What is revealed, and hidden, by different mapping strategies and cartographic conventions

Mapping the Current State of Cannabis Legality in the U.S.

Cannabis legalization at the state level in the U.S. continues to gain ground, even though federal law still classifies “marijuana” as a Schedule One drug, meaning that it is absolutely banned and has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” The resulting discrepancy between state and federal law presents a highly curious situation. It makes a mockery of the supposedly fundamental principle that federal law trumps the state law, with ultimate sovereignty vested in the United States rather than in the individual states. How could a substance possibly have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” if 76 percent of those states have declared by law that is does?

The two best maps that I have found of the legal status of cannabis in the United States at the beginning of 2024 are reproduced below, one of which is from Wikipedia and the other from the political journal The Hill.  As can be seen, they portray the situation of quite differently, finding agreement only regarding states in which cannabis is fully legal (mapped as “legal for recreational use” on the Wikipedia map and “recreational and medical” on the one from The Hill.)

The discrepancies between the two maps indicates the complexities of the “gray zone” of partial legalization. In Nebraska and North Carolina, for example, cannabis is fully illegal but decriminalized, meaning that no one will go to jail for possessing it, at least on first offence. Several states allow “medical marijuana” only if its THC content is so low that one cannot experience an altered state of consciousness by ingesting it. In Texas, for example, only CDB oil can be used, and it cannot contain more than one percent THC. Yet as the Wikipedia article on the legal status of cannabis in the United States notes, it is “de facto legal” in Austin, the capital of Texas, as the municipal police will not arrest anyone in possession of less than four ounces, a considerable quantity. Utah, in contrast, allows the ingestion of potent cannabis, but only if one is terminally ill. On all the maps posted here, Oklahoma is placed in the same category as Utah, that of allowing medical but not general use, but the contrast between the two could hardly be more extreme. Medical dispensation is easy to get in Oklahoma, and the state’s cultivation regulations are extraordinarily relaxed. As the New York Times noted in a 2021 article entitled “How Oklahoma Became a Marijuana Boom State”:

Ever since the state legalized medical marijuana three years ago, Oklahoma has become one of the easiest places in the United States to launch a weed business. The state now boasts more retail cannabis stores than Colorado, Oregon and Washington combined. In October, it eclipsed California as the state with the largest number of licensed cannabis farms, which now number more than 9,000, despite a population only a tenth of California’s.

Tribal sovereignty adds another layer of complexity. Cannabis may be completely illegal North Carolina, but it is fully legal in its lands that fall under the authority Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. South Dakota allows only medical sales, but on two of its Native American reservations cannabis fully legal.

The complexities of cannabis legality in the U.S. are too large to be captured in any single map. The two maps posted above do a reasonably good job, but the categories that they use might be confusing for some readers. I have therefore remapped the data that they use to try to convey the situation in a more straightforward manner. In both cases, I employ a demographic cartogram, in which each state is sized according to its population, rather than a conventional map. (Unfortunately, the base map that I used excludes Alaska and Hawaii). Using a such a cartogram allows one to visualize the number of people affected by the different legal regimes.

The first of these maps (above)  follows the depiction by The Hill but reduces the categories to three: complete legality, complete illegality, and partial legality. As can be seen, cannabis is fully legal for most people living the northern half and western quarter of the United States. But the only three states that follow U.S. federal law by completely banning cannabis use – Idaho, Nebraska, and Kansas – are located in this same general region of the country. Such clear regional differences, however, are not so apparent in my remapping of the Wikipedia data, which uses five categories and focuses not on cannabis per se but rather on cannabis that contains enough THC to be psychoactive (below). This map better captures the diversity of legal regimes found in the South and across the Great Plains.

Mapping the Current State of Cannabis Legality in the U.S. Read More »

New Zealand’s Striking Electoral Shift to the Right

The conservative National Party of New Zealand scored a major victory in the country’s October 2023 general election, with the governing Labour Party suffering a historic defeat. As described by The Guardian, “New Zealand voters have delivered a forceful rejection of the Labour government as a surge in support for the National party delivered what analysts described as a ‘bloodbath, for the government and a new right-leaning era for politics in the country.” But just three years earlier, it was Labour in the victory circle, winning the 2020 election so overwhelmingly that it was able to govern without a coalition partner. But in the intervening period, the country’s mood soured over concerns about high taxes, increasing crime, the rising cost of living (especially of housing), and the government’s highly restrictive COVID policies.

Before delving into geographical analysis of New Zealand’s recent elections, it is necessary to explain the complexities of the county’s “mixed-member proportional” parliamentary system. New Zealand is divided into 65 general “electorates” (geographical voting constituencies) and then redivided into seven special electorates for Māori voters. Each electorate selects one person to serve as its MP (Member of Parliament) in the unicameral parliament, officially known as the New Zealand House of Representatives. But Kiwi voters not only choose an individual to represent their electorate, but also vote a second time for a political party, each of which maintains a list of potential MPs. Parties whose total vote in that contest exceeds a certain threshold (usually five percent) send an additional 48* MPs into the House of Representatives, their numbers proportional to their share of the vote. Minor parties can thus gain parliamentary representation either by having enough voters concentrated in one or more electorate to defeat candidates from the other parties, or by having enough support nationwide to crack the five-percent threshold.

Labour’s overwhelming triumph in the 2020 election is strikingly evident on the map of the “party list vote,” which is on the left side of the paired Wikipedia maps posted below. Astoundingly, the Labour-list came in first place in all but one general electorate. Its rival center-right National Party took only a single district, located in a suburban area of Auckland. The direct electorate results were much more balanced, with individual candidates in the National Party taking seats in both non-metropolitan areas and in the more affluent parts of Auckland (see the map on the right). Three other parties – the Green Party, the Maori Party, and the “classical liberal” ACT Party – also sent MPs to parliament in 2020, based both on their national party-list vote and on their victories in individual electorates. All in all, 2020 was a banner year for New Zealand’s political left, with Labour, the Green Party, and the Maori party (Te Pāti Māori) together holding 78 parliamentary seats, as opposed to 42 held by the center-right National and ACT parties.

