Dues to travel and family considerations, GeoCurrents is currently on a summer hiatus. Blogging will resume in mid to late August.
I have not been posting recently due to illness. I am now feeling better, but I will soon be leaving for a trip to the Republic of Georgia, where I will be giving a talk on the Black Sea region in the geo-historical imagination.
In roughly one month, GeoCurrents will turn its attention to examining the history and geography of current global events, beginning with the war in Ukraine. This focus will last for at least 10 week, during which I will be teaching a course in Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program on the same topic. Weekly lectures and associated blog posts will vary considerably in topic, depending largely on what is happening across the globe. Two elections, however, will definitely be covered, one held in Brazil (October 2), and the other in The United States (November 8). Both promise to be interesting, and both will probably generate a good deal of controversy. As these elections will be analyzed cartographically, I will have to wait a week or so to examine them, as it takes a while for the necessary maps to be produced.
From now until late September, this blog will switch between shorter posts examining a variety of topics and longer ones devoted to my manuscript entitled Seduced by the Map: How the Nation-State Model Prevents Us from Thinking Clearly About the World. This project will be explained more fully in tomorrow’s post. Some of the shorter offerings that will be interspersed with the Seduced segments will return to the “Atlas of Human Development” project that I began in July. I was keenly engaged in this project, but was then side-tracked by my county-level maps of Montana and the United States. Although Montana is a fascinating place, I will soon be returning to California and moving on to other issues.
In another new development, GeoCurrents is now free of advertisements. I initially decided to include ads to cover the costs of hosting and running the blog. But they have never even managed to do that, and they are distracting and aesthetically displeasing. I will therefore pay the costs associated with GeoCurrents out of pocket. I will be officially retired from Stanford University in one week, and running this blog is the best retirement project that I can imagine.
Ever since GeoCurrents was suspended in 2016 I have been working on a book project tentatively entitled Seduced by the Map: How the Nation State Model Prevents Us from Thinking Clearly About the World. This has been a valuable and enjoyable project, but the topic is so vast that the project has gotten out of hand, covering too much material and becoming somewhat unfocused. As a result, I am reconsidering publication options. I am no longer sure that I want to publish this material as a conventional book. I would prefer that the entire manuscript be made available for free in digital form, which is not possible in either commercial or academic publishing. As a result, I am considering posting the manuscript sequentially on this website over the next few months.
Whatever I decide for the manuscript as a whole, several chapters will definitely be published on this site. This material examines language and religion as a basis of national identity – a far more complex and controversial topic than it might seem. In Winter Quarter of this year, I taught a Stanford Continuing Studies class on the Seduced by the Map project, but the term ended before I reached the sections on language and religion. I will therefore be giving additional lectures on this topic for those people who had enrolled in the original class. I plan to record these lectures and put the recordings on this website after they have been edited. I will also post the same material in textual form, including the accompanying maps and other illustrations. The first of such post will be added tomorrow or perhaps the day after.
One part of the larger Seduced by the Map project will be published in conventional form by an academic press. This is a collection of essays written by leading scholars on the related theme of “remapping sovereignty.” These essays were delivered orally in a small conference held in May 2022 in Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center; the conference program can be found here: Re-Mapping Sovereignty, public program, final. These presentations are all available on-line at the Rumsey Center’s YouTube channel, which can be found here. Some of these presentations are more accessible than others, but all are interesting and informative. My talk was the last one given. The essays will be edited by my wife, Kären Wigen, and will be published, if all goes according to plan, by the end of next year.
GeoCurrents returns to publication this week. New posts are planned for each weekday going forward. Two themes will command our attention for the remainder of this summer. One is a GeoCurrents atlas of global human development, which will entail original maps based on the UN’s Human Development Index. Today’s post gives an indication of what this atlas will look like. Posts on this topic will alternate irregularly with ones derived from a much larger project that I have been working on since GeoCurrents went into suspension in 2016. This project, called Seduced by the Map: How the Nation-State Model Prevents Us from Thinking Clearly About the World, will be explained and outlined in tomorrow’s post. Starting in late September, GeoCurrents will turn its attention to current global events. These posts will be done in conjunction with a Stanford Continuing Studies (adult education) class that I will be teaching remotely in the Fall Quarter called “The History and Geography of Current Global Events.”
The Human Development Index (HDI), created by the United Nations, is described by the Wikipedia as “a statistic composite index of life expectancy, education (mean years of schooling completed and expected years of schooling upon entering the education system), and per capita income indicator, which are used to rank countries into four tiers of human development.” The information used on most of the HDI maps that I will be posting is from 2019, most recent year in which comprehensive global data is available. The HDI, like other development indicators, is far from perfect and the data used to construct it are not always reliable. But it is the most referenced measurement of global human development, and it can be used to make maps at the subnational level across the world.
The maps that will posted ignore the UN’s four-tier scheme of “very high, high, medium, and low” social development, instead arraying countries into a larger number of categories. These maps also break down large countries into their first-order division (provinces, states, etc.) to convey regional variation more finely. Many of these maps are based on unconventional world regions, such as the South China Sea region and Greater Central Asia.
