Map: Laconic history of the world

Cartographer Martin Elmer made a truncated history map of the world:

This map was produced by running all the various countries’ “History of _____” Wikipedia article through a word cloud, then writing out the most common word to fit into the country’s boundary. The result is thousands of years of human history oversimplified into 100-some words.

More on the map here.


  • This seems like a missed opportunity. It’s one thing to use “war” for most countries (though still dubious – what do you expect to read about in an encyclopedia entry?) but the preponderance of “new” makes this attractive map look extremely stupid. Why was the most used word in a wikipedia article used to represent the country? What a waste of time. It would be nice if this nice design could be turned into something more meaningful.

    • Hey Nate. I consider the fact that nearly 1/5th of country’s most common word is ‘war’ is meaningful in and of itself: the fact that war IS what our history articles must be written about should give us pause as a society, Also, while I agree that the countries that wound up with things like ‘new’ are less compelling than the ones that reveal, say, colonial oppression, it wasn’t really my position to editorialize; like every other information visualization project, you let the chips fall where they may. The map was conceived to visualize our biased understanding of history (using Wikipedia as a proxy) much more than it intended to visualize history itself.

      • “the fact that war IS what our history articles must be written about should give us pause as a society”
        Why? Just because writers do not need to mention the country was at peace from 1901-1917 doesn’t mean that its not important. War is the exception and its exceptions that get written about. Newspapers don’t report that 3000 planes landed safely yesterday, they report the one that crashed.

  • War. Makes sense. War on Poverty, War on Hunger, everything is expressed in martial terms, even when it’s entirely made up War on Christmas, Republican War against Women, and on and on and on, and THIS!

  • it is impossible that WAR is the most frequent word in the Spanish wikiepdia. Spanish wikipedia IS NOT written in English.

    you have created this beautiful and awesome map using possible English equivalents of those words, but they are not the same as the english words.

    it might seem a little la-di-da know-it-all but words have their own history.

    • The mapmaker never claims to have used the Spanish Wikipedia, or any version of Wikipedia in a specific language. Given this, it is most likely that he used the version written in his native language, which is probably English. He also states that he used the “History of _____” articles, which is the form found in the English Wikipedia

  • One might argue that ‘SOVIET’ should’ve been excluded for all ex-USSR countries as being a part of the toponym (‘Soviet Union’) and the most common country’s short name as well (‘The Soviets’). My educated guess is that ‘WAR’ will take the lead if we do so, but would be interesting to confirm.