via Telegraph: The maps which explain the Ukraine crisis

The maps which explain the Ukraine crisis

As Russia and Ukraine come ever closer to blows over Crimea, we explain, using maps, the issues at stake

10:35AM GMT 04 Mar 2014

Ukranian and Russian Military Balance

Ukraine’s regular army has only 65,000 soldiers, compared with almost 300,000 deployed in Russia’s western and southern military districts, which border Ukraine. Russia also has an established military presence inside the Ukrainian region of Crimea, centred around the Black Sea Fleet base at the port of Sevastopol. These forces have now fanned out across Crimea and seized de facto control of the territory.

EU gas dependency

The three pipelines that carry gas across Ukraine to Poland and Slovakia and on to the EU. Trade sanctions are unpopular among European countries, which are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas. Europe gets 40 per cent of its natural gas from Russia. Germany is particularly reluctant to get into a sanctions war since it imports more than a third of its oil and gas from Russia.

Distribution of the population speaking Ukrainian or Russian

via Channel NewsAsia: Virginia to be first US state to include “East Sea” in textbooks

The US State of Virginia has recently voted to include the name “East Sea” in its history and geography textbooks, alongside what is now marked only as the “Sea of Japan”.

File photo: A South Korean warship conducts in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea in South Korea. (AFP/South Korean Navy)

VIRGINIA: The US State of Virginia has recently voted to include the name “East Sea” in its history and geography textbooks, alongside what is now marked only as the “Sea of Japan”.

The House of Delegates passed the bill in a vote of 81 to 15, and once it is signed into law, Virginia will be the first American state to include “East Sea”, South Korea’s name for the stretch of water.

The move appears to show that Korean Americans have been mobilised by their country’s increasingly strained relationship with Tokyo.

Peter Y Kim, a Korean American lawyer living in Annandale in Virginia, was shocked when he caught a glimpse of his son’s fifth grade geography textbook recently.

“We found out that the actual textbook, the World Civilisations, only says “Sea of Japan”, (for the sea) between Korea and Japan,” he said.

Mr Kim, who is the president of the Voice of Korean Americans, was upset that the name he grew up learning was not being passed on to his children.

“So I got really frustrated, I got upset, I told them, that’s not true, this particular sea is called the East Sea,” he said.

It is a source of bitterness for the community that the name “Sea of Japan” became the worldwide standard back in the 1920s, while Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.

So Mr Kim and other Korean activists decided to do something about it on behalf of the 82,000 Koreans in Virginia.

They persuaded Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen, who is married to a Korean American and received significant Korean American support in winning his seat, to push for a law to revise the books.

Japan hired a team of lobbyists to defend its position, stressing that “Sea of Japan” was the only internationally recognised name, and was in use from the 19th century, before Japanese colonial rule.

But when it came to a vote, Seoul won by a wide margin — 81 to 15.

Mr Petersen thinks it is a sign that Korean Americans are becoming more politically active.

“I think the Korean population has become much more organised and much more sophisticated.

“And I’ve had people that have supported me, and again, my wife’s Korean so there’s a natural link for me, but people who supported me said ‘you’ve got to stand with us on this issue. And we expect you to stand with us,’” he said.

The Obama administration is also clearly well aware of the growing importance of the Korean American vote — last summer, South Korean President Park Geun-hye addressed a joint session of Congress, a rare honour even for America’s closest allies.

Around 6 per cent of Mr Petersen’s constituents are Korean American, but Mr Petersen said the latest move will not affect any bigger, national ties with Tokyo.

“I’ve made the point that America and Japan are great allies and they have been for almost 70 years.

“People are still going to buy Toyotas and buy Hondas and buy Sony televisions and that’s not going to change. This has nothing to do with any sort of antipathy towards the Japanese. This is a local issue.”

Virginia’s governor is expected to sign the bill into law within the next few weeks — a sign that the Korean American community is now very firmly on the map.

– CNA/nd

via Al Jazeera: How the North Ended up on Top of the Map

How the north ended up on top of the map

by Nick Danforth @ajam February 16, 2014
A cartographic history of what’s up


McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World.
A world map drawn by the Moroccan cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi for King Roger of Sicily, 1154.

Why do maps always show the north as up? For those who don’t just take it for granted, the common answer is that Europeans made the maps and they wanted to be on top. But there’s really no good reason for the north to claim top-notch cartographic real estate over any other bearing, as an examination of old maps from different places and periods can confirm.

