Wikipedia and its gigabytes of data, when analyzed properly, can give you a pretty comprehensive visual overview of the history of world since 1800. As pointed out on The New York Times Bits Blog, University of Illinois researcher Kalev Leetaru recently has been looking into Wikipedia as a source of very large data sets to be analyzed by supercomputers, part of a movement called Big Data. His computers scanned Wikipedia pages to pull out locations mentioned in articles and the historical dates corresponding to each mention. To map the data, he analyzed the language used in the articles to determine if the place was spoken of positively or at least neutrally (labelled green) or negatively (labelled red) and plotted the colors accordingly on a world map. In addition, if locations were written about together, they received a line drawn between them. The Wikipedia History of the World can be watched in a video here (Update, June 15: or above, as the mapmakers kindly sent us an embeddable version of their video) but we pulled out some highlights.
1800: The world's the lonely, disconnected place. Europe and North America (a.k.a. the West) seem to have a lot of interaction but that's about it.
1863: Height of the American Civil War. Wars, you'll see, end up getting painted a bloody red by the computers.
1900: At the turn of the century the world is a lot more connected. Though green and seemingly friendly, the lines emanating from Britain toward India and Africa certainly represent its not-so-amicable empire.
1944: The Times' Quentin Hardy explains how World War II's weaker concentration of red (compared to the Civil War) shows the encyclopedia's national bias. "That seems to show a United States preoccupation: as bad as the Civil War was, in terms of loss of life it does not even rank in the top 20 conflicts worldwide since 1800, and it had a relatively small effect on other nations," he writes.
2012: Today we're a green, happy, interconnected paradise, apparently. Thank you, globalization.