Florida becomes intellectuals’ burial ground
Written by Nina Lincoff on August 20, 2014
Florida is known as a resting place for those in their twilight years. Now a study of cultural migration over two millennia illustrates the point.
Researchers from Texas and Miami have created an analytic map of cultural history as it flows across the globe, newly published in the journal “Science”.
Using databases like Google-owned Freebase, researchers pinpointed birth and death sites of 150,000 notable thinkers over the past 2,000 years, sorting data into categories like governance, academics, business, and art and architecture. By visualizing the human flow from birthplace to death, researchers highlighted trends in cultural migration.
The project itself is an example of migration. Maximilian Schich, Ph.D., now at the University of Texas at Dallas, met Chaoming Song, Ph.D., now at the University of Miami, when both were at Northeastern University in Boston.
“I’m physics, Max is in humanities. We come from different disciplines, but we came up with a more or less complementary theory,” Dr. Song said.
In the project’s timeframe Florida is a new cultural hub, so it’s highly unbalanced in births vs. deaths. “We will see if, as Florida grows up, there is a tendency towards balance,” Dr. Song said.
Where notable figures are born versus where they die is effective in charting the migration of culture and ideas across the globe and time.
In the Americas, Mexico City and the Eastern Seaboard were some of the first hubs to grow as European thinkers left their birthplace to live and die out west. As data progresses into the 20th century, the West Coast becomes a hub for the transfer of thought and culture, drawing many of those born on the Eastern Seaboard.
In the early 20th century, the advent of affordable cars can be seen in the increase of people moving west.
Florida doesn’t begin to flourish until about the 1960s, and by 2011, it can be seen as a haven for notable thinkers to finish out their days. “Florida attracts the famous in their later life,” Dr. Song said.
Universities like UM and Florida State exemplify how Florida is a resting place. British physicist Paul Dirac, a 1933 Nobel Prize co-winner, spent his last years at UM and FSU. In one data set, 15 were born in Florida vs. the 236 that died here, Dr. Song said.
While cultural hubs like Rome and London balance in births and deaths over the years, cities like Hollywood, CA, remain significant outliers, with 10 times as many deaths as births. The unbalance in cities might be partly due to their discovery dates.
This is the first analysis of cultural migration on so large a scale. “Before, projects have looked at one particular person or one particular city, or maybe Europe in a very general sense. What we have here is a very detailed computational data set,” Dr. Song said.
Where he and his team teased out migration trends and hubs in their data, historians filled in the events anchored to the data. “With computational analysis without any historical knowledge, we can say something happened, and the historians can say what happened,” Dr. Song said – interdisciplinary study at work.