The profound arbitrariness of our current cartographic conventions was made evident by McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World, an iconic “upside down” view of the world that recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. Launched by Australian Stuart McArthur on Jan. 26, 1979 (Australia Day, naturally), this map is supposed to challenge our casual acceptance of European perspectives as global norms. But seen today with the title “Australia: No Longer Down Under,” it’s hard not to wonder why the upside-down map, for all its subversiveness, wasn’t called “Botswana: Back Where It Belongs” or perhaps “Paraguay Paramount!”

The McArthur map also makes us wonder why we are so quick to assume that Northern Europeans were the ones who invented the modern map — and decided which way to hold it — in the first place. As is so often the case, our eagerness to invoke Eurocentrism displays a certain bias of its own, since in fact, the north’s elite cartographic status owes more to Byzantine monks and Majorcan Jews than it does to any Englishman.

There is nothing inevitable or intrinsically correct — not in geographic, cartographic or even philosophical terms — about the north being represented as up, because up on a map is a human construction, not a natural one. Some of the very earliest Egyptian maps show the south as up, presumably equating the Nile’s northward flow with the force of gravity. And there was a long stretch in the medieval era when most European maps were drawn with the east on the top. If there was any doubt about this move’s religious significance, they eliminated it with their maps’ pious illustrations, whether of Adam and Eve or Christ enthroned. In the same period, Arab map makers often drew maps with the south facing up, possibly because this was how the Chinese did it.

map map

Konrad Miller’s 1929 re-creation of al-Idrisi’s famous Tabula Rogeriana from 1154.
Bibliotheque nationale de France/Wikipedia
A reproduction of Jorge de Aguiar’s chart of the Mediterranean, Western Europe and African coasts, 1492.
 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library/Wikipedia

Things changed with the age of exploration. Like the Renaissance, this era didn’t start in Northern Europe. It began in the Mediterranean, somewhere between Europe and the Arab world. In the 14th and 15th centuries, increasingly precise navigational maps of the Mediterranean Sea and its many ports called Portolan charts appeared. They were designed for use by mariners navigating the sea’s trade routes with the help of a recently adopted technology, the compass. These maps had no real up or down — pictures and words faced in all sorts of directions, generally pointing inward from the edge of the map — but they all included a compass rose with north clearly distinguished from the other directions.

compass rose
The first known compass rose depicted on a map, in a detail from the Catalan Atlas from 1375, attributed to cartographer Abraham Cresques of Majorca.
 Bibliotheque national de France/Wikipedia

Members of the Italian Cartographic School preferred to mark north with a hat or embellished arrow, while their equally influential colleagues from the Spanish-ruled island of Majorca used an elaborate rendering of Polaris, the North Star. These men, who formed the Majorcan Cartographic School, also established a number of other crucial mapping conventions of the era, including coloring in the Red Sea bright red and drawing the Alps as a giant chicken foot. Among other hints of the school’s predominantly Jewish membership was the nickname of one of its more prominent members: “el jueu de les bruixoles,” or “the Compass Jew.”

But this is only part of the explanation. The arrow of the compass can just as easily point south, since the magnetized metal needle simply aligns with the earth’s magnetic field, with a pole at each end. Indeed, the Chinese supposedly referred to their first compass magnets as south-pointing stones. Crucially, the Chinese developed this convention before they began to use compasses for navigation at sea. By the time Europeans adopted the compass, though, they were already experienced in navigating with reference to the North Star, the one point in the heavens that remains fixed anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Many mariners saw the compass as an artificial replacement for the star on cloudy nights and even assumed it was the pull of the star itself that drew the needle north.

vinland map
The Vinland map, a 15th century world map purportedly based on a 13th century original. If authentic, it is the first known depiction of the North American coastline.
 Yale University/Wikipedia

Yet even as this north-pointing compass became essential to navigation and navigational charts in the 15th century, less precise land maps showing the entire known Old World continued to offer a disorienting array of perspectives. Some had the east on top, in keeping with European tradition, while others preferred the south, in keeping with Arab tradition, and others went with the north, in keeping with the point on the compass rose. Among other things that stand out in these maps is that, given the extent of the known world, the location of the Mediterranean and a bit of uncertainly about the equator, Italy was more or less centered between the north and the south — meaning that whichever way you turned the map, Italy remained more or less halfway between the top and bottom. Conveniently, Italy was at roughly the same latitude as Jerusalem, which through most of the century map makers assumed was at the center of the known world. In fact, the first blow to this pious assumption came with the discovery of just how much of the Old World lies to the east of Jerusalem. Only later did it become apparent just how far north of the equator Jerusalem — and by extension, Italy — really was.

