immediately obvious.
“By tracking the migration of notable individuals for over two millennia, we could for the first time explore the boom or bust of the cultural centers of the world,” said Albert-Laslo Barabasi, a professor at the Northeastern University’s Center for Complex Network Research, in an article on the Northeastern News website. “The observed rapid changes offer a fascinating view of the transience of intellectual supremacy.”
The research team used the birth and death locations of 150,000 individuals to identify the cultural centers of the two continents over the past 2,000 years. It marks the first time a data-driven approach was used to study cultural history. Their research was published Friday in the journal Science.
“We’re starting out to do something which is called cultural science where we’re in a very similar trajectory as systems biology for example,” said Maximilian Schich, lead author of the study and a former visiting scientist at the center.
Their work came up with a number of new findings.
While the arts generally depend on funds from wealthy individuals, businesses, and institutions, cultural hubs were not always economic hubs.
They also found that over time, two trends emerged. In some countries one city, such as Paris, France, would dominate as a cultural center, while in others, such as several cities in Germany, these were more dispersed as cities competed with each other.
And then there are places such as Hollywood, the Alps, and the French Riviera that attract cultural figures, not so much because they’re cultural centers but for other reasons, such as the scenery or climate.
As time goes on and they gather more data, Schich said, they will be able to start answering questions arising out this initial research.
“In the next five to ten years, we’ll have considerably larger amounts of data and then we can do more and better, and address more questions,” Schich said.
More about Northeastern university, cultural science, intellectual mobility