On October 14, 2023, however, New Zealand experienced a stunning electoral reversal. As the party-list vote maps for the two elections show, New Zealand went from almost entirely red (Labour) to almost entirely blue (National Party). Even on the more diverse Wikipedia map of the direct electorate results, there is little red to be seen in the country as a whole. But such mapping is misleading; as the inset maps show, the Labour and Green parties won quite a few urban seats, particularly in the country’s second and third largest cities, Christchurch and Wellington. But overall, the 2023 election was a clear triumph for conservatives. It was also a rout for Labour, which went from 62 to 34 seats in the House of Representatives. But the other left-leaning parties, the Greens and the Māori Party, gained seats. So too did the classically liberal ACT Party. The socially conservative nationalist-populist New Zealand First Party also did relatively well, returning to the House of Representatives after an absence of several years.

As conventional electoral maps give undue prominence to sparsely inhabited areas, and therefore tend to visually exaggerate the vote-share of conservative parties, electoral cartographers have devised more representative maps. The usual strategy is to expand more densely populated areas in proportion to their populations. For New Zealand’s 2023 election, The Spinoff devised such a map, converting the country into hexagons of roughly equal population. It also grouped the parties into two categories, one left-leaning and the other right-leaning. As can be seen in the resulting map, in the 2023 election New Zealand was still a mostly blue (conservative-voting) country, although not to the extent seen in conventional maps. This Spinoff map also clearly shows the Māori population, with its special electorates, as strongly supporting the political left.

The Spinoff has drafted another map that divides New Zealand’s electoral hexagons into three categories, one composed of large cities (Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch), one of medium-sized cities, and one of rural areas. Such mapping helps us see the role of population density in voting behavior. To clarify this situation, I have “whited-out” non-rural areas on one iteration of this map, everything but large cities on another, and everything but medium-sized cities on a third. As can be seen, rural electorates supported the conservative National Party, although some by relatively thin margins. Medium-sized cities delivered more mixed results, with some strongly favoring the National Party and others supporting Labour. Dunedin, in southeastern South Island, in particular leans left. Such affiliation is strongest in North Dunedin; as “Just Dave” comments in a Quora query about New Zealand’s most left-wing cities:

The cities in which the most left-wing party that actually gets elected to Parliament (the Greens) receives the largest proportion of the popular vote in the are central Wellington, central Auckland and north Dunedin. All three areas have a comparatively young, wealthy and educated population. North Dunedin is primarily home to university students and university staff, for example.

Surprisingly, New Zealand’s large cities also appear as politically mixed on The Spinoff’s 2023 electoral map. To be sure, Wellington – the capital – is mostly red (Labour) and green (Green), but it is a different story in Christchurch and especially Auckland. Auckland, by far the largest metropolitan area in the country, deserves a more detailed analysis – which it will receive in the next GeoCurrents post.

*This number can be slightly higher due to extenuating circumstances.

New Zealand’s Striking Electoral Shift to the Right Read More »

Mismapping the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the Caucasus

As noted in a recent post, maps of empires tend to exaggerate their territorial extents, and the Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 BCE) is no exception. Most maps of this important empire depict it as covering all or almost all the South Caucasus region, with its border extending to the crest of the Greater Caucasus range (see the top maps from a Google image search posted below). Some show it as pushing even further to the north, encompassing the historically Circassian lands to the north and west of the Caucasus and sometimes even extending completely around the Black Sea (see below).

There is little if any good evidence, however, that the Achaemenid Persian Empire ever included the Kingdom of Colchis, located mainly in what is now the western half of the Republic of Georgia. The Wikipedia map of the early Georgian states posted below gives a much better depiction of the geopolitical situation of the time. The notion that this ancient Persian empire extended to the crest of the Greater Caucasus range derives essentially from a passage written by the ancient Greek scholar Herodotus. Although there is much to admire in the works of Herodotus, it has long been known that many of his assertions were far from accurate. It is for good reason that Lloyd Llewellyn Jones recently decided that it was necessary to write a book on the Achaemenid Empire based mostly on Persian sources, rather than on Herodotus and other Greek writers. But Jones, unfortunately, also maps western Georgia as having been under Persian control.

There is, however, some scholarly disagreement about which polity (or polities) had ultimate sovereignty over what is now western Georgia between 550 and 330 BCE. The Wikipedia article on the history of the Republic of Georgia provides an excellent summary:

Between 653 and 333 BC, both Colchis and Iberia survived successive invasions by the Iranian Median empire. The case is different for the Achaemenid Persians, however.  According to Herodotus (3.97), Achaemenid power extended as far as the Caucasus mountains, but the Colchians are not included in his list of the twenty Persian satrapies. Nor are they referred to in the lists of Achaemenid lands (dahyāva) given in the Old Persian inscriptions of Darius and his successors. In Xenophon’s Anabasis (7.8.25; probably an interpolation) the tribes of Colchis and East Pontus are referred to as independent (autónomoi). On the other hand, Herodotus mentioned both the Colchians and various Pontic tribes in his catalogue (7.78-79) of approximately fifty-seven peoples who participated in Xerxes’ expedition against Greece in 481-80 BC. As the Encyclopaedia Iranica states, it is thus probable that the Achaemenids never succeeded in asserting effective rule over Colchis, though local tribal leaders seem to have acknowledged some kind of Persian suzerainty. The Encyclopaedia Iranica further states, whereas the adjoining Pontic tribes of the nineteenth satrapy and the Armenians of the thirteenth are mentioned as having paid tribute to Persia, the Colchians and their Caucasian neighbors are not; they had, however, undertaken to send gifts (100 boys and 100 girls) every five years (Herodotus 3.97).

