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Articles in Geographical Thought

American Geographical Illiteracy and (Perhaps) the World’s Worst Atlas

By Martin W. Lewis | April 30, 2014 | 22 Comments

GeoCurrents has long been concerned with geographical illiteracy. The depth of ignorance continues to be revealed, most recently in a Washington Post piece that indicates that only 16 percent of Americans can locate Ukraine on a world map. Most distressingly, a significant number of respondents placed Ukraine in central Greenland. Other reports indicate that geographical ignorance is widespread even at …

The Vexatious History of Indo-European Studies, Part III

By Martin W. Lewis | December 17, 2013 | 23 Comments

(Note to readers: This is the third of at least five posts derived from a draft chapter of our forthcoming book on the Indo-European controversy. This particular chapter examines the intellectual history of Indo-European studies, focusing on the most contentious ideas and ideologically motivated arguments. Its ultimate aim is to help explain why the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origins, which …

The Vexatious History of Indo-European Studies, Part II

By Martin W. Lewis | December 13, 2013 | 7 Comments

(Note to readers: this is the second portion of a chapter of our forthcoming book on the Indo-European controversy; more will follow. This chapter outlines the main ideological ramifications of the debates concerning Indo-European origins and dispersion.  It is not an account of the development of Indo-European linguistics. It is rather concerned with the use, and especially the misuse, of …

The Vexatious History of Indo-European Studies, Part I

By Martin W. Lewis | December 11, 2013 | 14 Comments

(Dear Readers,
As mentioned previously, I am now working on our forthcoming book on the Indo-European controversy.  I have now finished the chapter on the history of the debates, which I will post here at GeoCurrents, in pieces, over the next two week.  Bibliographic references are not included, although they may be added later. Comments and criticisms are of course welcome.)
Debates …

The Hazards of Formal Geographical Modeling in Bouckaert et al.—and Elsewhere

By Martin W. Lewis | September 19, 2012 | 11 Comments

The linguistic and historical failings of the Bouckaert et al. Science article have been examined in previous posts and will be revisited in subsequent ones. The model’s cartographic miscues have also been dissected. The present post takes on the more abstract geographical issues associated with the authors’ approach.
The Bouckaert et al. article is overtly geographical. “Mapping” is the first word …

Geographical Fantasies in Foreign Policy Magazine

By Martin W. Lewis | May 23, 2012 | 5 Comments

Warnings about the impending “decline of the West,” which date back at least to 1918*, have grown increasingly common in recent years—as have works debunking such predictions. The most recent entry in the latter category is an article in the current edition of Foreign Policy by Bruce Jones and Thomas Wright entitled “Meet the GUTS,” the wordy subtitle of which …

Sebouh Aslanian’s Remarkable Reconstruction of an Early Modern Trade Network

By Martin W. Lewis | May 2, 2012 | One Comment

In the field of world history, the idea of the “trade diaspora” looms large. Before the development of modern transportation, communication, and finance, long-distance merchants not only had to develop skills in cross-cultural negotiation, but also had to establish the trust with one another that would allow them to move goods and money over vast distances. In the mercantile diaspora …

Geography and Science Fiction: the Creation of Realistic Alternative Worlds

By Martin W. Lewis | January 2, 2012 | 22 Comments
Star Wars, Hoth and Tauntauns

(Note to readers: As GeoCurrents is technically on vacation, it seems like a good time to explore an issue that falls outside of the blog’s basic field of concern. For the next week, posts will focus on speculative fiction, culminating with the free release of my own science fiction novel, Terranova: The Black Petaltail, on this website. Regular GeoCurrents posts …

Thomas Friedman’s Afghanistan Fantasies

By Martin W. Lewis | November 6, 2011 | 19 Comments
Wikipedia Map of the Persian Safavid Empire

On November 1, 2011, noted New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman implicitly placed the United States in “a long list of suckers,” a roster composed of countries that had been foolish enough to invade Afghanistan. Friedman came up with the idea while on a tour of historical sites in northern India. When told by a guide that in the …

Where Is Southern Africa?

By Martin W. Lewis | September 21, 2011 | 4 Comments
Map of UN Geoscheme of Global Division

Recent GeoCurrents posts have focused on Southern Africa. The regional boundaries, however, has not been defined. What exactly, one might ask, does Southern Africa encompass? It obviously includes South Africa, but what other countries, or parts of countries, are slotted into the region? As is often the case with broad geographical designations, the answer remains

The Ambiguities of Sovereignty in Early Modern Central Europe

By Martin W. Lewis | April 12, 2011 | 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

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

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

By Martin W. Lewis | March 25, 2011 |
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

Delusional Mapping and the Invisible Comanche Empire

By Martin W. Lewis | March 11, 2011 | 4 Comments

Historical maps of colonial North and South America are often misleading. Many cartographers portray vague claims to sovereignty by European powers as if they constituted actual control, while downplaying or flat-out ignoring potent indigenous polities. At its worst the result can be a cartographic caricature, revealing more about fantasies spun in London, Paris

Gaddafi’s Saharan Farming Schemes

By Martin W. Lewis | March 3, 2011 | 2 Comments

Viewed from space, most of Libya appears as a lightly colored patchwork of browns, tans, and light greys, indicating its arid nature. A few large dark grey areas that look at first glance like vegetation turn out to be barren rock surfaces. Some of the smaller dark patches, however, are irrigated farmland.

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