Ptolemy’s map.
 The British Library Board/Getty Images

The north’s position was ultimately secured by the beginning of the 16th century, thanks to Ptolemy, with another European discovery that, like the New World, others had known about for quite some time. Ptolemy was a Hellenic cartographer from Egypt whose work in the second century A.D. laid out a systematic approach to mapping the world, complete with intersecting lines of longitude and latitude on a half-eaten-doughnut-shaped projection that reflected the curvature of the earth. The cartographers who made the first big, beautiful maps of the entire world, Old and New — men like Gerardus Mercator, Henricus Martellus Germanus and Martin Waldseemuller — were obsessed with Ptolemy. They turned out copies of Ptolemy’s Geography on the newly invented printing press, put his portrait in the corners of their maps and used his writings to fill in places they had never been, even as their own discoveries were revealing the limitations of his work.

For reasons that have been lost to history, Ptolemy put the north up. Or at least that’s the way it appears from the only remaining copies of his work, made by 13th century Byzantine monks. On the one hand, Ptolemy realized that, sitting in Alexandria, he was in the northern half of a very large globe, whose size had been fairly accurately calculated by the ancient Greeks. On the other hand, it put Alexandria at the very bottom of the inhabited world as known to Ptolemy and all the main civilizational centers in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.

 For Americans, it’s easy to think that our position, at the top left of most maps, is the intrinsically preferable one. It’s unclear why Arabs or Israelis, who read from right to left, would necessarily think so.

Even if compasses and Ptolemy had both pointed to the south, northerners could still have come along and flipped things around. In fact, with north seemingly settled at the top of the page in the 16th century, there were still some squabbles over who in the Northern Hemisphere would end up left, right or center. The politics of reorientation are anything but simple. For Americans, it’s easy to think that our position, at the top-left of most maps, is the intrinsically preferable one; it certainly seems that way if you happen to be from a culture that reads from left to right. But it’s unclear why Arabs or Israelis, who read from right to left, would necessarily think so. And while map makers usually like to design maps with the edges running through one of the world’s major oceans, it is certainly possible to put North America in the very center by splitting the world in half through Asia.

As the United States was just beginning to emerge on the world stage in the 19th century, American cartographers made some earnest efforts to give the U.S. pride of place. While there is something endearing about the idea of an Indiana map maker in 1871 preparing an atlas with Indiana squarely in the center of the world, the unfortunate side effect was that most of the Midwest disappeared into the gaping crease between atlas pages. Nepal, of course, gets a bit cut off on the sides, but that is nothing compared with what happens to Nebraska. And ironically, accepting the United States’ position in the top left leaves Africa at the very center of the map, which is hardly in line with the politics of the time. Though this puts Africa in what was once considered the map’s prime real estate, it also reduces the continent’s relative size on the standard Mercator projection — another source of complaint for carto-critics.

The orientation of our maps, like so many other features of the modern world, arose from the interplay of chance, technology and politics in a way that defies our desire to impose easy or satisfying narratives. But at a time when the global south continues to suffer more than its share of violence and poverty, let’s not dismiss McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World too quickly. It continues to symbolize a noble wish: that we could overturn the unjust political and economic relationships in our world as easily as we can flip the maps on our walls.

apollo 17

Earth seen from Apollo 17.

Nick Danforth is a PhD candidate at Georgetown University. He writes about Middle East maps, history and politics at Midafternoon Map.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

via Business Insider Australia: These Maps Show Which Areas Of The Country Have The Biggest Carbon Footprints

These Maps Show Which Areas Of The Country Have The Biggest Carbon Footprints


It’s no secret that the U.S. is one of the biggest carbon emitters around. Households in the U.S. alone are responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, even though they account for just over 4% of the global population.

But which areas in the U.S. are contributing the most? These interactive maps from the University of California, Berkeley show where the U.S. has the biggest carbon footprint. You can even calculate your city’s carbon footprint on their site.

The carbon footprint measurement equals the total greenhouse gas emissions of the zip code in question. An area’s carbon footprint includes things like energy people use at home, energy used by businesses, and transportation. The biggest source of emissions depends on the area. For example, the suburbs have a higher percentage of emissions coming from individual vehicles than big cities do.

The maps use data from the Residential Energy Consumption Survey. The full study was published in December in Environmental Science & Technology.

Here you can see the average annual carbon footprint across the U.S. — green is lower and the orange and red areas are higher emissions. The white areas on the map show where survey data was unavailable.

Most areas range between 40 to 80 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The Midwest and parts of the northeast are the worst areas.

Average household carbon footprint

Zooming in on New York City, you can see that as what the study calls a “mega city” its carbon footprint is low relative to its population density.

