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Weekly Graphic

Areas with Strong Nationalist Tendencies

July 2, 2016 The most striking images are often those that take something we think we know well and turn it on its head. This map is one of those images. The borders of Europe have changed over time, but since national self-determination became the most important organizing principle for European states in the 19th century, there have been some relatively constant entities: France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain.

We tend to think of these as coherent nation-states. But even these countries contain groups that don’t identify with their national identity as French, British, German, Italian or Spanish.

The Inaccuracy of Polling

June 24, 2016 This graphic contains two maps of the United Kingdom. On the left side are the results of a YouGov poll that identified different parts of the U.K. as more or less Euroskeptic. On the right side are the official results of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

The YouGov polls, as well as numerous other polls, failed to predict accurately what was going to happen in the referendum. The polls prior to the vote were not as wrong as the polls for the last British general election, but there were many areas in the U.K. where the strength of the “leave” vote was underestimated.

The United Kingdom’s Perspective

June 18, 2016 British citizens will vote on June 23 in a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union. As Britain grapples with the question of Brexit, understanding the strategic considerations behind the U.K.’s relationships with its partners is critical. The U.K.’s geopolitical challenges shaped its decision to join the bloc and will also shape London’s relations with Brussels should British voters opt to leave the union.

A map of the region from Britain’s perspective reveals its primary traditional threats: from the northeast across the sea are the Nordic states, where the Vikings originated; in the south across the channel is France, Britain’s traditional rival; and further to the east, Germany, which became a major player on the Continent after unification in the late 19th century.

The Middle East at Night

June 11, 2016 This nighttime map of the Middle East, stretching from Egypt to Iran and from the Red Sea to the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, was taken by a NASA satellite in 2012. It is fairly up-to-date given that electricity use and population don’t expand very quickly.

The most striking part of this map is Egypt. It has the most intense lighting in the region in an area in the north stretching from Alexandria to the Suez Canal, and then following the Nile River south to the Aswan Dam. The dam delivers much of Egypt’s electricity but also limits population growth to its south. It has become the southern limit of populated Egypt.

This area of intense light represents the real Egypt. Its political boundaries are far to the west and south, but that area is minimally populated and far from developed. In looking at this map, Egypt is actually a narrow country following the Nile because it is intensely populated in that area. The lights also indicate the degree of infrastructure development. Whatever problems Egypt has, and it has many, it has managed to bring electricity to the populated regions.

Colonial Powers in Sub-Saharan Africa

June 4, 2016 European powers strongly shaped the geopolitics of contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. In the colonial era, they saw sub-Saharan Africa as a means to an end, initially encountering the continent as they looked for sea trading routes to India and East Asia. France, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium had the largest presence.

From the 16th century through the 18th century, major European governments established ports to support long voyages to the East Indies. When we look at the location of former colonies, we can observe how each location served as a resting and refueling point in the long journey east.

Population Density of Canada

Canada is one of those countries where a vast land mass obscures the fact that the country has a relatively small population. While Canada is the second largest country in the world, its 35 million inhabitants make Canada only the 39th most populated country.

China: Between Dynasties and Warlords

May 21, 2016 Chinese civilization is one of the world’s oldest. Communities began to form on the Yellow and Yangtze rivers thousands of years ago. By 2,000 B.C., dynasties had emerged and lasted in various forms until the Qing were deposed in 1912. The People’s Republic of China is the heir to this long history, and as is often the case, understanding China’s past is a crucial part of forecasting China’s future.

Although China’s history is long and complex, the story of China’s rise is essentially two stories that repeat themselves over and over again. China is incredibly diverse in terms of the cultures and languages that have developed within its modern-day borders. Despite this diversity, there have been periods when a ruler emerged who was strong enough to unite the disparate parts of the country. These dynasties may rule for hundreds of years, only for China’s internal divisions to reassert themselves and cause fragmentation and regionalization.


Russia’s Perspective

May 17, 2016 This map looks at the world from Russia’s point of view. Sometimes the most powerful graphics are not those with special effects or provocative statistics, but rather are those that change your perspective. This is one such map.

The days of the Soviet Union are over and are not about to return. The U.S. is the world’s most powerful country, and unlike during the days of the Cold War, it has no peer. Russia, however, is still a formidable regional power, one that has made headlines in recent years for its military actions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. Much of the coverage you’ll read about Russia centers on President Vladimir Putin – his skill as a leader and the extent to which many Russians love and admire their leader and their country.

US Rainfall and Population Centers

May 11, 2016 This is a map of the United States at night. As you can see, the eastern part of the United States is filled with lights, and the western part is much darker, except for the Pacific Coast. The line we’ve drawn marks the point where the lights dim. And it also marks the line where annual rainfall tapers off. There is more rain to the east of the line, less rain to the west. The line marking the edge of the heavily lit area is also the point where rain declines below what is needed for high density populations. The two lines converge in the same spot and define a vital dimension of American geopolitics: the difference between the East and the West.

Ottoman Empire Borders Versus Modern-Day Borders

May 3, 2016 This map is designed to show some of the hidden fault lines underlying the states of the Middle East, and the reasons these states, which were held together by foreign powers and domestic tyrants, disintegrated.

The Ottoman Empire lasted for about six centuries before it collapsed after World War I. Towards the waning years of the 17th century, its forces had penetrated as far west as Vienna. Its power and reach were enormous and enduring. The green areas of the map show what remained of the empire in the mid-19th century, after it was long past its prime. Its power had declined, but the extent of its rule, even in decline, bound together a region reaching from the Balkans to the Arabian Peninsula and to a large part of North Africa.

China’s Maritime Choke Points

April 26, 2016 There is widespread interest in the rising tensions over the waters east of China. China has become increasingly assertive in the region, and regional powers from Japan to Singapore have become alarmed at China’s behavior. The Chinese recently built an island in the South China Sea, apparently as a potential airbase. The United States sent a carrier battle group there as well. For all the activity and discussion, it is not clear that people really understand what all this is about. This week’s map will help clarify the situation.

There are two seas to the east of China – the East China Sea to the north and the South China Sea to the south, with Taiwan positioned in between. Air and naval forces based in Taiwan are, at least in theory, able to prevent movement between the two seas. The Taiwan Strait is fairly narrow and movement by the Chinese to Taiwan’s east forces China to pass near the Philippines to the south, or through the Ryukyu Islands to the north. Passage through the Ryukyu Islands could be blocked by hostile naval forces or by land-based aircraft and missiles.

The World at Night

In this map, we are showing the most intense areas of light to capture the areas of the world that are most developed.

The map also identifies areas with high population density. It shows us the places that have both development and high population density. In looking at this map, for example, the American heartland is still east of the Mississippi. Canada in this sense is a thin strip of land north of the American border, which is understandable given that temperatures in much of Canada are extremely cold, making the area inhospitable for human settlement. If you draw maps based on the amount of lighting, massive countries like Canada and Australia become smaller and more compact…

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