08 March 2008


Germany had difficulty relinquishing pre-W.W. I “ancestral German lands” (did it not later require lebensraum?); Venezuela claims half of Guyana; Ecuador claims a chunk of Amazonia as large as the territory it now controls; Argentina labels its maps (showing “Greater Argentina”) with the “Islas Malvinas,” even though Britain won the Falkland Islands War; and China draws its boundaries around the islands in the South China Sea, thus overlapping competing claims of other countries. These are examples of “cartographic aggression” and “map-as-symbol-of-the-state” (terms used in How to Lie with Maps, by Mark Monmonier).

When I lived in Taiwan, in 1988, the Taiwan government, in a bizarre exercise, required every copy of an issue of National Geographic, which included a map of East Asia, to be hand-stamped on the cover stating that the Nationalist Government on Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC) (its self-designated names) did not recognize Mongolia as a sovereign state, that it was still a territory of ROC!

States, as part of their sovereign statehood, endow cartographic representations power to reify their territorial integrity.

Yes, maps serve interests and shape reality by re-presenting the world, according to the dictates of the cartographer, who is sometimes the state-sanctioned carto-referee of borders. It is a serious game.

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