More Great Maps from M. Izady at Gulf 2000

Middle East Cultural Historical Regions Map by M. Izady

Middle East Cultural Historical Regions Map by M. IzadyThe fantastic map trove at Columbia University’s Gulf 2000 Project, generated by cartographer M. Izady, continues to expand. Many detailed maps of language, religion, ethnicity, and cultural-historical regions in the greater Middle East are found on the site.

Today’s GeoNote highlights Izady’s map of “Primary Cultural and Historical Zones.” This map makes an invaluable companion for historical sources covering the region. Regional terms, such as Khurasan, Hadramout, and Hijaz are often encountered in such works, but until now it has been impossible to find a single map that indicates their positions.

A few oddities are apparent. Note that the map includes two “Iraqs,” one in modern Iraq and the other in Iran. Although seldom used now, such terminology was once widespread, and I was quite confused when I first read of a Persian “Iraq.” (The etymology of the word is still debated.)

My one complaint about the map is the use of several non-local terms, such as “Piedmont” for part of Kurdistan and “Caspia” for the eastern Caucasus. The term “piedmont” derives from the Italian for “mountain foot,” and is used for several regions of the world situated near the base of a prominent mountain range. It is used here as substitute for indigenous terms meaning the same thing.

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Egypt’s Electoral Geography Revealed

Egyptian Block Vote Map from Electoral Politics 2.0

Egyptian Block Vote Map from Electoral Politics 2.0By Western standards, Cairo is a socially conservative and religiously devout metropolis. By Egyptian standards, however, it is a rather liberal place. Such a position is evident in the electoral maps of Egypt’s 2011 legislative election, recently put on-line by the invaluable website, Electoral Geography 2.0: Mapped Politics. As the first map posted here shows, the secular, center-left party, Egyptian Block, received a higher percentage of the vote in greater Cairo than elsewhere in the country. Egyptian Block also did relatively well in Alexandria, which was once considered a cosmopolitan city, and in the Assiout Governorate in the central Nile Valley, noted for having one of the largest concentrations of Coptic Christians in the country.  According to the Wikipedia, Egyptian Block, which received less than nine percent of the vote nationwide, hopes to:

“[E]stablish Egypt as a modern civil state in which science plays an important role, and to create equality and social justice in the country. The objectives of the Bloc also include to make a decent life possible for the poorer population, including education, health care and proper housing. It advocates a pluralistic, multiparty democracy and rejects religious, racial, and sexual discrimination.”

 Al_Nour Vote Map in Egypt from Electoral PoliticsAs the second map shows, the ultra-conservative Salafist party, Al-Nour, received relatively few votes in Cairo.  This party did very well, however, in the western desert, in the agricultural Fayoum Depression, and in large parts of the Nile Delta.

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Misleading Lists of Large Lakes

Conventional lists of the world’s largest lakes by area are often misleading. Most claim that the Aral Sea is one of the Earth’s most extensive bodies of inland water, some placing it in the fourth position, and others, including infoplease and factmonster, in sixth place. In actuality, the Aral Sea has virtually disappeared, and now is essentially a massive salt-flat, as can be seen in the paired images to the left. As a result, it should be deleted from such lists.

Second-place standing is also controversial. Most lists place Lake Superior in this position, including AboutGeography. The Wikipedia, however, has demoted Superior to third place, as it claims that Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are actually a single lake, the world’s second largest. From a strictly limnological point of view, it is difficult to argue with this assessment.

The Wikipedia list of the largest lakes conveniently includes small maps, made to scale, of the water-bodies in question. I have copied and traced out several of these images to construct a simple map overlay that shows relative sizes of a few noted lakes. The massive extent of the Caspian Sea (which is actually a lake) is evident, dwarfing the combined Michigan-Huron. Michigan-Huron, in turn, is shown to be massively larger that Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul (in maroon), the world’s second largest Alpine lake, which in turn is vastly large than Lake Tahoe (dark blue), widely viewed as sizable lake. (Lake Tahoe is actually too small to be on the Wikipedia list; as a result I have had to estimate its relative size here.)

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Africa GeoQuiz Answers

Yesterday’s GeoNote introduced this Sub-Saharan Africa GeoQuiz. This page shows the answers in bold, so if you would like to first take the quiz without seeing the answers, see yesterday’s post before scrolling down.






1. The island marked A:

b. has a unique mixture of Southeast Asian and African cultural influences; all of its closely related indigenous dialects are Austronesian, linked to those of Insular Southeast Asia.

(Madagascar was first settled by people from what is now Indonesia a little more than a 1,000 years ago)

2. The green coastal strip labeled B:

d. is mostly Muslim, and is noted for the fact that most of its people speak Swahili as their first language.

