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Let me digress from our series for a bit and share the most fabulous set of maps from the Washington Post; which were brought to my attention by a colleague of mine last week.

Now I understand that not all my readers may find maps as fascinating as I do, or be as maniacally enamored with all things National Geographic as I am, however, I can assure you that this particular geographical expedition will prove to be a delightful and not to mention educational diversion for everyone, regardless of if you are a map/GIS/NatGeo geek or not. For my fellow international development practitioners most especially, this may be one of those resources to save and pull out when you need a quick and simple birds-eye illustration of topics ranging from climate change to happiness indices.

It is long list so I will share in 2 pieces. Enjoy maps 1 through 20.

1. Where the world’s people live, by economic status

Data source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, World Bank. (David Whitmore, John Grimwade / National Geographic)

Data source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, World Bank. (David Whitmore, John Grimwade / National Geographic)

Those dots represent people: the brighter the dot, the more people. The color shows their country’s average income level: blue is richest and yellow is poorest. I want to start with this map because it’s a reminder that the world is first and foremost made up of people; to me, the best maps are primarily about showing us people, not politics or geography. It’s also a way of looking at the divisions in the world other than by political borders; that’s a theme we’ll come back to. (One caveat to this map: it doesn’t show economic variations within countries, just the national averages.)


2. How humans spread across the world

Click to enlarge. (New Scientist)

Click to enlarge. (New Scientist)

Human beings first left Africa about 60,000 years ago in a series of waves that peopled the globe. This map shows where those waves of migration went and when they occurred (the “40K” over Europe means humans arrived there about 40,000 years ago). You can see that humans have the most history in the Middle East, India and of course Africa itself (the map does not show the much longer history of migration within Africa). We are relative newcomers to the Americas, one of the reasons it has not until very recently been as densely populated as other parts of the world.


3. When the Mongols took over the known world

(Wikimedia commons)

(Wikimedia commons)

The Mongol conquests are difficult to fathom. Although their most important technology was the horse, they conquered much of the known world from China to Europe, a series of wars that killed tens of millions of people, then a substantial chunk of the world’s population. The Mongols also established what may well have been the largest empire in history until the British surpassed them six long centuries later. It’s difficult to understate how much we still feel their impact today; the country we know of today as Iraq has never fully recovered from the 1258 sacking of Baghdad, which until then had been a center of global wealth and knowledge.

4. When Spain and Portugal dominated the world

Click to enlarge. (Wikipedia)

Click to enlarge. (Wikipedia)

This map shows the Spanish and Portuguese empires at their height. They didn’t hold all of this territory concurrently, but they were most powerful from 1580 to 1640, when they were politically unified. Portugal would later pick up more territory in Africa, not shown on the map. We often forget that Spain controlled big parts of Europe, in Italy and the Netherlands. In the Middle Ages, Spain and Portugal were so powerful that they signed a set of treaties literally dividing up the globe between them. They became so rich so quickly that their trade with the Ottoman Empire, perhaps the other great imperial power of the time, filled the Ottoman economy with more gold than it could handle and plunged it economy into an inflationary crisis so severe that the empire never fully recovered.


5. Major shipping routes in the colonial era

Data source: Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans (James Cheshire)

Data source: Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans (James Cheshire)

This map shows British, Dutch and Spanish shipping routes from 1750 to 1800. It’s been created from newly digitized logbooks of European ships during this period. (Unfortunately, the French data is not shown.) These lines are the contours of empire and of European colonialism, yes, but they’re also the first intimations of the global trade and transportation system that are still with us today. This was the flattening of the world, for better and for worse.