The giving of gifts and the supplying of troops by a polity to a much more powerful neighboring empire, however, does not in itself indicate inclusion in that empire. It must also be noted that careful historical cartographers, such as Thomas Lessman, do not map western Georgia as having been part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (see the map below).

The issue at stake here is not merely that of the inaccurate mapping of empires. What I am more concerned about is historical amnesia about the Caucasus, coupled with its pervasive historical misrepresentation. To put it simply, this key region of the world does not get its due in most historical and geographical accounts. All too often, it is simply appended to one or more empires based in other lands. Many such empires did covet the region, and in some periods they did control, directly or indirectly, large parts of it. But the Caucasus also had its own kingdoms and other polities, which deserve recognition.

I recently gave a keynote address about such issues at a conference on the Black Sea region held in Batumi in the Republic of Georgia. I hope to convert this talk to a video later this year; if I do so, I will post it on this website.

Mismapping the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the Caucasus Read More »

Sparta Was Part of the Persian Empire? Cartographic Exaggeration and Geographical Misconception in Modern Accounts of the Ancient World  

I have long been frustrated by the way that historical empires are conventionally mapped. It often seems that most maps of most empires exaggerate their size and solidity. This is typically done by portraying them when they reached their greatest territorial extent, even if their newly acquired gains were held for very short periods. Client kingdoms and vague zones of tribute exaction, moreover, are often depicted as intrinsic parts of the empire under consideration.

The Roman Empire is a prime example of such cartographic exaggeration. I recently tested this assertion by doing a Google image search for “Roman Empire map.” The results are posted below. As can be seen, 10 of the 14 top hits show central and southern Mesopotamia (which I have indicated with heavy black ovals) as having belonged to the Roman Empire. Most of these maps specify that they depict the Empire in 117 CE, the year of its greatest extent. What they do not indicate is that central and southern Mesopotamia had only been conquered by the emperor Trajan in 116 CE, that Roman control was never fully consolidated, and that the new emperor, Hadrian, abandoned the region almost as soon as he gained power in late 117 CE. As the Wikipedia article on Trajan correctly notes, “The Parthian [Mesopotamian] campaign had been an enormous setback to Trajan’s policy, proof that Rome had overstretched its capacity to sustain an ambitious program of conquest.” All told, the conventional mapping of central and southern Mesopotamia as belonging to the Roman Empire is misleading at best.

Mesopotamia is not the only area in which Roman power is often cartographically inflated. In some respects, the exaggeration of control in depictions of the Caucasus is more pronounced, as will be explored in a later post.

The control of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (558-330 BCE) over the Caucasus region is also exaggerated in conventional historical cartography. Yet in general terms, this empire is more faithfully mapped than that of Rome. A map in an important new book on the Achaemenid Empire, however, reverses this tendency, egregiously depicting most of Greece as falling under Persian control (see below). Although the map correctly notes that the Greek Kingdom of Macedon was conquered by Persia in 492 BCE, it fails to indicate that Persian control here came to an end roughly a dozen years later. More important, the map’s shading scheme clearly indicates that central and southern Greece, including Sparta, had at some unspecified time been incorporated into the Persian Empire. In actuality, the Persian army never even entered the Peloponnese Peninsula in its failed attempt to subdue defiant Greek city-states.

 The book in question is The Persians: The Age of Great Kings, by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Basic Books, 2022). Llwellyn-Jones is an accomplished and prolific scholar who certainly knows that the Persian Empire never conquered, let alone ruled, central and southern Greece. Could this absurd map merely be an oversight, a simple illustration given over to an anonymous cartographer that the author neglected to examine before publication? Or was it crafted intentionally, perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek gesture designed to deflate the pretensions of the ancient Greeks? As Llwellyn-Jones makes clear, his central aim is to tell the story of the Achaemenid Empire based on Persian sources rather than on the standard Greek accounts, and a seeming desire to belittle the Greeks is encountered at various points throughout the book. Llewellyn-Jones tells us, for example, that “To visualize themselves as the Great King’s nerve-wracking nemesis gave the Athenians a sense of worth.”

Llewellyn-Jones’s goal, that of removing Greek bias from the story of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, is worthy and generally well accomplished. But although he is a fine historian and an adept storyteller, Llewellyn-Jones is a poor geographer. This a significant problem, as the Persian Empire was a vast polity that encompassed a great diversity of places and peoples. As such, it must be grasped in its spatial and well as temporal dimensions.

Although many examples of geographical misunderstanding could be outlined, I will limit my case to just two. On page 7, Llewellyn-Jones tells us that, “The empire encompassed Ethiopia and Libya … .” Libya?  Greek Cyrenaica yes, but certainly not “Libya” as either we or the ancient Greeks conceptualize the term (to the Greeks, “Libya” essentially meant “Africa”). Ethiopia? Surely, I assumed when reading this passage, the author must be thinking of “Ethiopia” as did the ancient Greeks, who generally used this term to refer to Nubia, located in what is now the core area of Sudan. If so, the passage is still misleading, as the Persian Empire never extended beyond the northernmost part of this region. But on page 95, he tells us that the Persian emperor Cambyses was “determined to push into Nubia – modern Ethiopia …” Modern Ethiopia? The modern country of that name is, of course, far removed and utterly distinct from ancient Nubia (see the map below).

Llewellyn-Jones even makes some serious geographical errors in regard to the core region of the Persian Empire. On page 43, for example, he tells us that  “A particularly strong cultural bond between the Persian tribes and the Elamites emerged in an area of lowland Elam called Anshan …” Anshan is actually located in a valley in the Zagros Mountains in what can only be described as upland Elam; lowland Elam, the area west of Susa, is located instead on the greater Mesopotamian alluvial plain just to the east of Sumer. Llewellyn-Jones’s map of the Persian Empire also misconstrues geographical relations in this area. It depicts Anshan as separate from Elam even though it was part of Elam; it places Anshan east and slightly north of Susa, but it was situated much more to the south; and it places the label “Elam” in an area that was, at the time, probably under the waters of the Persian Gulf (compare the map below with the first map posted above).