The coastal strip of Kenya and Tanzania is sometimes called the Swahili Coast; although the Swahili language is used over much of East Africa, it is the dominant first language only on the coast, a strongly Muslim area.

3. The yellow area marked C:

d. was the historical core of a series of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) kingdoms; this largely malaria-free region has been mostly Christian for some 1,700 years.

North-central Ethiopia and much or Eritrea formed the core area of historical Abyssinia, long a largely Christian area, its faith linked to the Coptic Christianity of Egypt.

4. The country marked D:

b. is noted for its well-run government, relatively high social indicators, and political stability – as well as for its high rate of HIV-AIDs.

Botswana is well known in development studies for its well-run government and low levels of corruption, which have allowed resource wealth (diamonds especially) to be translated into broad social gains. AIDs is a huge problem, however.

5. The blue area marked E is:

b. demographically dominated by the so-called Coloured population – a people of mixed ancestry (largely Khoi [Hottentot] and European, but with some Indonesian and Bantu) who speak Afrikaans (a Dutch-derived language).

Most people in western South Africa belong to the mixed-race Coloured population, which is generally Afrikaans speaking.  Much of this area, however, is quite sparsely populated.

6. The orange area marked F:

b. is mostly Yoruba-speaking, but is religiously divided among Muslims, Christians, and practitioners of the  traditional Yoruba faith.

Southwestern Nigeria is the heart of Yorubaland, a culturally distinctive although religiously mixed area.

7. The purple country (including the island) marked G:

b. is one of Africa’s richest countries on a per capita GDP basis, but most of its people are poor, owing in part to high levels of governmental corruption.

The term “kleptocracy,” or “government by thieves,” was probably coined in reference to Equatorial Guinea, sub-Saharan Africa’s richest state on the basis of per capita GDP.

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Africa GeoQuiz

Yesterday’s GeoNote criticized a Christian Science Monitor Africa Quiz. Today’s gives an example of the way in which I test my students in multiple-choice exams (I also give essay-format exams).  Answers tomorrow.






1. The island marked A:

a. is culturally a mélange of South Asian and African influences; partially as a result, it is one of  the more economically successful countries of this  region.

b. has a unique mixture of Southeast Asian and African cultural influences; all of its closely related  indigenous dialects are Austronesian, linked to those of Insular Southeast Asia.

c. is largely Muslim in religion and Swahili in language, owing to its crucial position in Indian Ocean maritime trade networks.

d. was the site of intense colonial rivalry between Britain and France that ended in British colonization; it was later destabilized by a long “proxy war” pitting forces aligned with the Soviet Union against those aligned with the U.S.

2. The green coastal strip labeled B:

a. is largely Christian, and is one of the more economically and socially developed parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

b. has been the site of a long-standing insurgency, as the people of the region seek to create their own country.

c. is noted for the fact that its residents speak the Bantu language; it also has extremely low levels of social development.

d. is mostly Muslim, and is noted for the fact that most of its people speak Swahili as their first language.

3. The yellow area marked C:

a. has an extremely low population due to its desert climate, and is populated by Somali-speaking people.

b. is officially part of Ethiopia, but has successfully rebelled and thus forms its own insurgent state.

c. is mostly Muslim and animist in religion, and contains a wide variety of languages, including Somali and  Oromo.

d. was the historical core of a series of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) kingdoms; this largely malaria-free region has been mostly Christian for some 1,700 years.

4. The country marked D:

a. is the only African state in which the official language belongs to the Khoisan family (famous for its “clicks”); its largely nomadic cultures, however, have prevented it from achieving  economic success.

b. is noted for its well-run government, relatively high social indicators, and political stability – as well as for its high rate of HIV-AIDs.

c. is noted for its high per capita GDP, which is based mostly on its oil and diamond deposits; most of its people remain extremely poor, as its wealth in monopolized by a narrow elite.

d. is resource rich but politically chaotic and increasingly impoverished, mostly because its commercial farms have been expropriated by its repressive government.

5. The blue area marked E is:

a. demographically dominated by Zulu-speakers, but also contains a significant number of people of South Asian background; English is widely used as a common language.

b. demographically dominated by the so-called Coloured population – a people of mixed ancestry (largely Khoi [Hottentot] and European, but with some Indonesian and Bantu) who speak Afrikaans (a Dutch-derived language).

c. demographically dominated by White Afrikaners who speak the Afrikaans language (Dutch derived); its leaders are actively seeking to separate it from the rest of South Africa.

d. demographically dominated by English-speaking people largely of British and Irish descent; as a basically White area, it is quite distinct from the rest of the country.