New york carbon footprint

Unlike the map above, this map shows only how much emissions the average home is producing — emissions from electricity and commutes. This map excludes emissions from things like goods, food, and services.

It’s easy to see the worst regions in the dark red areas on the map:

Average energy carbon footprint

Here you can see the average vehicle miles traveled by zip code. A lot of driving increases the size of a person’s carbon footprint. The purple areas represent the highest number of miles.

Average vehicle miles in the U.S.

City v. Suburb

Intuitively it makes sense to assume that as the population density of an area increases, emissions per person decrease; when people and businesses are closer together, there’s less commuting, and more resources are shared between people.

But this new research shows that the relationship is more complex. The study suggests there’s really no direct correlation between population density and greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions actually increase as population density increases until an area hits about 3,000 people per square mile.

Carbon footprint and population density

In mega cities, like New York and Los Angeles, the emissions start decreasing again as the population density climbs. This creates an upside down “U” shape when comparing carbon footprint and population density of an area.

This is visible in the plot to the left, which has population density on the x-axis and carbon footprint on the y-axis.

Further, even though these dense metropolitan areas have a small carbon footprint relative to the number of people they hold, the surrounding suburbs have a much bigger carbon footprint, “more than offsetting the benefit of low carbon areas in city centres,” the researchers say.

A changing landscape

If more people move into the suburbs, there could be a significant increase the country’s carbon footprint. Suburbs already account for 50% of the total household carbon footprint in the U.S.

“Increasing rents would also likely further contribute to pressures to suburbanize the suburbs, leading to a possible net increase in emissions,” the researchers write in the paper.

The new insight into how population density impacts carbon footprint shows there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for reducing carbon emissions across the country: Areas with different population densities produce different amounts of carbon dioxide, they also have different main sources of CO2.

For example, transportation accounts for 50% of all emissions in suburban areas. But, in big cities like New York, one of the largest emission contributors is food services. The optimal strategy to reduce emissions in both of these areas would be different: the suburbs should focus on ways to reduce transportation emissions, and big cities should focus on ways to reduce food industry emissions.

via CNN: 7 Things you Probably Didn’t know about Maps

7 things you probably didn’t know about maps

By Frances Cha, CNN
February 3, 2014 — Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
London-based map dealer Daniel Crouch shares a few unusual or rare maps from a recent exhibition in Hong Kong. According to Crouch, maps of BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are rising in popularity among map collectors. This 17th-century map of China is a double-page hand-colored engraved map published in 1665 by John Speed.
London-based map dealer Daniel Crouch shares a few unusual or rare maps from a recent exhibition in Hong Kong. According to Crouch, maps of BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are rising in popularity among map collectors. This 17th-century map of China is a double-page hand-colored engraved map published in 1665 by John Speed.
  • “Paper towns” were fake places added to maps by mapmakers in order to dupe forgers into copying them
  • The world’s best map collection is in Paris, says map dealer Daniel Crouch
  • Maps of BRIC nations are popular in the collecting world right now

(CNN) — Maps can be beautiful and good ones can be great investments.

But what collectors often find most entrancing about maps are how they provide portals into history.

The rise and fall of cities, the charting of war and adventure, the promise of riches through trade … history continues to be rewritten according to scholars’ reinterpretations of ancient cartography.

John Selden’s 17th-century map of China made a huge splash recently as the stimulus for two new books analyzing London’s rise as an economic hub (the city’s success is inextricably linked to trade with China, as the Selden map illustrates).

MORE: Scientists “undiscover” South Pacific island

According to some experts, the current unprecedented volume of global travel is also contributing to a burgeoning interest in map collecting.

“I believe that as people travel more, migrate more and speak more languages, and as business becomes more globalized, the appeal of two types of attachment to the idea of ‘place’ increases,” says Daniel Crouch, a London based specialist of antique maps and atlases.

“One, as an identification with, or memory of, a place or homeland left behind, and the other as a statement of a new ‘home’ or adopted country, or fondness for a land visited.”

Crouch reveals some fascinating map facts gathered from a lifetime of collecting and selling antique maps, and shares favorites from his most recent exhibition in Hong Kong featuring maps of China.

7 things to know about maps

1. It’s still possible to have your own world-class map collection

Even the wealthiest collectors of old master or impressionist paintings, Chinese ceramics or modern art can never hope to have collections of a quality to match the likes of the Louvre, the British Museum or the Met.

However, that’s not true of maps.

The savvy collector can still buy maps or atlases as good as, and sometimes better than, those found in the world’s major libraries and museums.