Over the past several decades the much of the discipline of history has undergone a profound “spatial turn” that has resulted in far more nuanced understandings of the geographical patterns and relationships of earlier times. One can only hope that geographically informed scholarship on the ancient world will be increasingly embraced by younger scholars.

Sparta Was Part of the Persian Empire? Cartographic Exaggeration and Geographical Misconception in Modern Accounts of the Ancient World   Read More »

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.

Using GeoCurrents Customizable Maps Read More »

Miletus, The Black Sea, and the Origin of the Continental Scheme of Global Division

I have long been interested in the origin of the idea that the world is divided into separate continents, having co-written a book on the topic in 1997. While currently working on the Black Sea region, I have been reminded of how central the Black Sea was to the original continental scheme.

The (known) world was first divided into two continents – Europe and Asia – by Greek thinkers located in the city of Miletus in what is now western Turkey. In the 6th century BCE, Miletus was one of the largest and wealthiest Greek city states. It is also commonly regarded as the birthplace of Greek science and philosophy, being the home of the so-called Ionian Enlightenment of the same century. Beginning in the 8th century BCE, Miletus, like many other Greek city states, established numerous colonies, most of which were located around the Black Sea. Milesian navigators and merchants had extensive experience in this water body, and early Milesian thinkers relied on their knowledge when mapping the world.

According to traditional sources, the first Greek world map was made by Anaximander of Miletus. It was subsequently revised by Hecataeus, a noted geographer of the same city. Neither map survived, but they have been reconstructed based on surviving descriptions. As these reconstructions show, the term “Europe” was used to designate the large landmass located to the left as Milesian navigators moved between islands and through narrow passages as they voyaged from their home city across the Black Sea, whereas “Asia” referred to those lands on the right. As the Milesians were also familiar with the Mediterranean, these same terms were used, respectively, for the landmasses to the north and south of this sea (“Asia” was not generally differentiated on continental grounds from “Libya” [or Africa] by Milesian geographers).

In world vision of these early geographers, the division between Asia and Europe in the extreme east continued along the Phasis River (source of the word “pheasant”), now known as the Rioni River of western Georgia. This river was not well understood and was evidently believed by some to link the Black Sea to the eastern reaches of the encircling Ocean. Later Greek thinkers of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE generally regard their own realm as being strung along a series of waterways that extended from the Strait of Gibraltar to what is now western Georgia. As Plato ostensibly quoted Socrates, “I believe that the earth is very large and that we who dwell between the Pillars of Hercules and the river Phasis live in a small part of it about the sea, like ants or frogs about a pond” (Phaedo, 109a). With the world conceptualized in such a manner, it made sense to distinguish the northern side of this division as one land mass, Europe, and the other side as another, conceptualized either as either Asia or as Asia and Libya (Africa).

Later Greek and Roman geographers revised the continental schema, moving the division between Europe and Asia from the Phasis River (Rioni) to the Tanais (Don) River. This maneuver highlighted the passage into yet another enclosed sea (the Sea of Azov, then known as Lake Maeotis), through yet another narrow passage, the Strait of Kerch (then known as the Cimmerian Bosporus). A reconstruction of a Roman world map nicely shows the resulting threefold division of the world, with Europe almost separated from Asia by a north-south-running series of waterways beginning in the Aegean Sea and ending in the Sea of Azov, and Asia almost separated from Africa by the Red Sea (labeled as the Arabian Sea on this map.) This model of the world would become the foundation for all later continental divisions.

Miletus, The Black Sea, and the Origin of the Continental Scheme of Global Division Read More »

Using “Text-On-Maps” Search to Explore the Mapping of Circassia and the Circassian Genocide

As was explored in the previous GeoCurrents post, Circassia often appeared on maps of Asia and of the world before the twentieth century. But how did the mapping of Circassia change over time? This has not been an easy question to answer, but advances in text recognition are now making it much more feasible. A collaboration between the Machines Reading Maps project and the David Rumsey Map Collection is currently pioneering such a program. Although it is still in the testing stage, the new “text on maps” search function should be both visible and editable by late 2023 through the LUNA viewer system that is used to access maps in the David Rumsey Collection online. This post, like the previous one, relies on a beta version of this technology to quickly locate instances in which the term “Circassia”* (or “Circassie,” in French) appears in geo-rectified maps held in the Rumsey collection. As this system is further honed, many more appearances of the term “Circassia” will probably be found on the maps in the collection. I therefore hope to revisit this issue some months from now to see how the results change. (For more information on on “search maps by words, see this article by Valeria Vitale.)

Preliminary though it is, my investigation yielded clear results. Appearances of the term “Circassia” increase dramatically in the early and mid-nineteenth century and then rapidly diminish, disappearing altogether by the turn of the twentieth century (see the histogram posted below). A single late outlier (dated 1901) turns out to be a historical map, designed to depict the situation not at the time of publication but a century earlier, at the time of Napoleon. Appearances of the French term “Circassie” follow a similar pattern.

The increase in appearances of the term Circassia in the nineteenth century no doubt reflects, in part, the sheer number of maps in the Rumsey collection from that era. But it is also true that Circassia gained attention from the Western public as the Russian Empire engaged in its increasingly brutal war against the Circassian people. Once that war had been concluded, with the Circassian people mostly either expelled or slaughtered, the term “Circassia” on maps receded and disappeared. First the people were removed from the place, and then the place was removed from our maps. Cartographic invisibility no doubt contributed to the erasure of the Circassian genocide from the public imagination.