6. The orange area marked F:

a. is noted for its high levels of social development, owing to its vast oil deposits, effective government, and religious uniformity.

b. is mostly Yoruba-speaking, but is religiously divided among Muslims, Christians, and practitioners of the  traditional Yoruba faith.

c. is mostly Christian, has large oil deposits, but is the poorest part of its country; it is also noted for its ethnic  tensions and small-scale insurgency.

d. is the Ibo-speaking area that formed a strong kingdom before British colonialism; it remains the center of  political, economic, and military power in Nigeria.

7. The purple country (including the island) marked G is noted for:

a. its high levels of economic and social development, as well as for its well-run government, thanks largely to its massive oil deposits.

b. is one of Africa’s richest countries on a per capita GDP basis, but most of its people are poor, owing in part to high levels of governmental corruption.

c. has low levels of economic development but relatively high levels of social development, owing to the  successful health and education efforts of Christian missionaries.

d. is a country in name only, as it is actually controlled by its much larger neighbor to the north.

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Is Geography Reducible to Country Names and Locations?

Africa Quiz from the Christian Science Monitor

Africa Quiz from the Christian Science MonitorThe Christian Science Monitor asks its readers, “Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.” In the quiz, 16 of 20 questions merely ask for the name of a country indicated on a map. One question asks the name of a mountain range, and two ask for the names of cities shown in photographs. The final question is a bit more complicated, asking for the identification of the only African country that is not a member of the African Union (Morocco).

Although I am happy to see a major publication quizzing its reader’s grasp of the political map of Africa, I am frustrated by the underlying assumption that geographical knowledge can be reduced to place-name identification. I find it telling testimony to the sorry state of geographical education that mastering such elementary information would be considered evidence of adequate geographical comprehension.

That said, the quiz does provide some interesting information. Had I been asked, for example, “what country in the world has the highest lowest elevation,” I would probably have been stymied, yet the Monitor provides the correct answer: “Completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is, by some measures, the highest country in the world. Its lowest point is at an elevation of 4,593 feet, higher than that of any other country.”

Tomorrow’s GeoNote will give a brief sample of how I test my own students’ knowledge of Africa in multiple-choice exams.




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NY Times The Geography of Government Benefits Map

GeoCurrents reader Brett Lucas recently brought to my attention a fascinating interactive New York Times map of “The Geography of Government Benefits,” which shows the share of income in each county that derives from government benefits (social security, medicare, medicaid, etc.). Brett also makes some interesting observations about the map. As he notes, “In the Pacific Northwest, the counties with some of the lowest percentages of government payments as defined on the map are counties with universities (i.e. Benton, County, OR; Whitman, County, WA; Latah County, ID; etc).  Kind of interesting, as these are all major land grant research universities.  How much other federal funding are these counties receiving?” (I have outlined these three counties in my reproduction of the map in blue.)

In general, poor counties receive the largest relative benefits, as would be expected. But there are some interesting exceptions, which are visible by comparing these two maps. The northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula is not a wealthy area, but its intake seems out of line with its overall standing.

Bret also wonders, “how this data will play into the presidential election cycle.” I do as well.

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Religious Diversity in Northern California

Most detailed maps of religion in the United States depict the leading denomination of each country, as in the first map here. Here one can see a Baptist belt in the southeast, a Mormon region in the central part of the west, a Lutheran Zone in the center-north, and a vast area of Roman Catholicism spread over most of the rest of the country. California here appears solidly Catholic, with only its two most sparsely populated counties, Alpine and Sierra, having a different “leading church body.”

If Roman Catholics are removed from the picture and only Protestants are considered, a very different map emerges. Note that the Mormon region as well as the Catholic zone disappears from this map, as Mormons generally do not consider themselves to be Protestants. Although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the map, the patterns that it shows are intriguing. Note that most of Southern California, along with most of the Southwest, joins the Southern Baptist region. Clear Methodist and United Church of Christ zones appear as well. But what is most striking is the area of pronounced county-level diversity, which stretches from Northern California through the Pacific Northwest, including Colorado as well. I find it striking that in this relatively secular area, the leading denomination of many counties is the Assemblies of God, a conservative Pentecostal sect noted for its practice of “speaking in tongues.” California’s Central Valley in particular shows a distinct concentration of Assemblies of God adherents.


