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Map of the Map, by Ben Allen

A visual representation of the various cultures around the world that have existed over time

October 2, 2014

[This is a guest post by Ben Allen* about his ongoing visualization project “Map of the Map”]



“The map is not the territory”

For each dot, there exists a population of human settlement. There is no distinction between large and small settlements. The organization of these settlements indicate the motivations of humans, both as a need to expand, and as a need to collect together.

This mapping project began in 2004 as a personal project designed to give myself a visual representation of the various cultures around the world that have existed over time. The data I used came from the National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency. My two main inspirations were, first, a lecture discussing the diffusion of the ancient cultures of North Africa across the Mediteranean sea as expressed in the art forms on the island of Crete. Later, the appropriation of ancient Egyptian culture by the academics that traveled with Napoleon.

Secondly, a documentary on the ancient history of India showed maps that illustrated the borders of various cultures. This second inspiration certainly presents a problem. Borders cannot contain culture. We see this everyday in the news when we hear of refugees moving across borders… taking their cultural practices with them. Over time, cultural practices blend together in unique ways, sometimes creating new traditions, religions, languages, ideas, etc.

A long timeline of the history of human populations might reveal how various aspects of culture move.

The goal for Map of the Map is to provide a unique way for people to visually understand the movement of humans over a long timeline. This visual representation is intended to help academia better actualize the existence of people and cultures.

Initially, I began this mapping project by hand drawing maps on grid paper. I quickly moved to drawing maps inside of Adobe Illustrator, and then to Adobe Flash so that I could create animations. There are several problems with this method.

First, illustrating borders failed to realize the idea that cultures could cross borders. It is very likely that the population that lives in the southern-most regions of Texas have more in common with the populations in northern Mexico than with the populations that live in Hawaii… despite being separated by a political border.

Second, the sheer amount of information, nor the accuracy of that information could be illustrated in a few drawings. It was clear that the project had to move into 3d, and be expressed programatically.

This project is alive, and moving to a new platform. In the future, I will be utilizing technology developed for the gaming industry to help better organize and visualize data. This project will remain relevant because it deals with people and culture, two things inextricably linked and always on the forefront of human consciousness. Language and religion, as identifiable characteristics of the human culture, will be the next phase of the project.

(image: Map of the Map (each dot = place that contained a population greater than 10 people), in China | Ben Allen)
(image: Map of the Map – Indonesia | Ben Allen)
(image: Map of the Map – North America | Ben Allen)
(image: Map of the Map -North America | Ben Allen)
(image: Map of the Map – Russia | Ben Allen)
(image: Map of the Map – Northern Africa | Ben Allen)
(image: Map of the Map – Northern Africa | Ben Allen)


*Benjamin Allen is a freelance 3D artist living in Denton, Texas. He holds a B.A. in History from the University of North Texas. You can see more of his work on ArtStation and Behance, and connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (@createdbyi)

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.