The two maps posted today, showing human development levels in the core part of North America, give an indication of how the atlas will look. The first map shows HDI levels in independent countries. The pattern seen here is simple: The United States and Canada are at the top, slotted into the same high-level category. In 2019, these two countries had almost identical HDI figures, with Canada coming in at .929 (15th highest in the world) and the United States coming in at .926 (16th highest). Mexico was rated significantly lower, at .779, but that figure still puts it in the UN’s “high social development” category. Northern Central America is shown to be significantly lower, and Haiti much lower still. Honduras posts the lowest figure in Central America, coming in at .634. This puts it in the U.N.’s “medium human development” category.
On this map, only Haiti, with a figure .510, is slotted in the “low human development” category. Elsewhere in the world, however, much lower figures are found. According to official statistics, three African countries, Niger, Central African Republic, and Chad, come in at below .40. Somalia probably has a significantly lower figure, but it is excluded from most tabulations for having unreliable or unavailable data. One Wikipedia article, however, places Somalia at only .361, giving an appalling low number of .232 for its Middle Juba region.
When the larger countries in this part of the world are broken down into their main political subdivisions, a somewhat different picture emerges. The United States is shown to be slightly more regionally differentiated than Canada, with three states (Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) posting figures above .95. Only three independent countries, Norway, Ireland, and Switzerland, fall into this exceptionally high category. Several southern U.S. states post figures below .90, as do two Canadian provinces in the Atlantic maritime region (Newfoundland and New Brunswick). Neighboring Nova Scotia just misses this category, with a figure of .903.
This map also shows relatively wide levels of differentiation across Mexico, with much higher HDI figures found in the north and much lower one in the south. Although the U.S.-Mexico border is easily visible in this map, the Mexico-Central America border disappears. The heavily indigenous southern Mexican state of Chiapas, with an HDI figure of .698, falls into the same category as neighboring Guatemala (at .663).
I am sorry to say that I have decided to suspend the publication of new posts on GeoCurrents for at least one year. I will reconsider this decision in June 2017, and I may begin posting again at that time.
I have very much enjoyed writing for this site, and I do hope to return to it at some time. For the time being, however, other obligations demand my time.
Many thanks to everyone who has read the articles posted on this site and special thanks to those who have provided comments.
(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.
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.
The 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!
One of the main concerns of GeoCurrents is the thesis that the basic political map of the world, focused as it is on mutually recognized sovereign states, is a misleading document. This map purports to depict the existing global political configuration but does not actually do so. Instead, it essentially shows the world as it should be, according, that is, to the foreign-policy establishment. Western Sahara, for example, appears as a country on almost all political maps—except those made in Morocco— even though it has never actually been an independent state and in all likelihood will never be one. Diplomatic pretense, on other words, habitually trumps geopolitical reality in our most basic depiction of the world.
Numerous GeoCurrents posts over the years have pointed out many of the failures of the standard political map. I often feel, however, that this topic deserves more concerted attention. I have therefore contemplated writing a book on the topic, but to do so I would probably have to quit writing GeoCurrents posts or take a leave of absence from teaching, neither of which I am willing to do. But I have been able to give extended consideration to this topic in the form of an illustrated lecture, given under the auspices of the Stanford University alumni program. This lecture was recorded and has been put up on the internet. It is also available for viewing below. Many thanks to Stanford for hosting this lecture and especially for making it available to the public.
(Video and audio recordings of other talks and lectures can be found here.)
Over the past few years, I have created a number of customizable base maps that I subsequently used to make the original GeoCurrents thematic maps that have been posted on this site (which are themselves now searchable by country and by topic). These customizable base maps were initially created by hand in Keynote, the Apple presentation program that competes with PowerPoint. Over the next several weeks, I will be fine-tuning all of these maps and then releasing them for downloading on this site in both Keynote and PowerPoint formats. Please free to use these customizable maps as you like. All that I would ask is that you retain the source note on the maps: GeoCurrents Customizable Base Map.
The customizable base maps were made by outlining the shapes of geopolitical units on basic maps held in the public domain. Once the outlines have been made, the resulting country- or province-shapes can be easily manipulated through a few simple clicks, allowing one to instantly change country color, boundary color and thickness, and so on. Keynote’s “shape” feature allows one to easily draw on the maps to show additional features. Shapes can also be dragged out of place and then placed back where they belong (to place shapes precisely, make sure that the “guidelines” in Keynote are turned off). Similar functionalities are available in the PowerPoint format, although I never personally use PowerPoint and hence I am a bit uncertain about what it actually allows. (But see these basic instructions How can these maps be manipulated in PowerPoint.)
These maps can be profitably used in the classroom. If students are provided with a customizable map of a particular part of the world along with a data list pertaining to the same place, they can make their own thematic map. One example would be a map of African countries along with a list of African countries by per capita GDP. This exercise will help students learn the locations and shapes of the units in question (the countries of Africa in this case), and will allow them to grasp the patterns that they are mapping much more effectively than by merely looking at a map that someone else has made. Such a process is also useful for teaching students about selecting appropriate breaks in the data for effective map visualization, the use of different color schemes in mapping, and so on. One can also scatter the country shapes and then ask students to reassemble the map as a sort of game. Unfortunately, the shapes will not “click” into place, but the process still works well enough.
