For our final discussion, we will be looking at the Gapminder Digital project (link below) which crunches data to present an interactive chart that measures life expectancy and average income globally and by individual country since 1800. In my opinion, this is an interesting tool that visualizes tons of information, but it is also problematic. Much like our discussion on the Great Divergence, this discussion will ask you to question how we measure the “success” of a nation or civilization and how great inequalities continue to define our world.
First, drag the button on the bottom of the graph all the way back to the year 1800 then hit play. Take note of what you see. Each bubble represents a different country (you can click on them or hover above them to see which is which) and the size of the bubble represents the population. You can also see the impact of some of the major global events we have covered: WWI (and the 1917 Flu), The Great Depression, WWII, etc. You can also see which countries were affected the most.
Next, select a country of your choice from the right side, drag the button back to 1800, and play it again. Take note of what you see. For example, I chose Ireland and you can see the impact of the Irish Famine in the 1840s, the Anglo-Irish War, and even the recession of 2008 following the “Celtic Tiger”.
Once you have had the chance to explore this tool fully, use the following questions to guide your discussion post:
What does this tool tell us about global history? What is useful about it? How is it problematic? Where does it fall short? In other words, how does this tool not tell the whole story?
What country did you choose to follow? What were you able to find out about the country from this tool?
Finally, this tool uses wealth and longer lives as the metrics for progress, do you agree that these should be the measures of “success”? What assumptions does this make about what values should be prioritized as markers of progress? For instance, many wealthy countries still have enormous wealth gaps, how does this tool obscure that? What do you think should be the markers of success?
There are a lot of questions here to get you thinking about this, don’t feel the need to answer all of them! I just wanted to give you some ideas on how to approach this.