maps

China’s Population in Global Context

This map allows us to understand China’s growing power from not only a financial but also a demographic standpoint. It’s also just fun to see which country has an equivalent population to a Chinese province. As someone who grew up on Canada, it was interesting that Canada’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Shanxi. And Germany’s population is roughly equivalent to that of Sichuan. Of course, in the long term China faces a future defined by a declining population, so this map lacks some context.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Maps and Reality

I’ve written about maps many times before on this blog, because they have so much power. A website called The True Size is designed to allow people to compare the relative size of nations. To use the website, you enter the name of a country. Then you can drag and drop the country over any part of the world that you wish. The website quickly makes you realize the extent to which northern countries are magnified. Canada looks huge if you place it over Russia. It’s scale looks very different when placed over Africa. If one moves Australia over Europe it stretches from northern Finland to central Turkey, with Tasmania in the Mediterranean. In the west it covers Great Britain, while in the east it nearly touches Kazakhstan. There is something slightly hypnotic about manipulating the map.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Maps, surprise and the globe

Danny Dorling has a great TED talk that shows how data can be used to create maps that change how we perceive our world, called “Maps that show us who we are (not just where we are).” The maps convey information about migration, population, demographic change, trade, water, food production, and history, in about a 14 minute video. I think that this video would be a great resource for an introductory class, to show how maps are tools, and are always based on assumptions.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Global Maps

A recent article in the Washington Post titled “Six Maps that Will Make You Rethink the World,” has great maps of everything from the Arctic’s geography to global population distribution. I think that the map of what might happen in a world that is four degrees warmer is particularly intriguing. Based on the comments, some people viewing the maps viewed them as a critique of the current Westphalian global order; many people commented that language and religion still matter, and were upset that the maps did not sufficiently reflect this. The fact that many people had this response in itself indicates how maps matter to how people view the world.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

The end of open borders in Europe?

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the Syrian conflict, Europe has faced a wave of migration from the Middle East. One of the great achievements of the European Union has been the Schengen agreement, which creates open borders within the EU itself. As a tide of refugees has entered Europe, however, there has been a backlash, and many EU members are implementing what they call temporary border controls. For Greece, which is the typical entry point for migrants, many of whom come from Turkey, this represents a serious problem. If migrants or refugees are unable to follow the Balkan route to major Western states or Scandinavia, then they will remain in Greece, which lacks the resources to support them. The EU’s internal divisions on how to address this issue are creating serious internal tensions, at the same time that Britain is debating whether to exit the EU. To better understand the threat to the Schengen area, look at this map and blog post at Political Geography Now, which concisely describes the key issues involved.

Professor Smallman, 2016

Maps of emerging states

Although this map by Frank Jacobs and Parag Khanna is now almost four years old, the fundamental forces that are driving the emergence of new states have not changed. Indeed, their depiction of where new states might appear has proven to be prescient, particularly with regard to Kurdistan. Still, the fact that none of these possible nation-states has yet achieved global recognition makes the point the current nation-state system is resilient. As Ann Hironaka has argued (in her concise, thoughtful and well-researched book titled “Neverending Wars”), the global community’s reluctance to recognize new states may have the unintended consequence of prolonging conflicts. If so, perhaps this map doesn’t truly point to where new states will emerge as much as it indicates areas that are likely to experience conflict.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Maps of U.S. Trade

I recently came across this great blog post by Yuka Kato, which has beautiful maps illustrating U.S. trade with different regions of the world. This would be a great tool in classes that address international political economy, including an Introduction to International and Global Studies class. You can also find other great maps for an introductory classroom on the blog.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Best Map of the Global Drug Trade

I have been researching the drug trade in Latin America this year, and recently came across this map of the global drug trade by Eduardo Asta, who created it in 2014. This particular map has now been published in the Atlas of Design, which celebrates the best maps produced in the world, and is published every two years. Although the map is in Portuguese, the images are so clear, and the cognates so similar, that it should be easy for any English speaker to decipher the map. One of the points that the map makes abundantly clear is the scale of the cocaine trade between Latin America in Europe. While in North America we tend to focus on the drug war, and the flow of drugs across the U.S. Mexican border, it’s important to remember that this is one part of a truly global trade. The European market for cocaine is almost as large as that in the United States. The Caribbean also plays a key role in the transport routes that bring cocaine from the Andes to the U.S. East Coast, but U.S. media coverage of the drug trade focuses almost exclusively on the Mexican border. The map also shifts our perspective on the drug trade by emphasizing the critical role that Afghanistan and Asia play in the global heroin trade. Finally, Africa receives little attention in discussion of the global drug trade, but it has a massive market for amphetamines. To me, this map is a beautiful work of design, which visually conveys an immense amount of information without succumbing to clutter.

