Viral ‘History of the World’ video turns into a meme bonanza

Screengrab via Bill Wurtz/YouTube

‘History of the World’ is taking over the internet.

Bill Wurtz’s tremendously viral animated video, “history of the entire world, i guess,” arrived on YouTube last week to wide acclaim. If you thought audiences in 2017 didn’t have the attention span for a 20-minute video on history, think again: Wurtz’s entertaining piece has 12 million views and counting. And now people are turning individual frames from “history of the entire world” into memes.

The general methodology behind these new memes is to find a particularly juicy screengrab from the history of the world and then write a reaction caption for it in the classic “when …” format. The text lays out a scenario, the image becomes a punchline about how you would react.

Examples can be extremely specific, like these:

history of the world meme : merchants properly calebeveryday/Reddit

history meme: death metal whahuh82/Reddit

Or they can recycle the caption from an older, more popular meme, like these:

history of the world meme robloxgod79/Reddit

when you show her your memes history of the world ishaniminator/Reddit

A section of the video about the spice trade has become particularly popular as a funny drug reference:

merchants probably with spices : history of the world meme oba_/Reddit

spices meme : history of the world nubcaeks/Reddit

It’s not surprising that “history of the entire world” has inspired meme-makers. Wurtz’s previous quirky history video, 2016’s “history of japan,” is a YouTube classic that’s been viewed nearly 30 million times, and its best lines have been memed using the same format.

For example:

knock knock it's religion japan meme Know Your Meme

Know Your Meme notes that one quote from the video, “How ’bout I do anyway?” also became a popular GIF on Tumblr.

“history of japan” was iconic, and the year-plus wait for the followup meant enthusiasm was high when “history of the world, i guess,” finally arrived.

Wurtz’s stock in the meme world is extremely high now, but posters on Reddit’s r/memeconomy are predicting a swift crash for “history of the world” memes. They may have become oversaturated too quickly and exhausted their comedic potential.

memeeconomy history of the world r/memeeconomy/Reddit

That may be, but we can only expect Wurtz’s next video—a history of the universe, maybe?—to create similar levels of memetic hype when it eventually comes out.

Jay Hathaway

Jay Hathaway

Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.