At first glance, it looks like a nebula seen through the Hubble Telescope. But these expanding patches of flashing, colored light depict migration patterns across the North American continent, spanning a period of 400 years.
The map is the creation of Maximilian Schich, a professor of art and technology at the University of Texas at Dallas. Schich and his research team compiled data on the locations where thousands of notable individuals were born (colored blue) and died (colored red).
A summary in the Dallas Morning News notes:
At the start, you see the emergence of the northeastern United States as a cultural and economic capital, from Boston to Washington, D.C. From there, people settle the countryside in the east along traffic ways, waterways, and then along railroad lines. Once the automobile comes along in 1908…you see a giant exodus from the East coast to the West coast. Starting around 1965, Florida begins to turn red as it becomes a retirement paradise along with parts of California and the West Coast.
Out of these patterns emerge net winners and losers. Winners are cities where more prominent people have died than were born; losers are cities where more prominent people were born than died, implying that they were lured away to find their fortunes elsewhere.
Yet the dichotomy is not as straightforward as it might seem. "Places that are net losers aren't necessarily unattractive," says Schich. They may just be hubs, like Boston, which happens to fall into this category. Many people are born in Boston to visiting professionals, such as college professors or performing artists, and then travel elsewhere as circumstances dictate.
Top "attractor" cities across the centuries include New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Hollywood, Santa Monica, Burbank and Bethesda.
Top birthplaces of notable individuals who later moved away include Chicago, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.