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Mapping Mormonism (and Religious Adherence)

Slate Magazine Map of Mormons in the US, modified

Slate Magazine Map of Mormons in the US, modifiedSlate Magazine recently published an excellent interactive map of “Mormons in America,” which shows “where the country’s largest homegrown religion thrives—and where it doesn’t.” By moving one’s cursor over the map on the Slate site, one can see how many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints reside in almost every U.S. county. My one criticism of the map is that its highest category is only 13.8 percent. In most counties in Utah and southeastern Idaho, the percentage of Mormons is much higher. As a result, I have outlined all of the counties in which church membership exceeds 40 percent of the population. In most of these counties, the figure is significantly higher still.

In the “religious adherents” map posted here, the Mormon belt stands out for its high overall level of religiosity. This map is surprising to many, as it shows relatively low levels of religious adherence in parts of the southeast, the so-called Bible Belt. Religiosity is shown as particularly low in the coal-mining counties of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, one of the poorest parts of the country. The northwest, urban and rural counties alike, is also low in this regard. Northern and southern California are also differentiated. Note as well the high level of religious adherence in the Lutheran zone of the north-central region of the U.S.

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Mapping Locust Swarms

The recent GeoCurrents post on California cuisine ended on the odd note of insect eating. Of all insects across the world, locusts are probably the most widely consumed. They are the only six-legged creatures considered halal by Muslims and kosher by Jews. Allowing the consumption of locusts may have had an ecological rationale; when they swarm, crops can be devastated, yet hunger can be partially assuaged by eating the nutritious agents of destruction.

Many mysteries surround the locust, as swarms come and go in baffling patterns. As outbreaks are costly, considerable funds are devoted to understanding and predicting their formation and movement. As with hazardous weather prediction, cartography plays a major role. Maps typically show areas in which non-flying nymphs are aggregating, as well as incipient and actual swarms. Australia’s extensive locust control program relies heavily on crowd-sourced maps. The U.N.’s “Locust Watch Program” (part of the FAO) also does an admirable job. Its February 2012 map of the Libyan-Algerian border region, posted here, shows the potential for later swarming later this year.

The locust is not a single kind of insect but rather a general name for several grasshopper species whose bodies and behaviors change when they become so numerous on the ground that they start bumping into each other. In normal conditions, locusts act like typical grasshoppers. Most are found, when not swarming, in arid and often sandy environments. Unusually heavy rains in such areas can generate unusually lush vegetation, resulting in unusually large numbers of grasshoppers—which then transform into locusts and fly off en masse. They can make gargantuan formations, the largest of which in recent years have been estimated at 40 billion strong.

The most widespread species, the migratory locust, has declined in recent years, its last major African “plague” occurring in 1942. The reasons for its waning do not seem to be fully understood. The desert locust, however, remains a major threat over a broad swatch of territory extending from North Africa to South Asia, and several other species can be locally destructive. In both Africa and Australia, the spraying of the dried spores of entomopathogenic (“insect harming”) fungi has had some success in controlling outbreaks.

The biggest locust mystery surrounds the species that was responsible for the largest swarms, the Rocky Mountain locust of North America. One outbreak in 1875 was estimated to have contained 12.5 trillion grasshoppers, which together would have weighed some 27.5 million tons. Yet within thirty years, the species was extinct, and since then North America has been virtually locust-free.* The cause of its extirpation has never been determined, although it has been argued that “the plowing and irrigation by settlers disrupted the natural life cycle of the insects in the very small areas they existed in between swarms.” Yet vast areas of the Great Plains, the core habitat, were never plowed, and irrigation was rare here in the late 1800s. Nor was overgrazing the likely cause. Recent research conducted jointly by scientists at the University of Arizona and the Chinese Academy of Sciences determined that extant locusts thrive on “low-protein, high-carbohydrate diets, typically found in overgrazed areas.”

* The American bird grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, is occasionally regarded as a kind of locust, but it is usually classified an ordinary grasshopper.


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An Innovative, Inaccurate Baseball Fan Map

It is not often that I would go out of my way to praise a map that advertises itself as “highly inaccurate,” but I will do so in the case of the Common Census Major League Baseball Fan map. The map was constructed from crowd-sourced data, relying on responders to specify where they live and what team they support. Unfortunately, the response-base was not adequate to generate an accurate map. The map that was produced, however, is suggestive, and the technique is promising. As far as northern California is concerned, I find it highly unlikely that Sonoma County, located north of San Francisco, would support the Oakland Athletics more than the San Francisco Giants. In my experience, Giants territory extends north of San Francisco, through Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The map’s portrayal of areas without MLB teams, such as Utah, is intriguing.

