What is the real influence of notable people on city growth over the very long run? Complementing the pioneering work by Schich et al. (2014) and more recent work by Yu et al. (2016), we collected extensive data on 1.2 million people through an in-depth analysis of their Wikipedia biographies. This ongoing research is aimed at identifying the causal impact of the presence of these famous people on the growth of some 2,000 cities located in 30 countries around the world since 800AD.
In a new paper (Gergaud et al. 2016), we explain how we collected a database of 1,243,776 notable people and 7,184,575 locations (Geolinks) associated with them throughout human history (3000BCE-2015AD). The work is updated in real time on a dedicated website (http://brief-history.eu/).
The approach was pioneered by Schich et al. (2014) who tracked the births and deaths of 120,211 notable people in history using Freebase, a Google-owned knowledge database. de la Croix and Licandro (2015) built a sample of 300,000 famous people born between Hammurabi’s epoch and 1879 – Einstein’s birth year – from the Index Bio-bibliographicus Notorum Hominum. Recently, Yu et al. (2016) also used Freebase to assemble a manually verified dataset of 11,341 biographies in more than 25 languages on Wikipedia.
Our work extends these approaches. We compile the largest possible database of “notable” people rather than focusing only on “very famous” individuals, because we are ultimately interested in detecting the statistically significant local economic impact of these individuals. It turns out that weighting individuals by measures of their impact does not make a big difference, which ex post justifies our collection of information on hundreds of thousands of lesser known artists, business people, and local rulers who are famous enough to have been listed and described somewhere on the internet or in various rankings, but are left out of the vast majority of internet sources.
Specifically, the presence of many entrepreneurs and artists is associated with faster long-term growth, but the association does not hold for notable military, political or religious figures.
Digging more and more into history..