This is what data from a world in turmoil looks like. The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) tracks news reports and codes them for 58 fields, from where an incident took place to what sort of event it was (these maps look at protests, violence, and changes in military and police posture) to ethnic and religious affiliations, among other categories. The dataset has recorded nearly 250 million events since 1979, according to its website, and is updated daily.
John Beieler, a doctoral candidate at Penn State, has adapted these data into striking maps, like the one above of every protest recorded in GDELT — a breathtaking visual history lesson. Some events to watch for as you scroll through the timeline:
- Strikes and protests in response to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic reforms.
- Poland lighting up through the 1980s while Cold War-era Eastern Europe stays dark.
- The escalation of apartheid protests in South Africa in the late 1980s.
- The fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of protests in Eastern Europe preceding the end of the Soviet Union.
- Protests in Iraq coinciding with Operation Desert Storm in early 1991.
- The explosion of protests in the United States since 2008 — think Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movements.
- Iran’s Green Movement protests after the presidential election in 2009.
- The Arab Spring, with protests stretching across North Africa and the Middle East starting in 2011.
- The persistence of protests in perennial hotspots like Kashmir, Tibet, and Israel and the West Bank.