“We have several items in our gallery that are at least as good, if not better, than the equivalent examples in, say, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the British Library or Library of Congress,” says Crouch, whose gallery keeps approximately 250 maps and 50 atlases in stock at any one time.

2. “BRIC” nations are hot right now

Antique maps featuring the world’s biggest developing countries have seen a recent spike in prices.

According to Crouch this heightened interest can be linked to the recently increased inbound and outbound travel from these countries.

“Maps of B.R.I.C. nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have seen the fastest growing markets (and prices) in recent years,” says Crouch.

“I have also noticed an increased interest in ‘thematic’ and 19th and even early 20th century mapping,” he says.

MORE: Top cities for international tourists are …

3. The first “modern” map was printed more than 500 years ago

While the earliest maps were rudimentary diagrams drawn in caves in pre-historic times, the first proper manuscript maps appeared in the 12th century.

The map of the Holy Land printed in the “Rudimentum Novitiorum,” an encyclopedia of world history published in 1475, is considered the first modern printed map.

A sample of the Rudimentum Novitiorum was sold for £500,000 ($829,000) in 2013.

4. Mapmakers included fake towns to catch forgers

Ever been to the town of Agloe in New York State? Whitewall in California? Or Relescent in Florida?

While these towns are clearly marked on a number of antique maps of the United States, they don’t actually exist.

“Paper towns” were fake places added to maps by early mapmakers in order to dupe forgers into copying them, thereby exposing themselves to charges of copyright infringement.

5. The world’s best map collection is in Paris

“The best collection in the world, in my opinion, is that of theBibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, followed by the Library of Congress in the United States and the British Library,” says Crouch.

“Many of what we now regard as the major institutional collections of cartography were actually put together by individuals in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the United Kingdom, the best collection of such material was made by King George III.”

The latter collection is known as the “K.Top,” and can be found in the British Library.

MORE: Insider guide: Best of Paris

6. The most expensive map was the first to name America

The U.S. Library of Congress paid a record $10 million for German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller’s Universalis Cosmographia, a wall map of the world printed in 1507.

It’s the only surviving copy of the map, which was the first to use the name “America.”

In 2007, Crouch brokered the sale of the most expensive atlas ever sold — the 1477 Bologna Ptolemy, the first printed atlas — for £1.9 million ($3.12 million).

7. The best place to shop for maps is in the Netherlands

The annual European Fine Art and Antiques Fair in Masstricht, Netherlands is often considered the world’s best place to shop for antique maps, classic and modern art and jewelry.

More than 70,000 people visited the TEFAF Maastricht in 2013 to browse the 260 booths from 20 countries.

“It’s simply the biggest and best fine art fair in the world,” says Crouch.

This year’s fair dates are March 14-23.

TEFAF Maastricht, Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre, Forum 100, 6229 GV Maastricht, Netherlands; +31 43 38 38 383; 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

via Metropolis Mag: These Maps Show How Subway Maps Twist Urban Reality

These Maps Show How Subway Maps Twist Urban Reality

Komal Sharma
These Maps Show How Subway Maps Twist Urban RealityA new project by historian Benjamin M. Schmidt reveals how wrong subway maps really are.

Courtesy Benjamin M. Schmidt

It’s not a secret that our subway maps distort the geographies of the metropoles they claim to represent. When we traverse a city everyday with an MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority NY) or WMATA map (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), our conception of the city—its boundaries, expanses—easily becomes scrambled. For instance, both Washington’s dense inner core and its spread-out outskirts are all shown on the same scale. In a grid city like Manhattan there might be some semblance of similarity, but in most other cities, reality on the ground is completely different.

A new project developed at Northeastern University tackles these problems head on. Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history, has designed interactive digital maps of Boston, New York and Washington that superimpose each city’s respective subway route map onto a geographically accurate map made to scale. One can adjust the opacity or transparency between the geographic maps and the overlaid subway routes, and can zoom in and out as well.

With research that joins the fields of cultural history and digital humanities, Schmidt’s maps feed into the larger project at Northeastern University’s history department, which uses maps to investigate the urban and social changes in the city. The new maps are rectified, annotated, and aligned with historical maps to track the changes over time. Schmidt’s maps were designed to help explain the concept of “geo-rectification” to his students. “I made these because I was interested in the collision of two different views we have of our cities: the Google maps version that we use more and more, and the subway maps, which are just as important in making us think about the layout of our cities but have a totally different perspective,” explains Schmidt.

The London Underground Map, 1908. See how the map more or less accurately plots the subway lines according to their geographical placement.

