About this Project

Welcome to WorldPopulationHistory.org, 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 WorldPopulationHistory.org.


The Five Themes

The historical timeline at the bottom of the screen represents five areas of human existence. These themes are also evident in the notes associated with population dots on the map, as well as additional map overlays and background articles.

people-and-societyPeople and Society

Includes historical markers on population changes and milestones, migrations, explorations, dynasties, civilizations, conquests and gender roles. Short readings explore trends in global urbanization, the relationship between fertility and gender equity, and how population projections are made.

science-and-techScience and Technology

Features inventions, discoveries and technological advances that have impacted population changes.

food-and-agFood and Agriculture

Spans the changes in farming, aquaculture and diets over the past two millennia.


Highlights the milestones in medicine and public health initiatives, including sanitation. Map overlays show trends in fertility rates and life expectancy over time.


Includes events relating to both environmental destruction and protection. Map overlays show carbon emissions and anthropogenic changes to the landscape. A short reading explains the concepts of carrying capacity and ecological footprints.


The Data

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.


Classroom Resources

While this site is educational for everyone, it’s especially useful for the high school classroom with rich content for geography, world history, environmental science and much more. There are six downloadable lesson plans designed for science and social studies courses. The lesson plans address current national and state standards, as well as provide content for several Advanced Placement (AP) courses. After exploring the site, students can test their “population I.Q.” with our world population knowledge quiz.

And just for fun, everyone can find their “population number” based on their day they were born.


About Population Education

Population Education is a program of Population Connection, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to educate the public about global population issues. Since 1975, we have been developing K-12 curricula for a range of disciplines – science, social studies, math and environmental studies. Our staff and network of local teacher trainers facilitate over 500 professional development workshops annually in North America. A full description of all of our materials and workshops, plus downloadable classroom resources, are available at our main program site: www.populationeducation.org.