‘Tis the Season: GeoCurrents 2015 Year-in-Review

(Many thanks to Asya Pereltsvaig for drafting this post)

After a hiatus in the Winter 2015 quarter (January through March), GeoCurrents came back with a wealth of posts on a variety of topics, ranging from major world news, such as the war in Syria and the Mediterranean migration crisis, to often-overlooked corners of the world, such as Socotra and Kiribati. This post offers an overview of the 2015 GeoCurrents posts—and what to look forward in the coming year.
Border Disputes Map

In April 2015, GeoCurrents resumed publication with a series of posts that presented slides from Martin Lewis’ course on the history and geography of current global events. The first four-part mini-series of posts (see here, here, here, and here) discussed an issue central to GeoCurrents conceptual concerns—the flawed nature of the standard geopolitical model. GeoCurrents writes: “This taken-for-granted model posits mutually recognized sovereign states as the fundamental building blocks of the global order. Many of these basic units, however, are highly fragile and a number have collapsed altogether.” The GeoCurrents map on the left illustrates the extent to which the geopolitical reality departs from the standard model of clearly demarcated nation-states. Knowing about these failings of alleged nation-states is indispensable for understanding many of today’s pressing events, from the conflict in Syria to the Mediterranean migration crisis. While this series of posts focused on the area that centers on the Middle East and includes parts of North and East Africa, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and parts of South Asia, similar issues can be raised about the rest of the world as well.

After that introduction to the fraying standard geopolitical model, the rest of Martin Lewis’ lectures—and the corresponding posts (continuing through mid-June 2015)—covered a broad range of topics, offering historical, economic, geographical, and cultural background to current events, in places such as Yemen, Latin America, and Ukraine.

Posts in May 2015 continued with slides from Martin Lewis’ lectures on the Mediterranean migration crisis, conflicts in the East Asian Seas, and the 2015 UK Election. The lecture slides and post on Narendra Modi and the rise of India focused in part on the relationship between India and China.

June 2015 opened with a post summarizing Martin Lewis’ lecture titled “Iran: Nuclear Negotiations, Geopolitical Ambitions, Cultural Complexities, and Historical Legacies”. One of the issues discussed in this post/lecture is the relationship between Arabs and Persians, in a historical context. The following mini-series of posts discussed Nigeria, particularly geographical patterns in its 2015 election, which, as GeoCurrents claims, echo the self-proclaimed independent country of Biafra from the 1960s. While a sharp electoral divide such as the one observed in Nigeria suggests a problem with national unity, GeoCurrents argued that “a sense of national identity is well established across most of the country” and that a breakup of Nigeria is unlikely.

In mid-June 2015, GeoCurrents introduced readers to Martin Lewis’ other recent works, including the book The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics, which “seeks to defend traditional methods in historical linguists against those who would reinvent the field as a quasi-biological science”. In this book, Martin Lewis and his co-author Asya Pereltsvaig argue “against the notion that the Indo-European language family originated among Neolithic farmers in Anatolia, and instead contend that that it most likely originated among semi-pastoral peoples living in the grasslands of southern Russia and Ukraine (the so-called Steppe Theory)”.

This post also summarizes Martin Lewis’ work in the area of environmental philosophy, arguing in favor of “ecomodernism”, a view based on two deep concerns: for the preservation of nature and for broad-based economic development and technological progress. As Martin Lewis argues throughout his work, the former is not possible without the latter. These views are summarized in his essay on “Pragmatic Rewilding”, published by the Breakthrough Institute. These environmental concerns are also evident in GeoCurrents post on whether the Earth is greening.

For the rest of June 2015, GeoCurrents focused on the 2015 Election in Turkey, examining the extent to which economic divisions, the Kurdish question, and the right-wing nationalist vote determined the geographical patterns in the election’s results.

In July 2015, the site’s most productive month of the year, GeoCurrents presented two mini-series and several stand-alone posts. The first series shined light on an often-forgotten corners of the Arabian Peninsula, including two posts on Dhofar (here and here), a post on Yemen’s beleaguered Al Mahrah seeking autonomy, the similarities and differences between Yemen and neighboring Oman, and the troubled Socotra.


Chile North America Map ComparisonThe second series published in July 2015 focused on the uneven distribution of economic and social development in Chile, with posts on Chile’s unusual core/periphery pattern; inequality, incarceration, and drug smuggling; and geographical patterns in education. Another post in this mini-series compares Chile to its counterpart in North America—a region extending in the north-south direction from southeastern Alaska to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, bounded to the east by highland crests. The map on the left depicts these inverted trans-hemispheric “twins”. The post concluding this mini-series discussed Chile’s indigenous population.