I am beginning this project by releasing a single map, that of the countries of Africa. Several different versions of this map are available in the PowerPoint and Keynote files provided below this text. The first is a simple outline map of the conventional countries of the region (although some insular African countries are excluded: Cape Verde, Seychelles, and Mauritius, as well as the French department of Reunion). Boxes with the word “text” next to them can be used to construct a map key. The second is the same map but with the addition of country names. As the maps are all customizable, these names can be easily removed to (re)create the initial map. The third map includes two de facto changes to the basic political map that have not been recognized by the international community: the effective independence of Somaliland, and the extension of Morocco over most of Western Sahara, along with the virtual independence of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the remaining territory. The essentially collapsed states of Libya and (the rest of) Somalia still appear on this map as regular countries, but that could easily be changed by the user (such as by turning them to a darker shade of grey). The final map includes the base map that was used to create the customizable map, which is a physical map of Africa. This version of the map can be used in a variety of ways. If one wants to include rivers or certain other physical features on one’s own map, just click on the relevant countries, turn their “opacity” settings to zero, trace in the feature in question, and then click on the countries again and reset the opacity to 100 percent.
Please note that these maps have limited resolution. Small features, such as many of the islands on the Africa map, were by necessity reproduced as mere ovals or triangles. Boundary lines between countries, moreover, have not been perfectly traced out: as a result, boundary thickness is somewhat uneven. I personally find the end result aesthetically pleasing, as it gives these maps a somewhat soft appearance. Other users, however, may disagree. Users could, however, manually adjust the boundary lines to make them fit more precisely. I have done a lot of that work myself, but eventually I give up and decide that the map in question is good enough.
Also note that the physical base map was made before South Sudan gained independence. As a result, South Sudan appears as a layer placed over pre-2011 Sudan in my customizable maps. On the map (with rivers added) posted here, I somehow neglected to restore South Sudan. Other customizable maps that I will post later will not have such problems.
As this might be confusing, I would be happy to answer any questions in the discussion forum.
Many more customizable maps will be released over the next few weeks. Additional maps can be found here: http://www.geocurrents.info/customizable-base-maps
For Keynote Download, click here: Customizable Africa Maps
For PowerPoint Download, click here: Customizable Africa Maps
Due to a number of professional obligations and personal matters, I must suspend GeoCurrents until at least April 2015. At that time I will reconsider the future of the site. Many thanks to those who have read the blog, and special thanks to those who have taken the time to provide informative comments.
Best wishes to all,
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 next several months, I will be teaching a one-unit lecture course on the history and geography of current global events, which will be connected with a three-unit undergraduate seminar on the same topic. As a result, GeoCurrents posts during this period will focus more closely than usual on major stories in the news. I also hope to post more work written by my students, as I find it is a shame that most student papers are never read by anyone other than the instructor. Good work deserves to be shared more widely than that.
I have contemplated discontinuing the discussion feature, as the commentary often veers into matters of personal opinion unconnected with the actual post in question. I have decided, however, to retain this feature as it is for the time being. I would request, however, that commenters stay on topic and try to keep mere matters of opinions to a minimum. Substantive comments, however, are most welcome, especially those that correct any errors found in the original post!
Tomorrow’s post, written by a former student, looks at problems connected with GDP mapping. Subsequently, I hope to write several posts on maps pertaining to the Islamic State.
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 on Indo-European linguistics that Asya Pereltsvaig and I have been working on for some time. After that, I will be traveling in South Africa and perhaps Swaziland. GeoCurrents should be able return in full strength in mid or late July.
In taking this blogging holiday, I am leaving a number of maps and posts of Nigeria half-finished. Perhaps I will return to these next month, or perhaps I will simply move on to other matters. As a sample of this unfinished work, I have posted here simple and rather crude map that entails an overlay of ethno-linguistic patterns on a map of poverty in Nigeria that was posted and discussed previously. If the map and the overlays are accurate, some interesting features are revealed, such as the correlation of the Edo language group (associated with the early-modern Kingdom of Benin) with much lower-than-average poverty levels and the division of the Ibo group into a wealthier south and a poorer north. I wish that I had time to do more research on these intriguing patterns!
I am sorry to say that Asya Pereltsvaig is leaving GeoCurrents, effective immediately, due to personal reasons. As Asya is going her own way, she has taken all of her posts with her. I wish her well in her new endeavors.
I will continue to post articles on GeoCurrents, although the frequency of posting will decrease, at least for the next two months. Claire Negiar will also offer a few posts over the next month. After that time, I will be doing all of the posting myself.
Finally, I will also be making some minor changes to the site, editing such features as “About GeoCurrents,” and perhaps adding a few other features as well.
As always, I give my sincerely appreciation to Kevin Morton for his superb technical work on the site.
Comments and suggestions for future directions are welcome.