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“Misled by the Map”—video lecture

Submitted by on December 16, 2015 – 3:16 pm 11 Comments |  

Misled by the MapDear Readers,

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.)

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  • Mansion Beach

    Thoroughly informative and entertaining.

  • Jeronimo Constantina

    A very enlightening lecture, and one which will, shock most people,
    who consider the members of the United Nations, or existing
    “nation-states,” the only real nations. Just to throw the proverbial
    monkey wrench into the discussions, here’s a file someone contributed
    to the Bangsang Kapampangan (“Kapampangan Nation”) Facebook group,
    representing one of the major ethnolinguistic groups, nations, in the
    Philippines, in which this Philippine nation is shown, not only with
    its own national boundaries, but with its own top domain country name,
    .ka, to match the Philippines’ .ph:

    • Matthew McVeagh

      What is the origin of that then?

      • Jeronimo Constantina

        The origin of which, the map, or the term “nation” as applied to Kapampangans?

        If the former, I’ve no idea, it was merely passed on to me. As for the latter, the term “nation” has been applied to the different Philippine ethnolinguistic groups from the early Spanish period (at least the 1600s).

        “For in the island of Manila alone, there are six of them…the

        Tagalog, Pampango, Camarines (or Visayan), Cagayan, and those of Ilocos and Pangasinan. These are the civilized nations.”

        Colin, Francisco, Labor Evangelica, Madrid, 1663

        “A Pampango of sense (one of these nations)…”

        Colin, Francisco, In Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands

        1493-1898, vol. 40 (1690-1691)

        “Pablasang dayacang capampangan, como eres de nacion pampango. Ing dayang castila, la nacion española.”

        Bergaño, Diego, Vocabulario de la Lengua Pampanga. Manila: Convento de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, 1732

        “La Nación Pampanga -escribía el alavés don Simón de Anda en 1764- ha sido sobresaliente entre todas las de Naturales de estas Islas, porque la nobleza y docilidad de sus genios les estimula a pensamientos de honor y a obras dignas.”

        p. 216

        “Cuando estaba bloqueando el enemigo inglés esta Plaza, ocurrió a defenderla y auxiliarla la Nación Pampanga, en numerosas tropas.”

        Exposición de Simón de Anda, 17 de junio de 1764, AGI/F, leg. 717.

        “To the north from the Tagalog nation, we found the Pampango, Zambales, Pangasinan, Ylocos and Cagayan nations. Each of these nations formed a distinct community, with a distinct language or dialect of the same language.”

        Joaquín Martínez de Zúñiga, O.S.A., An Historical View of the Philippine Islands , trans. John Maver (Manila: Filipiniana Book Guild, 1966; original 1803)

        “Es muy notable la especie de nacionalidad que presenta este provincia con su dialecto particular, su carácter, y aun fisonomía, no obstante su proximidad á Manila.”

        “Además de los indios pampangos, nacion especial como hemos dicho, hallaron en dichos montes rancherías de negritos ó aetas, conocidos el nombre de balugas en el dialecto pampango.”

        Buzeta, Diccionario Geografico-Estadistico-Historico de las Islas Filipinas, Madrid, 1851, vol. 2, p. 382.

  • Germanpride56

    To look at anther horrifying example of nation-state propaganda look at this YouTube channel:

    • Matthew McVeagh

      I don’t think it’s horrifying, the guy just wants to teach geography and it’s convenient to do it in terms of recognised countries. He doesn’t shy away from the inconsistencies and anomalies, for instance I just watched the one on Azerbaijan and he’s very open about Nagorno-Karabakh and other issues.

  • Matthew McVeagh

    Very good. One small correction: the United Kingdom did not begin in 1707, that was Great Britain. It began in 1801. I know it’s hard to remember all the ridiculous details of our out-of-date feudal arrangements.

    As you were speaking I was struck by some thoughts about the different theories of international relations. For instance one dominant theory is the ‘realist’ one that says that IR is essentially about relations between entities with real power (states) that recognise each other diplomatically. A lot of the situations you outline don’t conform to this situation. And yet not only cartographers and foreign policy planners but also IR theorists just carry merrily on with the notion that all of these ‘states’, from the Vatican to China, are the same sort of thing and that the whole world is divided up amongst them.

    • Thank you for the correction — you are of course correct, as it was the second Act of Union, not the first, that made the United Kingdom (although, as I am sure you know, that was then the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” and not the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Northern Ireland,” as it is now).

  • Yosef

    I guess that a big reason why the US was much more successful in rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II than in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan in the past dozen of years or so is because Germany and Japan have been much more successful as functioning states all along than Iraq and Afghanistan?