Stand-alone posts published in July 2015 cover a wide range of topics, including the geography of homicide in Mexico; stark electoral divide in Poland’s 2015 Election; and a seemingly impossible rainfall map of California.

For most of August 2015, GeoCurrents was off for a summer break, but at the end of the month, several posts were published on varied topics such as economic development and energy issues in Colombia; the Ahl-e Haqq minority faith seeking a homeland in northern Iraq; and a quixotic campaign to split the New York State.

September 2015 at GeoCurrents opened with a three-part mini-series on the inequality of economic and social development in Argentina (see here, here, and here). The following post examined the connection between the issue of national self-determination for places like Kurdistan and Balochistan and the right/left political divide in the West. This topic was picked up in GeoCurrents Editorial that argued for the recognition of Iraqi Kurdistan and Somaliland as sovereign states. Other topics discussed by GeoCurrents in September 2015 include the changing geography of poverty in the United States and the professional prospects for students of geography and the importance of learning GIS and other advanced tools of the trade.

In October 2015, GeoCurrents again offered two mini-series, as well as individual posts on a variety of topics. The first mini-series discussed Catalonia’s 2015 Election, especially the role that rural/urban divide played in this election. GeoCurrents also examined two areas related to the Catalan independence movement: Val d’Aran and Valencia.

The second mini-series, started in October and continued into November, concerned mapping world religions and focused on several successful and not-so-successful maps, especially one by reddit user “scolbert08”. A separate post focused on religious complexity in northeastern South Asia. The series was briefly interrupted by a post on the Third Africa-India Forum Summit that took place that month and its cartographically interesting logo.

In November 2015, GeoCurrents continued with a mini-series on mapping world religions, focusing on intriguing geographical patterns of religion in Insular Southeast Asia; the global spread of Heterodox Christianity; the global patterns of Moravian and Mennonite faiths; and the religious divides in Japan.

This series was interspersed with another three-post series on the fascinating oddities of the Pacific country of Kiribati: a part of Kiribati is administered from another sovereign state, Fiji; demographic issues of this spatially large yet land-short country; and the unique physical geography of its Line Islands.

In the same month, GeoCurrents introduced the readers to the “sago-eaters”, the Manusela people of the Indonesian island of Seram, “who evidently incorporate elements of Hinduism, animism, and Christianity in their religious beliefs and practices”. In another post, Martin Lewis reconsidered political divisions in Europe and argued against the fallacy of environmental determinism.

In December 2015, Martin Lewis posted a video lecture on how the knowledge of geography—or the lack thereof—affects foreign policy; challenged the readers to a quiz on the Pacific; and offered some thoughts on the mapping of the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria. The latter topic has been picked up by a guest blogger, Evan Lewis, who wrote about the maps produced by the Institute for the Study of War. In this month, GeoCurrents also started producing and offering for free download customizable maps of different countries and continents; so far, such maps of Africa, Russia, and the United States have been posted.

In addition to the regular posts, another big project has preoccupied GeoCurrents since mid-October: an overhaul of the site, which has been managed by Asya Pereltsvaig. In addition to maintenance and “housekeeping” tasks, a number of features, which can be found in the main menu, have been added to the site—we hope they will be useful to our readers. One such feature is the repository of GeoCurrents maps (see “GC Maps” in the main menu). This new part of the site showcases several of GeoCurrents mapping projects, including the newly-created index of GeoCurrents original thematic maps, now searchable by country and by topic. Here you will also find GeoCurrents original language maps of the Caucasus, the region known as “the mountain of tongues”, created in collaboration with Stanford cartographer Jake Coolidge and linguist Asya Pereltsvaig. Another GeoCurrents map project featured here is the Demic Atlas, a non-state-based series of maps of global social and economic development.

Another new GeoCurrents feature is the Editorial section, which can be found at the top-right corner of the homepage and in the main menu. While GeoCurrents is generally a non-partisan blog devoted to providing geographical information, occasionally, opinion pieces, written by Martin W. Lewis, are posted on the site.

Several new pages have been added to “Resources” and “About” sections of the site. Under “Resources”, the readers will find lists of various geography resources found to be valuable by Martin Lewis, such as lists of geography blogs and websites and of map collections. You will also find here some geography quizzes and posts written by guest bloggers outside the main GeoCurrents framework. Under “About”, you can find pages with information about GeoCurrents, its author Martin Lewis, and his conceptual concerns. Additionally, information about Martin Lewis’ books and links to videos of his talks/lectures are available here.

Currently, we are also working on a page that will offer a collection of customizable base maps, which the readers can use for their own purposes. We hope to make this page available soon.

Other “coming attractions” we expect to post in January include a post or two about mapping religion in Japan and a mini-atlas of economic and social development of Russia. We hope you will continue to read and follow GeoCurrents in the coming year.

Happy New Year from the GeoCurrents team!