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The Extraordinary Cultural Cartography of Michael Izady, Part I

By Martin W. Lewis | October 23, 2014 |

To understand the political situation of the Middle East today, it is necessary to examine the geographical relationships pertaining to political borders, the distributions of religious and linguistic groups, and the patterning of oil and gas deposits. Of particular significance is the fact that many of the largest fossil fuel deposits are found in areas that are not primarily inhabited …

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The New York Times’ Impressive Collection of Iraq/Syria Maps

By Martin W. Lewis | October 20, 2014 |

As long-time readers of GeoCurrents may have noted, I have rather mixed feelings about the New York Times. I am often critical of Times articles and columnists, and I find the newspaper’s coverage of world events too spotty and incomplete to be satisfying. But I also start off every morning with the print edition, and I can’t imagine doing otherwise. …

The Fantasy Political Maps of DeviantART

By Martin W. Lewis | October 17, 2014 |

When looking for specific maps on the internet, I often come across bizarre examples, such as a map of Novorossiya that depicts not southeastern Ukraine but rather northwestern North America. This fantasy political map, like many others of its ilk, can be traced back to a website called DeviantART, Inc., described by the Wikipedia as “an online community showcasing various …

My Error on Ukraine’s Political Divisions

By Martin W. Lewis | October 15, 2014 |

Several months ago, I posted an article and a map on GeoCurrents in which I divided Ukraine into a “nationalist” region and a “Russian-oriented” region. In retrospect, it seems that most of the area that I had designated as “Russian-Oriented Ukraine” does not actually fit that category. Despite the fact that a few pro-Russian demonstrations have occurred in a number …

Eco-Authoritarian Catastrophism: The Dismal and Deluded Vision of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

By Martin W. Lewis | October 9, 2014 |

(Note: The following post strays from the usual geopolitical concerns of GeoCurrents into the realm of environmental politics. It also deviates from the norm in being a polemical review of a particular book. Regular posts will resume shortly.)
As with so many other hot-button debates, the climate change controversy leaves me repelled by the clamoring extremists on both sides. Global-warming denialists, …

Is There an Arc of Instability?

By Martin W. Lewis | October 3, 2014 |

In grappling with the geography of geopolitical conflict, many journalists, politicians, and military strategists use the term “arc of instability,” implying that the world’s troubled countries are arrayed along a curve. But different sources have very different ideas about how such an “arc” is configured. A recent The Wall Street Journal article (“Obama Contends With Arc of Instability Unseen Since …

Can We Map State Instability?

By Martin W. Lewis | September 28, 2014 |

The previous post showed that the Fragile States Index did not capture the fragility of Syria and Libya on the eve of the so-called Arab Spring. The question is then raised about the performance of other indices of state weakness in this this regard. As it turns out, they did little better.
Consider, for example, the World Bank’s 2010 map of …

The Fragility of the State Fragility Index

By Martin W. Lewis | September 25, 2014 |

I recently came across a “State Fragility Index Map” from 2010 that made me doubt the usefulness of the index. As a predictive measurement, its failures are obvious. Note that Syria was depicted at the time as a relatively stable state, while Libya was portrayed as quite secure. In the 2010 Index, Syria ranked 48th from the bottom (out of …

ISIS Advances and the Kurds Retreat In Northern Syria

By Martin W. Lewis | September 21, 2014 |

The struggle involving the Islamic State (alternatively, ISIS or ISIL) in northern and eastern Syria and northern Iraq is finally receiving abundant coverage in the global media. Today’s (Sept. 21) New York Times, for example, features several articles on the issue, focused mostly on the international complications generated by the conflict. Many publications in the U.S., however—including the Times—have either …

Future Islamic State Mapping and Computer-Game Cartography

By Martin W. Lewis | September 20, 2014 |

As mentioned in the previous post, several maps purporting to show plans for an enlarged caliphate by the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) have been circulating on the Internet. The oddest of such maps has ben posted here. As noted by Media Matters, this map “was reported on InfoWars.com, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, … [and] appears to have originated …

The Islamic State’s Aspirational Map?

By Martin W. Lewis | September 18, 2014 |

The geopolitical entity that calls itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has generated some interesting maps. Today’s post examines a map that ostensibly shows the area designated for conquest and rule by ISIS leaders. Widely disseminated across the Internet, it evidently originated on Twitter, but its creator remains unknown. Media Matters for America has advanced some …

Misleading Statistics: The Case of Luxembourg, by Will Rayner

By Martin W. Lewis | September 16, 2014 |

(Note: This post is by Will Rayner, a former student of mine who graduated from Stanford University last year.)
Statistics can be misleading, particularly in regard to international country-by-country comparisons. We all know that. And yet governments, institutions, and corporations rely on these statistics every day.
GDP per capita—just to pick an example—is often used as shorthand for a country’s level of …

GeoCurrents Changes and Fall Schedule

By Martin W. Lewis | September 15, 2014 |

Dear Readers,
GeoCurrents will resume its regular publication schedule this week. Several changes have been made on the website. Most important, advertising is being eliminated, as GeoCurrents is transitioning into a non-revenue-generating mode. This change is primarily being made so that the website can be integrated into my teaching schedule, allowing me to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. For the …

GeoCurrents Editorial: The Genocide of the Yezidis Begins, and the United States is Complicit

By Martin W. Lewis | August 7, 2014 |

(Note: GeoCurrents is still technically on summer vacation, allowing me time to catch up with other obligations that I have neglected. My recent essays on eco-modernism, written for the Breakthrough Institute, can be found here and here. I am interrupting this GeoCurrents hiatus, however, to address a highly disturbing and significant development. This post also violates the GeoCurrents policy on …

The Californian Insular Myth: Follow the Blue Seashells (Adapted from the work of Annick Foucrier)

By Martin W. Lewis | June 21, 2014 | One Comment

(Note:  GeoCurrrents is concerned with all things connected to mapping, including the history of cartography. One particularly interesting and rather mysterious feature of world mapping in the early modern period was the persistent depiction of California as an island. This portrayal is so distinctive is that it has captured the attention of many historians, geographers, and map aficionados. In 2012, …

GeoCurrents Summer Vacation

By Martin W. Lewis | June 10, 2014 | 3 Comments

Dear Readers,
I am sorry to say that GeoCurrents will be taking its annual summer vacation for the next five or six weeks. During this time, several guest posts may be run, but I will not be contributing any posts myself. For the next two weeks, my attention will be focused on grading papers and examinations and on finishing the book manuscript …