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Paper Chase

Quantitative social science. A network framework of cultural history.

Science. Aug 1, 2014;345(6196):558-62.
Schich M, Song C, Ahn YY, Mirsky A, Martino M, Barabási AL, Helbing D.

Chair of Sociology, in particular of Modeling and Simulation (SOMS), Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


The emergent processes driving cultural history are a product of complex interactions among large numbers of individuals, determined by difficult-to-quantify historical conditions. To characterize these processes, we have reconstructed aggregate intellectual mobility over two millennia through the birth and death locations of more than 150,000 notable individuals. The tools of network and complexity theory were then used to identify characteristic statistical patterns and determine the cultural and historical relevance of deviations. The resulting network of locations provides a macroscopic perspective of cultural history, which helps us to retrace cultural narratives of Europe and North America using large-scale visualization and quantitative dynamical tools and to derive historical trends of cultural centers beyond the scope of specific events or narrow time intervals.