Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
The Democratic Republic of Congo is potentially one of the richest countries on earth, but colonialism, slavery and corruption have turned it into one of the poorest
One thing that baffles many students is how a resource-rich region can be an area of underdevelopment and poverty. Understanding the historical geography is key for students being able to see that natural wealth does not correlate to enriching the local population. Kinshasa, the capital that seemed so promising as the site of the famous "Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and Frazier, is now a city of chaos.
|Suggested by Sylvain Rotillon|
The territory's residents are demanding democracy in city intersections, not central squares.
The significance of the protests, which have brought tens of thousands into the streets, lies not only in what protesters are demanding but also in where they're demanding it—and where they're not. Consider that pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong typically happen in Victoria Park, which is about two and a half miles from Central District and which hosts the annual June 4 candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. This time around, however, few police or protesters have ventured there.
The unpredictable, spontaneous geography of the protests is important precisely because it transcends the status quo. It is a testament to how serious these demonstrations are that they refuse to be contained.
"Tensions escalated on Sunday when the broader Occupy Central protest movement threw its weight behind student-led protests, bringing forward a mass civil disobedience campaign due to start on Wednesday. China's leaders must be sitting uncomfortably in Beijing.
As long as the protests continue, there is a chance they will spread to the mainland, where many are unhappy with one-party rule. But if the protesters hold their ground, how far will Beijing allow events to spiral before getting directly involved?"
Hong Kong is probably the only place under the control of the People's Republic of China (PRC) where protests of this type against the government could have started. Hong Kong, once administered by the UK, was turned over to the PRC, but with special conditions that grant Hong Kong residents greater freedoms than those available the rest of the citizens of mainland China (One China, two systems). Hong Kong students are protesting for full universal suffrage and for the right to choose their own candidates--something that Beijing is not willing to concede; some autonomy yes, power to make further breaks with Beijing? No. In addition to political control, some students feel economically marginalized by Beijing's policies. In 1997, when Hong Kong became a part of the PRC, it represented 18% of the GDP of the country; today it is only 3% of the PRC's economic output. The Chinese govt. is currently blocking Instagram, trying to prevent the spread of viral images that show discontent. Still have questions? You are not the only one as the world turns it's gaze to China wondering about the strength of the Communist Party and the collective will of the protestors.
The popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But, Karen Armstrong writes, the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple
After a bumpy beginning, secularism has undoubtedly been valuable to the west, but we would be wrong to regard it as a universal law. It emerged as a particular and unique feature of the historical process in Europe; it was an evolutionary adaptation to a very specific set of circumstances. In a different environment, modernity may well take other forms. Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs. There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional. When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme. The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain.
"Seldom has it been more important for Americans to form a realistic assessment of the world scene. But our current governing, college-educated class suffers one glaring blind spot.
Modern American culture produces highly individualistic career and identity paths for upper- and middle-class males and females. Power couples abound, often sporting different last names. But deeply held religious identities and military loyalties are less common. Few educated Americans have any direct experience with large groups of men gathered in intense prayer or battle. Like other citizens of the globalized corporate/consumer culture, educated Americans are often widely traveled but not deeply rooted in obligation to a particular physical place, a faith or a kinship."
This is a truly intriguing op-ed that argues that many Americans have a 'blind spot' by failing to recognize the power of religion and tribal bonds in global affairs. While many in the west assume that a new world order has emerged, these old communal forces still rule much of the world and they have some profound geopolitical implications (the author explores Russia, Asia and the Middle East in particular).
"Weak and failing states pose a challenge to the international community. In today’s world, with its highly globalized economy, information systems and interlaced security, pressures on one fragile state can have serious repercussions not only for that state and its people, but also for its neighbors and other states halfway across the globe. The Fragile States Index (FSI), produced by The Fund for Peace, is a critical tool in highlighting not only the normal pressures that all states experience, but also in identifying when those pressures are pushing a state towards the brink of failure."
How can political stability and security be measured? What constitutes effective governance? The Fragile States Index (formerly known as the Failed States Index) is a statistical ranking designed to measure the effective political institutions across the globe. There are 12 social, economic, and political/military categories that are a part of the overall rankings and various indicators are parts of the metrics that are a part of this index are:
•Human Flight and Brain Drain
•Uneven Economic Development
•Poverty and Economic Decline
•Human Rights and Rule of Law
If you want to understand the Islamic State, better known as ISIS, the first thing you have to know about them is that they are not crazy. Murderous adherents to a violent medieval ideology, sure. But not insane.
