I really like maps.  I guess it goes along with my interest in one of the key questions in political science, “What is a state?” One can also ask “What is a nation?” and then delve into an endless debate on where nationality ends and citizenship begins. Before modern maps and satellite photography, we didn’t have very clear indicators of who owned what. Today, Tibet falls within the boundaries of China, yet in the past they were considered separate entities. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India were once hundreds of separate principalities, united by several empires, transformed into a British colony, and finally separated 60 years ago by a violent struggle. The two Koreas have shared a common language and culture for a thousand years, but are divided by a thin line created for the administrative convenience of the US and a country that doesn’t even exist anymore. The list goes on and on.

Political lines might be arbitrary, but people eventually begin to identify with the names and lines drawn on a map. Wars are fought over the tiniest slivers of land, with each country claiming (based on years of mapmaking) that this forest or that lake had always existed within their realm of influence. This extends from nation-states down to your backyard.

Anyway, here’s some maps that I thought were interesting, just based on some random browsing. Enjoy…

  • This first map is demonstrates the growth of especially large cities over the past 100 years, and also national population growth as a whole. A couple of things were surprising to me. First, the stagnation (or pending stagnation) of almost all major cities in the Western hemisphere. New York has barely grown since 1950. Mexico City and Sao Paulo had a huge booms between 1950 and 2000, but then suddenly stopped. From 1950 to 2000, America added over 100 million new citizens, but according to this map it appears almost none settled in the two biggest cities. Secondly, I was surprised to learn that Africa’s population grew so slowly over the past 50 years. Even as Lagos is expecting an enormous population boom, the continent as a whole grew very slowly. Finally, it’s difficult NOT to be impressed by the imminent growth of Asian cities. A Mumbai with 27 million people? Shanghai with over 23 million? And most shocking of all, the fact that Jakarta could possibly more than double its population over a 15-year span. This map is a little old, so I’d be interested in seeing growth over the next 30 years as well. Borrowed from University of Texas.

  • This is a map of Tokyo from 1883. I really like the horizontal orientation…it doesn’t quite look so bad as those touristy maps they make nowadays for big cities. Even my hometown had one in this style, and all the local businesses paid money to have their business drawn and identified. Borrowed from the University of Texas.

  • This one is really practical. It relates to my last post so I thought it would be relevant. One thing I did not know before I started taking an interest in the Korea situation was how close Seoul is to the border. Apparently it’s a very poorly kept secret that North Korea has hundreds of artillery pieces capable of firing on Seoul within a moment’s notice. There was even an article in the BBC (I think) about how property is very expensive in downtown Seoul, so many commuters live literally minutes from the DMZ. I wonder if they have artillery insurance… Taken from BBC.

  • Here’s a contentious one. This is based on Samuel Huntington’s theory, which he describes through his book “The Clash of Civilizations.” This book, almost standard reading for any political science major, alleges that the wars of the future will be fought across civilizational – not national – borders. Huntington identifies the main civilizations in the map above, and color-codes them quite nicely. He goes on to address the relationships between each civilization and identifies those which will generate the most conflict. I think his theory is mostly broken, but he does bring up some interesting points. He accurately predicted many of the Western-Islamic conflicts we face today, even though his book was written some time ago. On the other hand, many of his predictions are ridiculous. He alleges that the Western-Sinic (Chinese) relationship will be contentious. That’s fine, we have yet to see how it plays out. But he also implies that the West’s hostility with Islam will make the Islamic-Sinic link a strong one. This “enemy of my enemy is my friend” mentality is difficult to take seriously given the fact that it implies either the US or China wishes to consciously offend the other. Both sides have been pretty gracious towards one another thus far, and the Western-Sinic cooperation in dealing with Iran and North Korea proves that the relationship doesn’t have to be confrontational. Where he really starts to lose me is when he defines the Western relationship with Orthodox (primarily Russia), Hindu, and Japanese cultures as all “medium confrontation.” Two of these civilizations are among our greatest strategic allies, and the third is openly hostile to the United States in its rhetoric and disregard for the sovereignty of, say, a small state in the Caucuses. The icing on the cake is the Sinic-Japanese relationship, listed as “low conflict.” Try talking up the Japanese at a bar in China, and see how far that gets you. A more nuanced theory would also take into account the fact that America has many Muslim allies, like Indonesia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. None of these areas are as comfortably monolithic as Huntington presupposes. Still very interesting though. Map from Wikimedia.

  • This last map is about ancestral self-identification, based on responses to the 2000 Census. Each county is color-coded based on which ancestry was most commonly chosen in that particular area. By far the most interesting thing I gathered from this map was how large parts of the South identify themselves as “American” by heritage, but nearly no one in the Midwest or the two coasts would agree. What makes Southerners so much more American than the rest of the country? In Texas, even with Gov. Perry’s recent secessionist threats, a huge chunk of the state considers itself firmly “American.” I was also suprised to learn my hometown was so German. I thought we were pretty solidly Polish, but then again I don’t think I had ever met a Protestant before college. It’s a little bit isolated. From the truly talented and awesome statisticians at the US Census Bureau.