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Lines on the Map: the Hajnal Demographic Divide

Wikipedia Map of the Hajnal Demographic Line

Wikipedia Map of the Hajnal Demographic LineA little-noted cartographic genre is based on heavy lines, named for the individuals who brought them to notice, that separate broad areas distinguished by specific features. Examples include Wallace’s Line, which separates Eurasian from Australian wildlife regions in eastern Indonesia, and the Barassi Line, which divides Australia into rugby and Australian-rules-football spheres. In Europe, one of the more prominent of such divisions is the so-called Hajnal Line, extending from St. Petersburg to Trieste, which supposedly splits Europe into two historical demographic regions. West of the line, marriages were traditionally late (averaging around twenty-four for women and twenty-six for men), the age-gap between husbands and wives was relatively small, and a significant proportion of the population never married. East of the line, the opposite conditions supposedly obtained. Many demographers have argued that the marriage patterns found to the west of the line did not exist elsewhere in the world, and that they were significant both in constraining fertility and nurturing subsequent European economic development.

More recently, many demographers and other scholars have questioned both the validity and significance of the Hajnal Line. But regardless of the specific empirical evidence for or against the line’s existence, I am highly suspicious of its geographical position. It is extraordinarily unlikely that any such line would take a straight course between two cities, as it was originally conceived. The Wikipedia map of the subject, moreover, does not even correctly place the line, as its southern terminus is offset well to the west of Trieste. The second map’s revised line, shown as meandering across Europe, is seemingly more realistic. Still one must wonder whether eastern Hungary and eastern Slovakia have ever differed substantially from western Hungary and western Slovakia in regard to marriage patterns. In the end, variation in such matters is usually a matter of subtle gradients rather than hard divisions.


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Geographical Survey

GeoCurrents - A Geography Blog

Dear Readers,

If you have a few free minutes, please consider filling out this survey from the American Geographical Society.

The American Geographical Society (AGS) needs your help in a matter of vital importance.  We are conducting a nationwide survey of public attitudes toward geography and knowledge about geography.  This is our part in a major study funded by the National Science Foundation.  This “Roadmap” project is a joint effort of the National Geographic Society, the National Council for Geographic Education, the Association of American Geographers, and AGS.  The overall topic is geographic literacy, a matter of serious concern in America today.  We invite all U. S. citizens and long term residents of the United States to take the survey.  The only eligibility requirement is that you must be age 18 or older.  The results will help guide Federal and state policies regarding geographic education.

You may access the survey online by clicking the following link:  AGS Geographic Knowledge and Values Survey  (If the link does not take you directly to the survey, please copy and paste this URL into your web browser: ).  Based on trial runs, we estimate the survey will take 12 to 18 minutes of your time.

Please help us spread the word by forwarding this invitation by every possible means:  email, Internet, listserves, newspaper, radio, TV, social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), and personal appearances (clubs, local to national groups, public events, etc.).

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“The American World” Farcical Maps

“The American World” belongs to a genre of maps that make fun of the geographical ignorance and prejudices of people from different countries. These maps are usually made by Internet users and crop up on blogs, forums, and social networking websites. They often have titles like “The World According to India,” or “The World According to Americans.” While some of the prejudices in “The World According to Americans” maps may be familiar to a mainstream U.S. audience, those found in maps that claim to represent the perspectives of other peoples can offer some surprising insights about how others see the world.

On the first map, note that the distorted landmasses are very roughly divided into world regions. According to the creator, Americans tend to see Europe as cultivated and soft, South Asia and East Asia as mostly industrial, Canada as woodsy and provincial, Southwest Asia as oil rich and war-torn, and Africa (which has black and white stripes reminiscent of those of zebras) as lacking any interest. Australia’s labeling as “Big Island (Hawaii ?)” is probably a jab at Americans’ general geographical ignorance. Most unusual is the red strip labeled “Don’t go here.” Could it be North Korea? If so, it is far too south.

“The World According to Americans” map has many similarities with “The American World.” As on the previous map, the American flag is superimposed on the United States and is coupled with a noisily patriotic exclamation, “AMERICA!!!1 WE’RE #1!!!!!” Also similar is the disparaging tag placed on Europe, the reference to Asia as an industrial zone, the view of Southwest Asia as violent and war-torn, and the labeling of Canada as “uninhabited.” Africa, which is floating free of Eurasia, is insultingly depicted as a land of “zoo animals.” Besides the anachronistic labeling of the former lands of the Soviet Union as “communists,” the circular blob representing Southeast Asia is oddly labeled “more evil doers”. While the cartographer may be referring to Muslim fundamentalist organizations such as Jemaah Islamiyya in Indonesia, it is unlikely that the average America—whose view this map supposedly represents— would have any knowledge of such groups.

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