Time-series of the Distribution of Biographies on Wikipedia over the Last Five Centuries
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Description

In order to further explore geographic differences of knowledge about the world in Wikipedia, this time-series of maps visualises the distribution of articles about people in the encyclopaedia from the sixteenth century until the present-day.

Data

These graphics visualize references to places within 1,575,865 biography articles in the English version of Wikipedia. Every biography was georeferenced by counting the number of references to place names in each person's biography and then mapping only the most mentioned place in each article. Ranking of placenames was conducted not only using the English version of the article, but also using the equivalent in up to seven languages (English, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese). The method therefore aims not to provide a comprehensive overview of the geography of articles about people in all Wikipedia language versions, but rather offers a look at the geographic focus of the subjects of key Western European languages.

Findings

Articles about people in Wikipedia are highly likely to reference particular parts of the world (the US and Western Europe), reinforcing many of the patterns seen in our other graphics. Nonetheless, this is a geography of people that is in no way reflective of the actual distribution of population on our planet. Wikipedia guidelines specify that biographies should only be about notable people and this map suggests that Wikipedia editors believe there to be vastly more notable people in Europe and North America than anywhere else in the world. It is therefore clear that much more work needs to be done before Wikipedia can attain its stated goal of storing the “the sum of all human knowledge.”

Visualization and analysis by Dr Mark Graham, Scott A. Hale and Monica Stephens in collaboration with Dr Corinne M. Flick and the Convoco Foundation. Data provided by Adrian Popescu.

This map is taken from the following publication: "Graham, M., Hale, S. A. and Stephens, M. (2011) Geographies of the World's Knowledge. London, Convoco! Edition."

Author(s): Dr Mark Graham
Scott A. Hale
Monica Stephens
Published: June 2011
License: Creative Commons [CC BY-NC-ND]
Data Source: Wikipedia
Tools: ArcGIS, Illustrator
Tags: point/dot map, knowledge, wikipedia, web2.0, time-series
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