When­ever I find myself growing grim about the mouth,” writes Ish­mael in Herman Melville classic novel Moby Dick, “I take myself to sea.”

Ish­mael was not the only one. For hun­dreds of years, ships have cut the ocean’s salty waves, fer­rying Ish­maels by the mil­lion between coasts and con­ti­nents. As this striking data viz shows, their wan­der­ings, when traced, result in an aston­ish­ingly accu­rate map of the world.

The visu­al­iza­tion was cre­ated by Ben Schmidt, an assis­tant pro­fessor of his­tory at Boston’s North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. Schmidt, who is expert in using visu­al­iza­tion tech­niques to explore the his­tory of the 19th cen­tury, took data on over 200 years worth of ocean jour­neys avail­able through the National Oceanic and Atmos­pheric Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA), traced them out, and com­bined them into a single image.

Read the article at Fast Company →