Using GeoCurrents Customizable Maps

As was promised earlier, GeoCurrents customizable base maps are now available for free downland in both Keynote and PowerPoint versions. Just click on the icon labeled “download customizable map” on the right-hand side of the homepage.

Here you can find many outline political maps that I have made using Keynote (Apple) presentation software and then exported into PowerPoint. On these maps you can select a country and change its color or boundary marking, and you can easily add text and additional shapes and lines of your own. I made most of these maps years ago, and their resolution is not particularly good. The world map, however, was made more recently and is of much higher quality. You can therefore use this map to make regional maps as well, although they will only have only country shapes and boundaries, without those of provinces, constituent states, departments, etc.

A quick walk-though of how I use these outline maps make special-purpose maps might be useful. (Note that all my comments refer to Keynote rather than PowerPoint, which may be different in several regards.) I start with the basic Geo-Currents world map (reproduced below), which is the final map in a series of seven maps found in the Keynote and PowerPoint “world map” files that are available for download. If, for example, I want to make a map of Southeast Asia, I simply “pinch out” on my trackpad to focus in on this region. I can then click on any shape that is visible on my computer screen to change its color and/or boundary marking. In the second map below, for example, I selected the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, turned it a dark orange color and gave it a heavier border. When I have finished making my changes, I take a screenshot, paste it into a new slide, and add a frame to finish the map.

If you want to select all of Indonesia, or any other island-rich country, it takes some time to click on every shape. In such a situation, however, a shortcut is available. First, click on the blue background (which indicates the ocean), delete it, and paste it onto a blank slide. You can then click on the track pad with one finger and drag with another to select a number of shapes that can then be manipulated together. I did this on the next map below, but note that I inadvertently selected the Malaysian part of Borneo as well. This shape will thus have to be deselected if you want to indicate Indonesia only. After I did this, and then colored Indonesia purple, I noticed that I had missed a few of its islands (see the next map below). But it is simple enough to select the missing islands and give them the same color. If you want to restore the colored ocean to the resulting map, you can simply go to “select all” under the “edit” menu, copy everything, and then paste all the shapes on the blue background oval that had been deleted a few steps earlier.

When making maps, I often choose my own color from Keynote’s  color wheel and “darkness bar.” In the map below, for example, I colored South American countries a particular shade of blue that I find appealing. To make a color series for a choropleth map, the easiest way that I have found is to give every country the same color and then change the opacity setting for particular countries to provide lighter shades that indicate lower values. For example, in the second map below I left Brazil at 100% opacity and then progressively stepped down the level for Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. As can be seen, Peru was given a 50% opacity level. At the lowest level of this series, a problem is encountered with this color-scheme, as a 10% opacity level here yields a color very similar to that that used for the ocean.

When using a custom color, it can be difficult to match exact shades when coloring different countries. If, for example, you have previously colored Germany dark green and then later decided to give the same color to France, it can be a challenge to pinpoint the precise position on both the color wheel and the “darkness bar.” (My daughter can do this easily, matching any color found on any image in a few seconds, but it is beyond my capabilities). An easy way to solve this problem in this example is to change France to “no fill,” in which case the background ocean color shows through. One can then click on Germany, press the “shift” key, click on the border of France, and then change “multiple fill types” to “color fill.” Doing so will turn France the same color as Germany.  Note that when “no fill” is selected, the shape become hollow, requiring you to click on its border.

These directions may not make much sense if one is not familiar with manipulating shapes in presentation software. I would recommend experimenting with these maps to see what can be done. It is very easy to add text (just click on “text”) and shapes, and to make your own shapes using the drawing tool (which I have pointed out with an orange arrow on the final map posted here). When doing more advanced manipulations of these maps, such as moving the shapes, shrinking them, or enlarging them, it is often useful to group shapes together. In Keynote, this can be done under the “group” function found under the “arrange” menu. But if you do not “ungroup” them after manipulating them, you will find it impossible to make certain further changes. Note that if you do want to enlarge country shapes without distorting them, they have to be pegged to the original base map, which in this case was the 2011 CIA world political map.

As this customizable world outline map is based on the CIA’s World Political Map of 2011, it reflects the world view of the U.S. Department of State at the time. (The CIA’s current world political map does not have adequate resolution to do what I wanted to do.)  This 2011 CIA map is seen in the first map in the downloadable series. If one clicks in the middle of the ocean on this map and deletes what has been selected, the CIA map disappears while all the traced-out shapes remain.

There have been several changes in the official world map of the United States between 2011 and 2023. In particular, the U.S. has recognized Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara and Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. On the customizable map, I placed a dotted line to separate Morocco proper from the Western Sahara, as Morocco’s annexation of this region is not recognized by most countries or by the United Nations. As this dotted line is a “line” rather than a “shape,” it can cause problems if one wants to use the “select all” function to change the color of all country shapes at the same time; in such a situation, it is best to delete this line. Note also that I have outlined Russia as two shapes, due simply to the difficulty of tracing out a country as large as Russia. Eastern and western Russia thus have to be selected separately. To remove the line bifurcating Russia on your final map, you can place a new line over this seeming border and give it the color that you previously selected for both halves of Russia.