Courtesy London Transport Museum

This “rectification” comes some eighty years after the first subway maps began trading in geographical accuracy for abstract clarity. In 1931, when Harry Beck, an English draftsman, first came up with the design of the London Underground Tube map, it was rejected because it was thought “too revolutionary.” Beck had removed all semblance of geography from the map and “cleaned it up” into a proportionate, rectilinear diagram with horizontal, vertical, and angular lines for train routes and evenly spaced dots for subway stops. A trial of 500 maps was run and it became hugely popular among commuters. By 1933, Beck’s diagrammatic map was in full print run and has, ever since, been the template of subways, trains and transport maps across the cities of the world.

The London Underground Map by Harry Beck, 1933. Subsequent editions have more or less left Beck’s schematic intact.

Courtesy London Transport Museum

It’s a classic case of choosing coherence over geographic accuracy. Beck, a commuter himself, understood that for the average passenger on the train, the agenda was getting from one station to another with a quick glance over the map. Geographical accuracy didn’t figure into it. By comparison, the maps that existed before have often been referred to “as legible as spaghetti in a bowl.” Beck, who used to work as an engineering draftsman at the London Underground Signals Office, designed his version invariably similar to electric circuit diagrams that he did for his day job. A map for comprehensibility rather than topographic exactitude, Beck was able to solve a universal problem of growing cities with his sound design, which is probably the reason for its longevity.

One of Schmidt’s “geo-rectified” maps that shows how the “real” DC Metro conforms to the city’s geography.

Courtesy Benjamin M. Schmidt

Unlike Beck, Schmidt makes its clear that his maps are not for commuters benefit. “I definitely don’t think think these maps are useful, per se; there’s a place for accurate subway maps, but not these twisted versions. But I thought it would be fun to show how these examples of good design that we all live with become distorted if you try to “fix” them. I definitely wouldn’t want to see them actually changed along these lines,” he says.

While Beck’s classic design persists in its relevance and needs no fixing, the digital medium does offer us a new kind of opportunity. It allows us to see a dimension of reality that we didn’t have access to before. Yet it emerges that the truth is quite twisted, in more ways than one.

Adventures in mapping | TED Playlist

See on Scoop.itAdvanced Human Geography

Maps don’t just tell you which street to turn left on. Maps convey information that shapes our lives, deepen our understanding of problems and our ability to create solutions, and whisk our imaginations to new lands. See what we mean, below.

TheHumanImprint‘s insight:

Contemporary cartography in practice.

See on

via How the U.S. Maps the World’s Most Disputed Territories

Keywords: Boundary disputes; Toponyms (place-names); Delineate; Define; Demarcate; Metes-and-Bounds; State Shapes; Maritime Boundaries; Maps; GPS; Political Geography.

(¯`·._.·(¯`·._.·(¯`·._.· Article Below ·._.·´¯)·._.·´¯)·._.·´¯)

How the U.S. Maps the World’s Most Disputed Territories

6:30 AM

When the United States decides to recognize a new government, or an existing country changes its name, Leo Dillon and his team at the State Department spring into action.

Dillon heads the Geographical Information Unit, which is responsible for ensuring the boundaries and names on government maps reflect U.S. policy. The team also keeps an eye on border skirmishes and territorial disputes throughout the world and makes maps that are used in negotiating treaties and truces. These days, Dillon says, maritime borders are where much of the action is. (The recent political squabbling and military posturing between China and Japan over the tiny islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan is one potentially worrisome case in point.)

Dillon’s been at the State Department since 1986, and he says his job remains as fun as ever. “The landscape of political geography is constantly changing,” he said. “Every day I come in here and there’s something new.” We spoke with Dillon to learn more about it.

WIRED: What’s an example of an interesting border dispute you’ve worked on?

Leo Dillon: One case I worked on that was kind of fun involves a tiny island off the coast of Morocco. It’s very close to shore and very, very small. But about 11 years ago Morocco sent a few troops there and Spain swooped in with helicopters and expelled them and it became a big deal.

[Then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell was asked to mediate the conflict. [In Powell’s plan] everyone was going to leave the island, with no prejudice as to who it belonged to. They drew up an agreement but the problem was the name. The Spanish wouldn’t use the Moroccan name and the Moroccans wouldn’t use the Spanish name.

I was at a dinner party that Saturday night and I got a call from the Secretary’s staff saying that instead of a name they wanted to use the coordinates for that island. So I showed them how to get on a database and do that. I could hear the Secretary in the background saying, “Ask him how accurate those coordinates are.” They’re not totally accurate, but there’s no island nearby with which it could possibly be confused. So the documents he drew up for the mediations referred to “the island and such and such coordinates” and those documents had to be signed by the prime minister of Spain and the king of Morocco by midnight that same day.