6. Actual European discoveries

Click to enlarge. (Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

Click to enlarge. (Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

Americans have mostly come around to accept that, despite what our grade school teachers may have told us, Europeans did not “discover” America; the original arrivals had done that 15,000 years earlier. But Europeans did discover lots of land that had never been before seen by human eyes. You can, embedded in this map, see successive waves of European exploration: first the Portuguese, then the Spanish, then the British and much later the Americans. The map’s creator, the always-insightful Bill Rankin, writes, “this map particularly underscores the maritime expertise of Pacific Islanders. Unlike the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, nearly all of the Pacific was settled by the 14th century.”


7. How countries compare on economic inequality

Bluer countries have better income equality. Redder countries are more unequal. Data: CGDev, DIIS (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Bluer countries have better income equality. Redder countries are more unequal. Data: CGDev, DIIS (Max Fisher / Washington Post)

Yes, the United States has worse income inequality than Nigeria. That’s according to a metric called the Palma Ratio that measures economic inequality. Read more here about how the metric works and the fascinating results of using it to compare the world’s countries.


8. If the polar ice caps completely melted

Click to enlarge. (National Geographic © September 2013 National Geographic Society / Full source info here)

Click to enlarge. (National Geographic © September 2013 National Geographic Society / Full source info here)

It’s not clear precisely when the polar ice caps will melt completely. But if and when they do, sea levels will rise by 216 feet. This map shows what the world would look like then. Given how many people live near coastlines today, that’s not good. You can see National Geographic’s wonderful, full interactive here.


9. Where the world’s 30 million slaves live

Share of each country's population that is enslaved. Data source: Walk Free Global Slavery Index. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Share of each country’s population that is enslaved. Data source: Walk Free Global Slavery Index. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

This is not some soft, liberal, by-modern-standards definition of slavery. This is slavery. There are 30 million people living today as forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, child brides in forced marriages or other forms of property. There are 60,000 right here in the United States – yes, really. This map shows the proportion of each country that is enslaved. It’s highest in Mauritania, a shocking four percent, due in part to social norms tolerating the practice. A little more than one percent of people in India are enslaved, which translates to 14 million Indians living as slaves today. You can see the breakdown by numbers of slaves here.


10. Our globalized economy: What it takes to make nutella

Click to enlarge. (OECD)

Click to enlarge. (OECD)

Put this map alongside No. 5 above, of European colonial-era shipping routes. This is the end product of today’s ultra-globalized economy. A simple jar of Nutella requires natural resources from four continents, vast manufacturing facilities in entirely different countries and a supply and distribution chain that spans the globe.


11. Where populations are growing and shrinking

Blue countries have growing populations; red countries are shrinking. Purple are growing slowly or not at all. Data source: United Nations Population Fund. Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Blue countries have growing populations; red countries are shrinking. Purple are growing slowly or not at all. Data source: United Nations Population Fund. Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

The world is in for some major demographic changes over the next generation or two. Populations are booming in Africa, growing faster than ever before, just as they’re slowing in Asia and outright shrinking in Japan and Eastern Europe. What’s most interesting about these population changes is what demographers say they will mean for the world’s political and economic future. For more, read: The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts.


12. Walls of the world

Source: "Atlas des migrants en Europe. Géographie critique des politiques migratoires européenne," Armand Colin. (Nicolas Lambert / MigrEurop)

Source: “Atlas des migrants en Europe. Géographie critique des politiques migratoires européenne,” Armand Colin. (Nicolas Lambert / MigrEurop)

A French non-governmental organization put together this map of the world’s major physical barriers – its most consequential walls. The red lines indicate walls and barriers meant to prevent or control immigration; you see a number of those particularly where there are rich countries next to poorer countries. The green walls are mostly political barriers, such as the 1,700-mile-long “Moroccan Wall” dividing Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, the West Bank separation barrier and the Korean demilitarized zone. No single map of something this controversial and sensitive is ever going to satisfy everyone, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into why and where we choose to limit human movement.


