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The Simplistic World-View of Thomas L. Friedman

By Martin W. Lewis | April 14, 2011 | 13 Comments

In his April 13, 2011 column in the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman argues that the recent uprisings in the Arab world will probably not lead to the kind of mass democratization that occurred in eastern and central Europe after 1989. Although I must agree with Friedman’s basic thesis, I reject his reasoning, which

National Anthems: Forced National Identity?

By Andrew Linford | April 12, 2011 | 8 Comments

Every country and many non-sovereign states have national anthems. They are an indispensable representation of nations, played from official receptions to sporting events. As described by Wikipedia: “A national anthem

The Ambiguities of Sovereignty in Early Modern Central Europe

By Martin W. Lewis | | 3 Comments
Locator map of the Electorate of Saxony

Most current-day mapping of central Europe during the early modern period (1500-1800) emphasizes the division of the so-called Holy Roman Empire into its constituent states. Detailed maps, readily available online, delineate every kingdom, duchy, principality, imperial city, and politically independent archbishopric and bishopric within the empire, as is evident in the impressive Wikipedia map locating

Our Maps of the 18th Century—and Theirs

By Martin W. Lewis | April 8, 2011 |
Europe of 1700, from Euratlas

Sovereign states provide the building-blocks of contemporary world mapping. A simple image search of “world map” reveals the state-centered focus of our geographical imagination: a few of the maps returned provide land-mass outlines, and a few others depict continental divisions, but most show the world as neatly partitioned into independent countries. At a more local

Russell Jacoby and the Myth of the Nation-State

By Martin W. Lewis | April 6, 2011 | One Comment

Few ideas are as intellectually pernicious as notion that the citizens of a given sovereign country necessarily share the bonds of common nationhood. As evidence of the confusion that this idea generates, consider Russell Jacoby’s important recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “Bloodlust: Why We Should Fear Our Neighbors More Than Strangers”

The Economist’s “Shoe-Thrower’s Index”: A Success?

By Andrew Linford | April 5, 2011 | One Comment

As revolution in the Arab World spread from Tunisia, The Economist magazine developed a “Shoe-Throwers Index” (STI). The STI combines available data for most of the Arab League to gain insight into what countries are at the greatest risk for revolution. Originally published on February 9th, the STI came out two days before the

Geographic Environment, Cultural Diversity, and Liberalism in the Eastern Mediterranean

By Martin W. Lewis | April 4, 2011 | 2 Comments

In examining the spatial patterns of the eastern Mediterranean, many observers have been struck by the close correlation between mountainous areas and religious diversity. The heartland of the Druze sect is the aptly named Jabal al-Druze, a volcanic cluster of peaks

Greater Syria and the Challenge to Syrian Nationalism

By Martin W. Lewis | April 2, 2011 | 8 Comments
Map of Greater Syria

Syria faces challenges to its geopolitical integrity beyond those posed by its religious and linguistic diversity. Like Iraq, it owes its statehood and geographical boundaries largely to the actions of European imperial powers in the early 20th century. Modern Syria essentially covers the area grabbed by France from the Ottoman Empire after World

Syria’s Ethno-Religious Complexity – and Potential Turmoil

By Martin W. Lewis | March 31, 2011 | One Comment
Map of Languages in Syria

Most Americans would be surprised to learn of the ethnic and religious diversity that exists in present-day Syria. Standard references sources give an impression of clear domination by Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims. The CIA World Factbook summarizes Syria’s cultural make-up as follows:

Confusion About Syria’s Alawites

By Martin W. Lewis | March 29, 2011 | 8 Comments
Alawite region of Syria

News stories about the recent demonstrations and reprisals in Syria routinely mention that the country’s government is dominated by members of the Alawite sect, but rarely describe Alawite beliefs and practices. Many mention only that the Alawites form a minority in primarily Sunni Syria, sometimes noting that the Alawite faith stems from Shi’ite Islam. A March

Geocurrents’ New Look

By Martin W. Lewis | March 25, 2011 | One Comment

Dear Readers, As you can see, Geocurrents is currently undergoing a transformation.  Many thanks to Kevin Morton, who is now handling the technical side of the blog. Many thanks as well to Samuel Franco, who had been running the website, but is now moving on to other things.

The Netherlands Is No Longer a Low Country: Conundrums of Geopolitical Classification

By Martin W. Lewis | |
highest point in the netherlands?

The modern Netherlands forms the heart of the so-called Low Countries, a historical region composed of the flat and watery delta formed by the Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, and Ems rivers. As the name suggests, the Low Countries have no mountains. On WikiAnswers, the second-highest-rated response to the question, “What is the highest point in the

Caribbean Geopolitical Rivalry?

By Martin W. Lewis | March 23, 2011 | 2 Comments
alliances in the caribbean

As explained recently in Geocurrents, the anti-U.S. ALBA alliance led by Venezuela is not what it might appear to be at first glance, as several small Caribbean countries have joined it more for economic than geopolitical reasons. Still, it seems worthwhile to map the potential geopolitical division of the Caribbean entailed by the existence of

The Little-Noticed Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles

By Martin W. Lewis | March 22, 2011 | 6 Comments
Netherlands Antilles Aruba Political Map

Like the unrest in Turks and Caicos, the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles has been little mentioned in the press. Indeed, an internet search under that name would lead one to believe it still exists, given the continuing stories on its sports teams, economy, maritime boundaries, and tourism prospects. Yet the Netherlands Antilles was officially

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