This interactive is a series of related articles, each designed to tackle popular narratives that have been constructed to explain ISIS; there are bits of truths in these myths, but they fail to fully contextualize the reality on the ground. These nine myths are:
"Islamic State's capture of the Mosul dam gives it control over the water and electricity supply in northern Iraq."
There is a geography to insurgency. This dam controls both the energy and water resources in the region, which gives the insurgents/rebels/terrorists greater local power. On a related noted, this op-ed entitled, "How America Lost the Middle East" has plenty of foreign policy and geopolitical material worth discussing.
These maps are crucial for understanding the region's history, its present, and some of the most important stories there today.
Titles like the one for this article, 40 maps that explain the Middle East, are becoming increasingly common for internet articles. They helps us feel that we can explain all of the world's complexities and make sense of highly dynamic situations. While we can all agree that maps are great analytical tools that can be very persuasive, sometimes we can pretend that they are the end all, be all for any situation. Maps can also be used to show how something that we thought was simple can be much complex and nuanced than we had previously imagined, as demonstrated by this article, 15 Maps that Don't Explain the Middle East at All. Both perspectives have their place (and both articles are quite insightful). Not connected to the Middle East, but East Asia, this article entitled Lies, Damned Lies and Maps continues the discussion of maps, truth and perception.
"Sovereignty over land defines nation states since 1648. In contrast, sovereign right over the sea was formalised only in 1982. While land borders are well-known, sea borders escape the limelight."
These maritime borders mark the economic area is defined by its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a 200-nautical mile-wide (370 km) strip of sea along the country’s national coast line. This regulation, which was installed by the ‘UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’ in 1982, grants a state special rights to exploit natural (such as oil) and marine (for instance fish) resources, including scientific research and energy production (wind-parks, for example). This interactive map of the EEZs also shows the 'donut holes,' or the seas that are no state can claim that no state can claim. Given the number of conflicts that are occurring--especially in East Asia--this map becomes a very valuable online resource for teaching political geography.
Questions to ponder: how does this series of buffer zones around the Earth's land masses impact politics, the environment and local economies? Where might the EEZs be more important to the success of a country/territory than other regions?
The daily tally of rocket attacks, airstrikes and deaths in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
As the violent nature of the Israeli Palestinian conflict has escalated, this NY Times article monitors the major points of the last few weeks. The possibility of 'Peace in the Middle East' feels so remote, and this Onion article parodies the difficulties of actually achieving this. On a personal note, Chad Emmett taught the "Geography of the Middle East" course while I was at BYU and I've always appreciated his perspective; here are his thoughts on recent events.
As the sprawling Zaatari camp evolves into an informal city — with an economy and even gentrification — aid workers say camps can be potential urban incubators that benefit host countries like Jordan.
This is an intriguing article that explores the difficulties of forced migrations that arise from civil war, but it also looks at city planning as refugee camps are established to make homes for the displaced. These camps have become into de-facto cities. The maps, videos and photographs embedded in the article show the rapid development of these insta-cities which organically have evolved to fit the needs of incoming refugees. Size not investing in permanent infrastructure has some serious social, sanitation and financial cost, there are some efforts to add structure to the chaos, to formalize the informal. Truly this is a fascinating case study of in urban geography as we are increasingly living on what Mike Davis refers to as a "Planet of Slums."
"The government's attempt to clamp down on religious expression has backfired among Uyghurs."
China has used various means to eliminate minority groups' cultural identity, and human rights groups argue that this ban on Ramadan is no different (children and government employees are banned from fasting, allegedly for health and safety concerns). Ethnic Uyghurs speak a Turkic language are more culturally connected to Cental Asia than East Asia. Predominantly Muslim, the Uyghurs are defying some of the more controversial laws that they feel single them out.
China has published a new map of the entire country including the islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) in order to "better show" its territorial claim over the region.
China is attempting to bolster its geopolitical claims through cartographic validation. It as if to say, 'it's on a map, who can question that it is legitimately our territory?' Why is a map such a powerful and convincing document? Why is the Philippines upset by this map? I think that explains this rival Filipino map as the Philippines and China engage in the cartographic version of dueling banjos. (note the uage of the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea to refer to the same body of water) . But this is more than just a map; it's production has the potential to destabilize regional security.
For more resources, the Choices Program has put together supplemental materials to investigate China on the world stage.
As the likelihood of an independent Kurdish state on Turkey’s eastern border grows, Ankara is losing its historical resistance to the idea.