13. The Arctic land grab

(The Economist)

(The Economist)

As the polar ice caps melt, it’s creating something that the world hasn’t seen in a long time: vast, unclaimed territory. That territory also happens to include oil and other natural resources, as well as valuable trade routes. Five countries are competing to claim the new land: Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark and the United States. How the Arctic land-grab resolves is so potentially important that even Canada is getting much more assertive.


14. Who wins Nobel prizes (and who doesn’t)

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

It’s no secret that Europeans and Americans win most Nobel prizes. But just how much more is pretty astounding. When I looked into how the Nobel prizes have broken down over their century-plus history, I was surprised by the results, which you can see here illustrated in maps and charts. One of several facts from the data: More than one in every three Nobel laureates is from the United States. Put another way, the United States has 4 percent of the world’s population and 34 percent of its Nobel laureates.


15. The 17 countries that could have housing bubbles

The 17 countries identified as having potential housing bubbles. Click to enlarge. (Washington Post)

The 17 countries identified as having potential housing bubbles. Click to enlarge. (Washington Post)

You probably remember the U.S. housing bubble burst of 2007 (it was pretty memorable). According to a recent economic estimate, a full 17 countries could face potential housing bubbles today. Alarmingly, that includes China, the world’s second-largest economy. Read more here on the countries at risk and what could happen if they burst.


16. The happiest and least happy countries

Data source: Columbia University's World Happiness Report. Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Data source: Columbia University’s World Happiness Report. Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

A recent study conducted by the United Nations and Columbia University attempted to infer happiness measuring a series of social metrics and survey results. Some of the results are unsurprising: wealth, health, political stability and economic equality all appear to coincide with happiness. But there are some real surprises in the data. Latin America and the Caribbean are, by this measure, the happiest on average in the world. Here’s why that might be and more lessons from the data.


17. All terror attacks worldwide in 2012

Click to enlarge. (Start GTD)

Click to enlarge. (Start GTD)

This study by the University of Maryland-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism tracked every single terrorist attack in 2012 (the most recent year for which all data was available). This should drive home how remarkably safe Americans are from terrorism today. It drives home who the real victims of terrorism are. And it reveals some of the global hotspots for terrorist activity and all the instability and mayhem that can bring. Some readers might be surprised to see how much terrorism there is, for example, in Nigeria, in Kenya and most especially in eastern India, where the Maoist “Naxalite” insurgency has been wreaking havoc for almost 50 years.


THE AMERICAS

18. North America’s languages, before colonialism

Click to enlarge. Data source: Ives Goddard. (Wikipedia Commons)

Click to enlarge. Data source: Ives Goddard. (Wikipedia Commons)

This a remarkable reminder of the diversity and cultural richness of North America before it was so completely transformed by the arrival of Europeans – to the terrible detriment of the societies that once proliferated here. It’s also a reminder that some of these societies had spread widely and established themselves deeply, despite the common American perception today of a mishmash of disparate and unconnected tribes.


19. Where place names come from in the Americas

Click to enlarge. (Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

Click to enlarge. (Bill Rankin/Radical Cartography)

This map shows the origin language for place names in the Americas. For example, the word “Texas” comes from the Caddoan language, of the Caddo people who lived in what is today East Texas. It’s a fascinating lens into the Americas’ history, of which Europeans arrived or conquered where, as well as a legacy of the people who lived here first. Bill Rankin, the map’s creator, has this chestnut: “‘Huron’ derives from a French slur for the hairy natives (it shares a root with ‘hirsute.’)”


20. American ancestry by county

Click to enlarge. (U.S. Census Bureau)

Click to enlarge. (U.S. Census Bureau)

This map, which shows the dominant ancestry in each U.S. county, is a wonderful show of American diversity and a living museum of America’s history of immigration, voluntary as well as forced. There are countless stories embedded in this map, and not just American stories. Much of this immigration was driven by far-away wars, economic catastrophes, famines or other major historical events, most especially the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In that sense, America’s diversity – like this map showing it – is a global story.

 

Source: The Washington Post- Max Fisher.

 

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