My preliminary investigation also found changes in the way Circassia was cartographically depicted from the seventeenth to the ninereenth century. Earlier mapping often showed it as extending over a large area, including most of the steppe zone between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea (see the previous post). Later depictions tend to be more modest, limiting Circassia to the northern and especially northwestern portion of the Caucasus and the lowlands immediately north of it. Some maps from the later period, however, severely misconstrue its location. A John Dower map of 1836, for example, misplaces Circassia south rather than north of the Caucasus range. A French map from 1834 places Circassia in the northeastern Caucasus (Chechnya and Dagestan essentially), while a British map from 1844 puts it outside of the mountain zone altogether, situating it in the lowlands to the east of the Sea of Azov. Most interesting is an 1821 table equating modern and classical place names, which identifies Circassia with Colchis (western Georgia) and Bosphorus (meaning the Cimmerian Bosporus, or the Strait of Kerch region).

The Western public was deeply intrigued by Circassian people in the early and mid-nineteenth century, owing both to Russian assaults on the region and to the popular notion that the Circassians were the world’s most beautiful people. But perceptions of the actual geography of Circassia evidently remained rather vague throughout this period.

Using “Text-On-Maps” Search to Explore the Mapping of Circassia and the Circassian Genocide Read More »

The Circassian Genocide and the Cartographic Erasure of Circassia

The current ethnographic map of the northern Caucasus mountains shows scattered groups of Circassian people, now numbering roughly 750,000 in Russia. In 1850, however, the Circassians occupied the entire northwestern quadrant of the Greater Caucasus range. But as the Circassians refused to submit to imperial Russian rule, the Russian military engaged in a campaign of displacement and extermination. As reported by Wikipedia, “The Circassian genocide, or Tsitsekun, was the Russian Empire’s systematic mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and expulsion of 80–97% of the Circassian population.”  Most of the few Circassians who managed to remain in their homeland were Kabardians, members of the easternmost of the twelve Circassian groups (or “tribes”). The western groups were essentially eliminated. As noted in a different Wikipedia article:

The Zhaney were a very powerful Circassian tribe in the past. They lived the north of the Natukhai tribe’s land on the coast of the Black Sea and Azov Sea in Eastern Europe. … As a result of the bloody Russian-Circassian War,  Zhaney tribe was almost wholly destroyed, as only 3 families survived.

After their genocide and expulsion, the Circassian people largely vanished from the historical memory of the West, just as “Circassia” disappeared from its maps. In earlier times, Circassia had been well-know and well-represented, appearing prominently on many maps. On a 1744 map of Asia by George Willdey, for example, “Circassia” is depicted as one of the primary divisions of the Asian continent. As it is difficult to see this representation on the map as it can be reproduced here, I have re-outlined and re-labeled Willdey’s divisions on the second map posted below.

Willdey’s map seems to be an outlier, as no others that I have seen give Circassia such a prominent position. But Circassia was often mapped as covering a large area – much larger, in fact, than the area occupied by Circassian people circa 1850. In a Latin-labeled map of 1716 by Johann Baptist Homann, for example, Circassia is shown as extending along the eastern shore of the Sea of Azov, covering much of the steppe zone north of the Caucasus Mountains. Intriguingly, Homann labels the area as a kingdom: “Circassia, seu Regio Circassiorum.” Similar patterns are seen on French-language maps of the same period. An uncolored Nicholas Guedeville map of 1718, for example, shows “Circassie” as extending from the Sea of Azov to the Caspian Sea. It excludes, however, part of the Circassian homeland along the Black Sea coast, labeling it instead as belonging to Abkazia (“Abcassie”).

Nineteenth-century depictions of Circassia typically exclude some of the northern lowland areas included on Homann’s and Guedeville’s maps, but cover most of the northern Caucasus and its lowland fringe, often extending to the Caspian Sea (see Woodbridge map of 1828 posted below). In an unusual French map of 1863, the coloring scheme depicts “Circassie” as a two-part region, interrupted by the lands of the Ossetian (“Ossetes”) people of the central Caucasus  Range. Maps published in the United States at the time often depicted an expanded Circassia, shown as extending from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea (see the detail from a Jacob Monk map of the world, published in Baltimore in 1859, that is posted below).

The geographical category of “Circassia” could even extend into the Black Sea itself. In a 1693 map by Vincenzo Coronelli, for example, the waters of the northwestern portion of the sea are labeled “Mare de Circassia Caucaseum”

By the late 1800s, however, the label “Circassia” had essentially disappears from maps made in Western Europe and the United States. Genocide, in other worlds, was followed by cartographic erasure, as will be explored in more detail in the next GeoCurrents post.

The Circassian Genocide and the Cartographic Erasure of Circassia Read More »

GeoCurrents Outline Maps and Outline-Map Generator

I have often been frustrated when looking for outline political maps to use in teaching and blogging. It is easy enough to find serviceable outline maps of continents and of conventional world regions (such as the Middle East). It is difficult if not impossible, however, to find them for areas of the world that span continental and world-regional boundaries. As a result, I decided to make my own high-resolution world outline map that can be used to generate outline maps centered on any part of the world. I have spent much of the last month working on this project, and I am now ready to begin sharing the fruits of my labor with the public. This post introduces this project. (Note that the maps of Africa in the previous GeoCurrents posted were all made in this manner.)

The generator map used to make the outline map posted below was done in Keynote, the Apple version of PowerPoint. To make it, I traced out every country, major dependency, and sizable island, generating shapes that can be clicked on and manipulated in different ways. Later this week I will make the Keynote file, as well as a PowerPoint version of it, available for download on this website. Before doing so, however, I want to explain how this map can be used to make outline maps for any part of the world. This post covers the simplest level.

To make the outline map posted above from the underlying generator map, I simply deleted the CIA base map, filled the shapes with color (white), copied the shapes, and then inserted them on a light-blue truncated oval. The map of the islands of Southeast Asia posted below was made simply by taking a screen shot of a segment of the map posted above, enlarging it, and then putting a frame around it. As can be seen, the scale of resolution on the resulting Southeast Asia outline map is serviceable but far from ideal. A much sharper image can be made by using the generator map itself. I have demonstrated the scale of resolution available here with the second map below, showing Indonesia and environs. Making the latter map was a little more complicated, in part because each island and country outlines in the generator map had to be clicked on and selected separately.  All of this will be explained in a later post.

