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World population history, an interactive site that lets you explore the peopling of our planet from multiple perspectives – historical, environmental, social and political. It is about the 2,000-year journey of human civilization and the possible paths ahead to the middle of this century.

The genesis of this project was World Population, a simple, yet powerful, video animation of “dots on a map” representing population changes through time. First produced by Population Connection (Zero Population Growth at that time) over 40 years ago, the video became a popular teaching resource. This spawned new editions that have been viewed in classrooms, museums and boardrooms worldwide. The new 2015 version is viewable here in six languages and contains the latest population projections.

But, what if, you could go beyond the video animation to discover more about the trends that have shaped population growth? What if you could zoom into the population map to learn more about the places illuminated by dots? What if you could select different overlays for the map to see the impacts of human lifestyles over time? What if you could then join an online conversation about what you’ve learned? We thought that would be really cool, so we created

The mapped population dots were created from a unique dataset that is a compilation of several sources outlined in the Sources and Credits page. We used what we consider to be the best sources available but population estimates, especially historical ones, can be tricky. We know of official censuses dating back to the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire, yet many countries, prior to the twentieth century, did not do official counts of the populace. When coming up with estimates, historians and demographers consider a range of clues, from the diaries of explorers to archaeological remains of ancient towns. Nomadic populations are especially difficult to quantify. This is why estimates vary so widely for places like the Americas prior to European colonization. Even today, at a time when most countries hold censuses, they rely on different techniques. When population numbers are given in the dot notes, a year in parentheses indicates either when the most current census was reported or the most current estimate published based on the last census.

World population history

On this map, we show population growth from the year 1 C.E. to the present and project our growth into the year 2050. Population concentrations are indicated by yellow (●) and red (●) dots – each of which represent one million people. In areas where people are spread out and do not live in concentrations of one million, dots are placed in the middle of their approximate range. Yellow dots with red centers can be clicked to see pop-up notes to provide greater context about the country and its local population.

Milestones events that detail key moments throughout history are also displayed on the map as white triangles (▴), just as they are on the timeline. These milestones are organized by theme: Food & Agriculture, Health, People & Society, Environment, and Science & Technology.

Additionally, other key data is visualized as map overlays including: Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions, Fertility Rates, Urbanization, and Life Expectancy.

Cities with over one million residents
Cities with over one million residents


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