The prime minister of Spain signed, no problem. But they had to send a high speed car looking for the king of Morocco. This was in the days before cellphones were prevalent. So they caught up to him and he basically had to pull over at some house and say, “Excuse me, I’m your king, could I use your phone?” He called up Powell and asked him to read the document, which he immediately agreed to. So that was a big deal, and my small part in it was to provide those coordinates. It’s a great example of how geographic names matter.

WIRED: Where do geographic names come from in more ordinary circumstances?

Dillon: What we’re looking for is names that are used officially or names that are used locally. Actually, officially usually trumps locally. Ninety-five percent of the names in our huge database come from official maps, and maybe five percent require special treatment. That’s where I come in quite often and investigate.

Especially in places like Asia or Africa it comes up because sometimes there’s a typo on a map or something doesn’t look quite right. A good example is a Syrian town near the border with Turkey. It’s an important town that’s been in the news a lot. Most people call it A’zaz, but then I noticed our staff had changed it to I’zaz because there’s a large scale map that spells it that way. And some local people apparently do call it I’zaz. But almost everybody calls it A’zaz, and I had to build a case using everything from Syrian websites, to reputable atlases like National Geographic to internet sources.

WIRED: What happens when a new country comes up? Does that trigger a lot of work for you?

Dillon: It sure does. Every time a new country comes by it shakes up the order. Usually you have a lot of advance notice, but it still gets complicated. For instance, when we recognized Kosovo there were many sets of boundaries. The peacekeeping forces there were using boundaries that weren’t really the legal boundaries at all. Their job was to keep peace in a buffer zone, so they’d set up working boundaries in a way that made it easier for them to keep people with guns apart. We were going with the largest scale available map, in this case a series of Yugoslavian-made maps in the Library of Congress. But it took a while to explain to people why we had the boundary the way we had it and what we were basing it on.

The names were an issue too. Before, Serbian names were all we used, but now the State Department said we can’t do that, we have to use both Serbian and Albanian names for each and every town and feature. We had to go chase down an authoritative source of Albanian place names, which had never really existed. The Kosovars did a reasonably good job of tracking them down. But then we had to make a basic reference map, and I couldn’t include as many towns as I wanted to because I couldn’t fit all the labels.

The other problem from our perspective is that a new country makes all the old reference maps obsolete. The other day I was asked for a good page-sized map of the Central African Republic because things are going on there. We have one produced in 2004. Well, it’s no good anymore because it doesn’t say South Sudan.

WIRED: What kinds of information do you use when you’re working on a border dispute?

Dillon: It’s mostly whatever commercial satellite imagery we have available. Honestly, these days it’s a lot of good old Google Earth. We prefer commercial because it’s neutral. But we also use terrain data from SRTM [the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission] or LIDAR or whatever else we need.

In one case, my colleague went to the capitals of both Kosovo and Macedonia. Formerly they were two states in Yugoslavia. Their borders weren’t all that properly defined, and they needed to normalize their borders to have proper diplomatic relations. But they were very mistrustful of each other. He showed up with some Google Earth and Landsat images and showed them that there was this ridge line. He showed them that it’s not a big deal, you might have to give up an acre here or there, but if you just follow the ridge line that’s where the boundary should be. And they agreed. So it was a kind of technical solution to a politically charged situation. It worked out very quickly.

WIRED: Do you ever go to a place and survey a disputed border?

Dillon: No, we don’t do that. That’s not our job. Instead we try to act as a good faith broker between two parties, and we only do it if they both ask us. That’s what happened in Kosovo-Macedonia. We also helped out in Azerbaijan-Armenia and Ethiopia-Eritrea.

WIRED: Do you ever use historic maps?

Dillon: All the time. A good example is during the Iraq war. Our embassy staff were trying to negotiate with the Kurds in the north, and the Kurds were saying these lands used to belong to us, and our folks there had no way of knowing if that was true. I got tasked with finding old maps that would corroborate what these guys are saying. So I went to the Library of Congress and found old maps of the area. I was able to make copies and georectify them and put them up against Kurds’ claims, and that was used as a negotiating tool. Our folks were able to say look, you said this whole area used to be in this particular province, but you can see here that only half of it was. And they’d say, “Oh yeah, maybe you’re right.”