I have also made separate Keynote slides with labels for all countries, larger dependencies, and seas and oceans, all of which are all situated in their proper positions. One can thus simply copy the information from one of these label-slides and then insert it on the unlabeled outline map to make an outline map with labels. Using the label slide in the Keynote and PowerPoint files (to be released later), one can easily change the size, font, color, or position of any of these labels. To make a labeled regional map, one can simply selects the appropriate labels and insert them on a segment of the world outline map. Note that higher-resolution map of insular Southeast Asia with labels for seas with the generator map itself; this will be demonstrated in a later post.



As the generator map is based on the CIA world political map, it shows the political vision of the U.S. State Department rather than that of the United Nations; Kosovo is thus depicted as a separate country rather than as a region of Serbia, the Golan Heights is depicted as part of Israel rather than of Syria, and Western Sahara is shown as part of Morocco rather than as a political entity in its own right. I have, however, placed dash lines to show the division between Morocco and Western Sahara and to show the areas of Kashmir that are claimed but not controlled by India. All U.S.-recognized sovereign states are shown (I think!) except Monaco and the Vatican City; oceanic countries (such as Tulavu) that are too small to trace out are depicted with small stars. The Palestinian Territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are outlined but labeled in italics (as “PT”) to indicate that they do not constitute a sovereign state according to The U.S. State Department. For the same reason, Taiwan is also labeled in italics.

I continue to find small errors and slightly misplaced boundaries on the original generator map, and as a result I am continually refining it. But I have reached a point where I think that the map is good enough for public release. If anybody finds any errors or infelicities on this map, please let me know!

I will also be constructing new sets of label overlays for the generator map, including ones of dependencies, capital cities, and large cities. These overlays will be released as they are completed. I am also making similar regional generator maps based on physical maps that show terrain. I find making such maps useful for teaching, as I can highlight the boundaries of a given country and then talk about the physical characteristics of it that are apparent in the base map. The first of these physical-regional generator maps should be available for release within a few weeks.

GeoCurrents Outline Maps and Outline-Map Generator Read More »

The Amazing Linn Atlas Animates the Expansion of the Gorkha Empire, Showing the Political Fate of the Limbu People

When writing my recent posts on the expansion of the Gorkha Empire of Nepal, I was frustrated by the lack of maps on the topic. Although Wikipedia articles on such subjects are usually richly illustrated with maps, that is not the case regarding the history of Nepal. Other go-to cartographic resources also came up empty. Then I turned to YouTube and discovered the little-known but very impressive Linn Atlas. This historical map animation site focusses on Southeast Asia and environs, but goes as far afield as the expansion of the empire of Alexander the Great. Although one could criticize the Linn maps of South and Southeast Asia for portraying historical polities as neatly bounded unitary states, when they were usually somewhat spatially vague “mandalas,” with power dissipating with distance from the core, such an objection would miss the essential point: it is extremely difficult and often impossible to map such fluid political constructs. What the Linn Atlas does is done magnificently, with even microstates and their changing geographical expressions mapped at a level of detail that I would have thought unattainable.

I have extracted 2 frames from the Linn Atlas animation of the expansion of the Gorkha Empire to illustrate my point. The first shows the Gorkha polity when it was a tiny statelet, one of many ruled by the Khas people in what is now central Nepal. The second shows the situation when the expanding Gorkha Kingdom had completely surrounded the densely populated and pivotal Kathmandu Valley, then governed by three small Newar states. I have also used the Linn Nepal sequence to create my own map, which shows the expansion of the Gorkha Empire from 1743 to the time of its greatest territorial extent in 1814.

The initial frames of the Linn’s Nepal animation show the Limbuwan country as belonging to a kingdom called Vijayapur. (By 1771, however, this relatively sizable state is shown as having broken apart, its northern areas coming under the rule of an unspecified number of tiny Limbu kingdoms.) As “Vijayapur” is a Sanskrit term, one might assume that this state was ruled not by the Limbu people but rather by Hindus coming from outside the region. Professor Raja Ram Subedi, who taught at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, explained this complex situation in a brief undated article called “Historical Entity of Vijayapur State.

As Subedi noted, the Limbu and related Kirati peoples could defend their own tiny states: “The chieftains and people of Dasa Kirata were expert in archery, physical activities, military organization, building forts and agricultural works.” But they nonetheless came under the rule of a Hindu dynasty, the leaders of which were connected with the small state of Palpa located in what is now south-central Nepal. But as Subedi further explained, this did not entail the subjugation of the Limbu and other Kirati peoples:

Raja Vijaya Narayan Roy was an amicable as well as diplomatic ruler. He established cordial relations with the Kirata subjects…  . He made an alliance with Morey Hang, a chieftain of the Kirata, and appointed him as the minister (Dewan). With the help of the Kiratas, Vijaya Narayan Roy was able to repair the old fort of Bhatabhunge Gadhi and shifted his capital from Baratappa to that fort.

Subedi also noted that the Gorkha conquest did not initially change this situation:

After [the Gorkha ruler] King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Vijayapur, the separate entity of that state ended. But the privileges given to the Kirata chieftains tended to continue even after it was annexed to Nepal. Kiratas constituted majority in Vijayapur state. They set up local government. Only the sovereign power was vested in the center. Even after the unification of Nepal, local government tended to exist.

But as we saw in the previous post, local autonomy began to be whittled away in the mid nineteenth century and was eventually eliminated altogether, politically marginalizing the Limbu and other Kirati peoples.

Does Nepal’s historical origin as a conquest empire contribute to its modern political instability?  That will be the topic of the next GeoCurrents post.

