40 Maps That Explain the World: Weekly Reading

This week one of our required readings was a piece from the Washington Post called “40 Maps that explain the world”. As the title suggests it contains 40 different maps that each display a breakdown of a different question or topic across the different countries of the world.

The first of the 40 maps (and one of the most interesting to me) is a political map of the world from around 200 A.D. This map shows the extent of the Roman Empire at about its height, which is a pretty common thing to see when studying history or even looking at historical maps and documents. What is somewhat rare in this map is that it shows many other empires and civilizations that existed at the same time. Obviously we know that there were other civilizations at this time but to see them all on one map really puts the time period and Roman history into context. I had never thought that at the same time that Rome was at its greatest extent that the Maya and Teotihuacan civilizations existed in Mexico. Other things to take note are that the empires around modern day China and South Asia that I know next to nothing about, but in terms of land mass, appear to be almost on par with Rome. Maybe it is the way that we are taught history, but it is always interesting to find things that are usually taught in a vacuum (in this case Roman and Ancient Mexican civlizations) that occurred around the same time. Another thing to take note from this map is that maybe our study of history is extremely biased towards our own past (i.e. Rome and Roman Civilization) and almost completely ignoring (unless you are in a specialized class…) other histories, like in this map, Asian or African histories.

Another of the other interesting maps includes a breakdown of majority religion for each country, and to me the interesting part of this map is how linear it is. North to South America, southern Africa, and from Portugal to the very eastern end of Russia Christianity is the majority religion, but also from west Africa to Kazakhstan in an uninterrupted line the majority religion is Islam. This is very interesting because of how ordered everything seems on this map. For the most part there are no one-off countries or areas with a different religion, they are mostly grouped together. Finding out why and how this spread came to be could be a pretty interesting study.

Most of the other maps ask a question and show how each country would answer it, and the maps usually point out the obvious or stereotypical answer. For example one of the maps is about the best and worst places to be born which shows that North America and Europe are among the best places, and places like Eastern Europe/Russia, Africa and South Asia are among the worst. These results are pretty similar to other studies about income equality and social benefits so there is no real surprise to these findings. Another map shows where people are more or less emotional, and the results are what you may expect. According to this map, people in North America and parts of South America are most likely to report significant positive or negative emotions on a daily basis, whereas people in Eastern Europe and Russia are less likely to report these emotions.

Each of these 40 maps have an interesting story to tell and every one of them could be analyzed to give a different outlook on the world or to different countries. Many of them beg the question of how or why this map came to be, and that is probably where experts or historians could come in and find that out.

40 Maps That Explain the World: Weekly Reading

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