Developments in Iraq have left Turkey facing the prospect of an independent Kurdish state on its eastern border. Such an idea would have been abhorrent for Turkey a mere decade ago for fear that its existence would incite separation among its own restive Kurds. The standard Turkish narrative at the time was that an independent Kurdistan was a Western project aimed at destroying Turkey, an age-old ambition. Even the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was viewed in this context by many. The picture is no longer so black and white.
One of the geography videos embedded in this interactive map: http://bit.ly/KDY6C2
Suspicions between the People's Republic of China and its neighbors bedevil its boundaries to the east, south and west as shown in this videographic from the Economist. This is one of the videos that I've put into my interactive map with over 65 geography videos to share in the classroom
"There are more people displaced by violence and conflict on the planet right now than at any time since World War II. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says the number of people forcibly displaced, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons has now reached over 51 million."
"A radical fringe Islamic group names ISIS is fighting to establish a extremist Islamic state in Iraq and Syria...and beyond. They control eastern Syria, western Iraq, just took control of Iraq's 2nd largest city of Mosul and are advancing on the capital Baghdad. In this podcast, the professor John Boyer outlines just a few of the contributing factors to why this significant event is taking place, the geographic/historic background of the state, and the consequences for the future of the region."
If you haven't yet discovered John Boyer, a.k.a. the Plaid Avenger, I recommend exploring his site. He has numerous resources for world regional geography and current global affairs. His colorful persona is highly entertaining for college age-students as his class attracts over 3,000 students each semester (you can decide for yourself whether that personality works for you and your classroom). This particular 'plaidcast' discussion focuses on Iraq's current devolution and possible total collapse.
You and your students can browse through this interactive map for an update on conflict situations around the world. The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict; they've created this interactive map to help us stay informed about the most important conflict issues around the world. I'm placing this on my list of favorite resources as this is one worth returning to on a regular basis.
As the climate shifts, rivers will both flood and dry up more often, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Shortages are especially likely in parts of the world already strapped for water, so political scientists expect feuds will become even more intense. To track disputes worldwide, researchers at Oregon State University spent a decade building a comprehensive database of international exchanges—-both conflicts and alliances—over shared water resources. They found that countries often begin disputes belligerently but ultimately reach peaceful agreements. Says Aaron Wolf, the geographer who leads the project, “For me the really interesting part is how even Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis, are able to resolve their differences and find a solution.”
Too often we think of political conflicts within the framework of state borders; this mapping project divides the world into watersheds and forces us to look at global politics through a different and enlightening lens (Hi-Res image). Oil might be the most economically valuable liquid resource, but water is the most critical for human habitation. This infographic is reminiscent of this one, asking where the next 'water wars' might take place...Foreign Policy says Central Asia.
With Tuesday's seizure of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria notched a major victory in its campaign to create a new country containing parts of what had part of both Syria and Iraq. On Wednesday, the insurgents continued their march south, taking control of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein.
The story of ISIS's spread -- and its influence -- is one that begins in Syria, where the group has been waging a brutal insurgency against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and, increasingly, other more moderate and secular rebel groups. The map above depicts the areas of Syria under its control. The group's influence is bounded by the Free Syrian Army in the west, the Kurds in the north, and pockets of government influence. Who is the ISIS/ISIL?
Stratfor Founder and Chairman George Friedman and Chief Geopolitical Analyst Robert D. Kaplan discuss how Bashar al Assad has legitimized his authority over the course of the Syrian conflict.
Stratfor specializes in global intelligence in key geopolitical regions. Syria certainly fits that description and in this video, the two most public faces of Stratfor discuss the reasons for the Syrian Civil War from and internal perspective and also impacts from a broader outside lens.
China has recently increased its pursuit of territorial claims in nearby seas, leading to tense exchanges with neighboring countries. A map of some of the most notable disputes.
Many of the geopolitical conflicts in the East Pacific have their roots in the territorial disputes over islands that at first glance seem as if they wouldn't be worth the trouble. However, since the the UNCLOS agreement gives countries 200 nautical miles off their coasts to be an Exclusive Economic Zone, that greatly enhanced the strategic value of controlling these islands. This interactive map briefly highlights some of the details behind the conflicts with links for further readings.
Questions to Ponder: Why do countries care so much about some minor islands? Why would other countries not want to accept China's territorial assertions? Experts are saying that Chinese-Japanese relations are as bad as they've been since the end of World War II--Why all the commotion?