The Amazing Linn Atlas Animates the Expansion of the Gorkha Empire, Showing the Political Fate of the Limbu People Read More »

The Weather West Blog Community and the Possible End of the Great California Drought

One of my favorite blogs is Weather West: California Weather and Climate Perspectives, run by meteorologist Daniel Swain. Posting once or twice a month, Swain focuses on current and upcoming weather events and conditions. He delves into meteorological complexities but writes in an accessible manner that can be easily understood by non-specialists. More important for the concerns of GeoCurrents, Swain’s posts are always illustrated with informative and often striking maps. For those who appreciate the aesthetic properties of cartography, it can be difficult to beat meteorological mapping. I often find the patterns and colors almost mesmerizing.

Equally impressive is Swain’s devoted readership. Each of his posts receives thousands of comments. Many are deeply informed, and they are also often illustrated with useful maps and dramatic photographs. For weather enthusiasts such as myself, the cloudscapes that are periodically posted on Weather West are reason enough to follow the blog.

What I most appreciate about the Weather West community, however, is its idiosyncratic perspective on precipitation. Here we find a group of devoted people who love rain and fully understand just how essential it is. Given California’s seemingly interminable drought – 10 of the past 12 years have been dry, the last two exceedingly so – one might expect this attitude to be common in the state, but in my experience it remains rare. Even National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters in California sometimes write about the “threat of rain” during times of dire drought. A few years back I was so frustrated by such mindless wording that I wrote a letter to the NWS urging them to replace “threat” with “promise” under drought conditions. I was surprised to receive a reply, but it turned out to be defensive and entirely non-apologetic. But some people understand. The best birthday present I ever received was a CD put together by my wife filled with rain-positive song in many genres and from several countries. One of the most memorable was Luke Bryan’s raunchy country tune called “Rain Is a Good Thing.” As Bryan emphasizes, farmers certainly understand. As his song opens:

My daddy spent his life lookin’ up at the sky

He’d cuss kick the dust, sayin’ son its way to dry

It clouds up in the city, the weather man complains

But where I come from, rain is a good thing

When rain does come to California, the Weather West community exults. They post their own precipitation numbers with pride, and bitterly complain when their own locations are stinted, ending up in the dreaded “donut hole.”  Some tend toward pessimism and sometimes find themselves gently chided by those more hopeful about coming storms. Overall, they seek to teach and inform each other, and thus form a model blog-focused community. (“Model” is used as something of a pun here, as Weather West readers often urge each other to beware of “model riding,” or giving too much credence to particular meteorological model outputs. This is especially the case when the output in question refer to “fantasyland,” or the time beyond the period of relatively reliable forecasting.)

Currently, the Weather West community it very excited but also worried. California’s long-term drought has just broken, at least temporarily. December precipitation was pronounced over almost the entire state, and January looks to be wetter still. Swain’s most recent post, of January the 2nd, is titled “Major Norcal Storm Wed.; Potential High-Impact Storm/Flood Pattern to Continue for 10 Plus Day. Wet Antecedent Conditions Set Stage for Future Flood Risk.” Even the blog’s most rain-besotted commentators are now concerned that they may get too much of a good thing. Some are even sheepishly admitting that they are now hoping for a mid-winter ridge that would produce a spell of dry weather.

California’s abrupt transition from dry to wet this winter was not expected. Until quite recently, mid- and long-range models predicted yet another rainy season of little rain. As almost all the state’s precipitation falls between November and March, this is a crucial matter. Driving these dry forecasts was the fact that the Pacific Ocean is still in La Niña* conditions, which have persisted for the past two years. In La Niña winters, far Northern California often gets ample precipitation, but the rest of the state is generally dry. In these years, the jet stream is typically displaced to the north and must ride over a large high-pressure ridge somewhere in the eastern Pacific. If the ridge is displaced too far to the east, California is hard hit by drought. If the high-pressure zone is instead pushed westward, cold storms can ride over the ridge and produce moderate rain and decent amounts of mountain snow. Under the contrasting El Niño** regime, a different winter pattern typically prevails, with the jet stream ripping directly across the Pacific. El Niño years usually bring abundant precipitation, especially to Central and Southern California. What makes the current situation so unusual and perhaps even inexplicable is that California is now experiencing an El Niño pattern in a La Niña year, with one relatively warm storm after another lined up across the Pacific. Meteorologists are trying to figure out what is going on, and undoubtedly much more will be written on the subject.

If the current forecasts through January pan out, California could end up with full reservoirs and a very healthy snowpack in the higher elevations. But that does not mean that drought conditions will not necessarily return before the wet season ends. Last year, heavy precipitation in December was followed by a parched period stretching from January through March, generally the wettest time of the year. By the end of the summer, the state’s crucial reservoirs were frighteningly depleted.

But even if this February and March are dry, fears of a disastrously water-short summer of 2023 are currently being washed away. Indication for the 2023-2024 wet season also look promising, as La Niña is dissipating and El Niño looks like it might return. But El Niño sometimes fails to produce the predicted downpours, as was the case in the winter of 2015-2016. As U.C. San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported:

Most long-range forecast models predicted a potentially drought-ending deluge in California from the climate pattern known as El Niño in winter 2015-16, but the actual precipitation was far less than expected. … “Comparing this El Niño to previous strong El Niños, we found big differences in the atmospheric response across the globe, including California,” said Nick Siler, lead author of the study that was published in the Journal of Climate, and a postdoctoral scholar in the research group of co-author Shang-Ping Xie at Scripps. “We found that these differences weren’t all random, but rather were caused by tropical sea-surface temperature anomalies unrelated to El Niño.” … The results of the study suggest that El Niño events might not have as strong an influence on California precipitation as previously thought. They also suggest that recent warming might have had a hand in making El Niño drier. The Indian Ocean is known to be warming faster than other ocean basins

Climate change seems to be intensifying California droughts, just as it might be undermining El Niño rains. But it might also be making wet periods wetter, particularly those produced by so-called atmospheric rivers. As a result, the chances of a devastating “arc storm” are increasing. As we shall see in tomorrow’s post, Daniel Swain is one of the leading experts on this topic.