One of my colleagues is working hard now on India and China, which is one of the few borders that never really had a solid treaty behind it. He’s got all these detailed maps from both sides, and he’s trying to work through the differences. He’s found areas where the British surveyors on the Indian side made mistakes. He’s basically doing detective work, where he can say it’s obvious they had a guy on this ridge line and another guy on this ridge line, but there was a valley in between they couldn’t see, so they basically drew a line where they shouldn’t have.

WIRED: Do you work with a lot of classified maps?

Dillon: Most classified maps we deal with are something that’s going on at a given time. They show the movement of rebel groups or narcotics or something like that. But they’re ephemeral. I don’t like to make them because why make a map that only a small number of people will see and is only useful for a short time?

WIRED: Where are some of the current hot spots in terms of border disputes?

Dillon: Maritime borders are really where the hot spots are right now. The South China Sea is huge right now. You’ve got all these tiny islands there that are claimed by various actors. In the eastern Mediterranean there’s all these complicated maritime agreements that some states recognize and other states don’t.

As people are trying to exploit resources in the sea it’s getting more and more important for them to be able to delimit the areas of sovereign rights. You have what’s called your territorial seas, which is 12 nautical miles [off the coast], then you have your exclusive economic zone which is 200 nautical miles, and you even have certain rights to what’s called the extended continental shelf which goes beyond 200 nautical miles — if you can define it. Some states are trying to do that responsibly using international law, and some states are not doing it responsibly.

WIRED: How does defining maritime borders differ from defining land borders?

Dillon: Maritime boundaries are actually simpler. Most people agree on a principle of equidistance, so you just have to get together and agree on a distance. You take an island or a coastline and start drawing concentric circles out and find a midline between them. But there are disputes all the time. Burma and Bangladesh took a case to the International Court of Justice recently. Chile and Peru is another case we’re really watching. A decision could be out any day.

WIRED: Is climate change creating new areas of dispute?

Dillon: Sea level rise is going to play an enormous role in coastal states. People who are trying right now to negotiate their maritime boundaries with a neighboring state have to take that into account. If you chose a spot right now that’s the terminus of your land boundary and you move it out 12 nautical miles, and your shoreline is very shallow, you may find yourself in 100 years with your land terminus underwater.

WIRED: Have open access cartography tools like Open Street Maps impacted your work?

Dillon: In a way, yes. Not so much with boundaries because boundaries are legal instruments. Anybody can put down a boundary in OSM but nobody’s going to pay attention to it because there’s nothing backing it up. But in the realm of names, definitely so. People are putting down names in OSM that are quasi-official or not official or local, and those are very interesting. We look at them and we collect them.

Before the internet, we had a much easier time defending the names we used because we were considered much more of an authority. Now, if you want to find out how to spell a town in an Arabic country, if you go to Wikipedia you may find a name that’s more commonly used on the ground. It’s something we’re having a hard time keeping up with. The democratization of cartography, much like the internet as a whole, has opened up the world of geographical knowledge to a much bigger degree.

Free Online Maps Course: Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

Interested in taking a spatial mapping course free form Penn State University? Sign up and follow along! This is the first week that it is being offered and so far over 3,000 people have signed up. This is a great way to learn all about the spatial perspective and how to use ArcGIS in every day life.

If you have no idea what ArcGIS is, check it out, it is quite amazing.  Imagine a whole bunch of layers of data that you can toggle on and off to see if there are any correlations between the phenomenon.  Ok, I know that didn’t sound so amazing-but liken with toggling a map of McDonalds locations and low income housing. Do you get me now?


Maps are for everyone and you don’t need a background to start, just an interest in maps. Here is a copied and pasted section of who this class is intended for:

Wired: Who’s the intended audience?

Robinson: Novice folks who are maybe coming out of high school in some cases, or lifelong learners who are interested in maps but have never taken a class. My core motivation was to design a course for people who use maps but have never made one of their own. It’s an entry-level thing. It’s the gateway drug to mapping.



Wiki – Getting Started | Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.

22 Maps That Show The Deepest Linguistic Conflicts In America – Business Insider

Topics: Language, dialect, pronunciation, accent, isogloss, thematic map

Everyone knows that Americans don’t exactly agree on pronunciations. 

Regional accents are a major part of what makes American English so interesting as a dialect.

Joshua Katz, a Ph. D student in statistics at North Carolina State University, just published a group of awesome visualizations of Professor Bert Vaux and Scott Golder’s linguistic survey that looked at how Americans pronounce words. (via detsl on /r/Linguistics)

His results were first published on Abstractthe N.C. State research blog.

Follow the link below to see some more of the coolest maps from his collection.

Read more:

22 Maps That Show The Deepest Linguistic Conflicts In America – Business Insider.