If you are interested in maps of the drug trade, look at this map of the Mexican drug cartels in 2015, and this collection of maps on the Brazilian drug trade. You can also read my post on the terrible massacre in Coahuila, Mexico.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Influenza and Respect

The French website Sentiweb tracks disease prevalence in the country. This winter the map of influenza-like illness in France has been a sea of red, which documents a particularly bad year. The situation in Germany is no better. Influenza viruses mutate over time, which means that every year vaccine makers must guess which strain of the virus is most likely to cause illness in the coming season. Sadly, this year’s vaccine was poorly matched with the strain of H3N2 that has caused the most illness. According to a study in the U.S. it was only 23% effective, while one study in Canada found that people were actually more likely to become ill if they had been vaccinated. You can’t have a much worse vaccine that that. This situation has meant that more people in the United States went to the hospital with an influenza-like illness than in most years, particularly amongst the elderly. At least in the United States the influenza season is now waning. In my home state of Oregon, influenza cases peaked last month. This sadly does not seem to be the case in France as this map suggests. As in the United States, the majority of cases in France have been the H3N2 strain.

People tend not to treat influenza with sufficient respect. Years ago I had a phone call from someone who wanted to drive to Portland to meet me in my role as the Director of International Studies. The morning of the meeting I woke up and knew right away that I had the flu.  It felt as though somebody had turned up the gravity in my room. I had a high fever and could barely stand. But not wanting to disappoint them, I dragged myself to the office. They didn’t show up, and after an hour I went home. I consoled myself that it was for the best, because they last thing that they needed was to catch my flu. …

The Brazilian Drug Trade in Maps

Map by Addicted04 at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BRA_orthographic.svg
Map by Addicted04 at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BRA_orthographic.svg

I am currently working on a research project comparing the drug trade in Mexico with its counterpart in Brazil. I have an outstanding undergraduate student, Tony Zamoro, working on this project with me. It has been a great deal more difficult to find information on Brazil’s drug trade than Mexico’s, but he has managed to locate a wide range of maps -from Insight Crime, Newsweek and other sources- that display the drug trade and cartels visually. Here are some links to these maps.

Homicides in Brazil

Mexican Prisoners in Latin American Countries

Drug Routes in the Amazon

Favela Pacification in Rio de Janeiro

Areas of PCC Influence

Olympic Zones and favelas in Rio de Janeiro

What I find most interesting about the maps is that they often focus on favelas, rather than individual states. Of course, the PCC has influence throughout most of Brazil. The Mexican drug cartels also often overlap. For example, the situation in the state of Guerrero is complex, while even in Sinaloa -the home of the Sinaloan cartel- the drug cartels still compete. There are also areas in Mexico -such as Juarez- where competing cartels seem to have fought each other to a state of exhaustion, as the falling death rate in this city suggests. My point here is that there are similarities between the nature of drug cartels in the two countries. Still, the Brazilian drug trade is much more defined by the control of small urban environments, rather than broad swathes of territory, as is the case with Mexico. My question is: how has the differing character of the two countries’ borders shaped the geography of the drug trade and the character of the drug cartels?

The Brazilian drug trade is also driven by the diverse mix of drugs used within Brazilian urban areas, unlike in Mexico where rates of drug use have been lower than in the United States. In 2005 I interviewed drug traffickers and users in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The drug market there was stratified by age. Older users were more likely to inject drugs, including cocaine, whereas younger users more commonly used crack. It was also the case that people often varied the drugs that they used, even within a single day. The Mexican drug cartels also have diversified, but the Mexican drug market internally is perhaps not as large or as complex as Brazil’s.

If you are interested in Latin America, you might wish to read either my book on the region’s AIDS epidemic, or my study of military terror in Brazil.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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