*Wikipedia Definition: “During a La Niña period, the sea surface temperature across the eastern equatorial part of the central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C (5.4–9 °F).

**Wikipedia definition: “[El Niño] is the warm phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific.


The Weather West Blog Community and the Possible End of the Great California Drought Read More »

Customizable Maps of Europe, Asia, Etc.

Europe MapThis final GeoCurrents post offering free customizable maps provides maps of Europe, southern and eastern Asia, southwestern Asia and northeastern Africa, and the exclusive economic zones of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Two versions of the Asia map are provided, one of which is superimposed on physical map. These customizable are available at the link at the bottom of the page.

Eastern and Southern Asia MapMost of these maps were made several years ago when I was still experimenting with this process. As a result the borders are rather crudely placed, especially on the Europe map.



Eastern and Southern Asia Map 2Southwest Asia Northwest Africa MapAs with previous offerings, these maps are constructed with simple presentation software (available in both PowerPoint and Keynote formats), and hence are easy to use and manipulate.


Indian Ocean Economic Zones Map











Caribbean Economic Zones Map







Europe, Asia, etc. Customizable maps (keynote)

Europe, Asia, etc Customizable Maps (powerpoint)




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Customizable Maps of China and India

India States MapToday’s GeoCurrents post offers free customizable maps of China and India. The India map, based on the country’s states,  lacks the union territories, which are either too small or too distantly located (the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) to make it on the map. The northern and western portions of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir that are occupied by Pakistan and China are indicated with a dashed borderline and grey China Provinces Mapshading. The China map ignores disputed territories, including Taiwan. The “province-level” divisions that the map is based on include regular provinces, autonomous areas, and direct controlled municipalities. It does not include the two special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau), largely because they are too small in area.

As in previous offerings, these maps are constructed with simple presentation software (available in both PowerPoint and Keynote formats), and hence are very easy to use and manipulate.

Customizable Maps China India (Keynote)

Customizable Maps China India  (PowerPoint)



Customizable Maps of China and India Read More »

Customizable Maps of the United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Yemen


United Kingdom Divisions MapToday’s GeoCurrents post offers free customizable maps of Venezuela, Yemen, and the United Kingdom. Those of Venezuela and Yemen are based on their main subdivisions, which are governorates in the case of Yemen and states in that of Venezuela. In regard to the United Kingdom, the situation is much more complicated. The UK’s main divisions are its “constituent countries”: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Making a map based on these large divisions would, however, be rather pointless. But the lower-order administrative divisions of the UK vary among its constituent countries and even, to some degree, within them. As explained in the Wikipedia article on “the administrative geography of the United Kingdom”:

UK Names Divisions MapThe administrative geography of the United Kingdom is complex, multi-layered and non-uniform. The United Kingdom, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe, consists of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For local government in the United Kingdom, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own system of administrative and geographic demarcation. Consequently, there is “no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom.”

Historically, the subnational divisions of the UK have been the county[3] and the ecclesiastical parish, whilst following the emergence of a unified parliament of the United Kingdom, the ward and constituency have been pan-UK political subdivisions. More contemporary divisions include Lieutenancy areas and the statistical territories defined with the modern NUTS:UK and ISO 3166-2:GB systems.

In making my customizable map, I selected the units highlighted in the same Wikipedia article: ceremonial counties in the case of England, preserved counties in that of Wales, and lieutenancy areas in those of Scotland and Northern Ireland. As many of these divisions are quite small, I constructed two maps, one with and one without name labels. (The name labels can make it difficult to click on and assign colors to the shapes that represent the administrative units.)

Venezuela States MapAs in previous offerings, these maps were made with simple presentation software (available in both PowerPoint and Keynote formats), and hence Governorates of Yemen Mapare very easy to use and manipulate.

Customizable Maps Venezuela, Yemen, UK  (Keynote)

Customizable Maps Venezuela, Yemen, UK  (PowerPoint)


Customizable Maps of the United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Yemen Read More »

Customizable Maps of Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Belgium, and South Korea

Kenya Counties MapToday’s GeoCurrents post offers free customizable maps of Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Belgium,and South Korea. All are based on the main subdivisions of the countries in question: counties in the case of Kenya, regions in that of Ghana, regional states (kililoch) in that of Ethiopia, and provinces in those of Belgium and South Korea. Since many of Kenya’s counties are relatively Kenya County Names Mapsmall, I have created two versions of this map, one with and one without name labels. As in previous offerings, these maps are constructed with simple presentation software (available in both PowerPoint and Keynote formats), and hence are very easy to use and manipulate.


Ghana Regions MapThere are several problems with depicting such divisions of national territories. One concerns the translation into English of local terms for administrative divisions. The main divisions of Ethiopia, for example, are called kililoch locally. This term has been variously translated as state, region, or regional state. As Ethiopia’s ethnically based divisional scheme is unusual, I have used the least usual term: regional state.

Ethiopia States MapAnother problem is the fact that several of these countries have more than one category of primary administrative division. Ethiopia, for example, is divided into both kililoch and chartered cities. I have noted this on the map by using smaller font and italics for the two chartered cities, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. In South Korea the South Korea Divisions Mapsituation is rather more complicated, as the country is divided into: “8 provinces (do 도/道), 1 special autonomous province (teukbyeol jachido 특별자치도/特別自治道), 6 metropolitan cities (gwangyeoksi 광역시/廣域市), and 1 special city (teukbyeolsi 특별시/特別市).” As a result of such complexity, I have merely mapped South Korea’s main administrative divisions.

Belgium Provinces MapI hope to post the rest of my customizable maps over the next several days.


Customizable Maps Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Belgium, South Korea  (Keynote)


Customizable Maps Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Belgium, South Korea  (PowerPoint)


Customizable Maps of Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Belgium, and South Korea Read More »