Incredible Maps That Show Us Who We Are: by Prof Danny Dorling

Maps That Show Us Who We Are

Having a passion for travel, means inevitably having a passion for maps and the underlying data beneath them. Take the above map of internet usage at different times of the day, for example. I could stare at that for hours.

When it comes to maps, there is no one better in the world, in making and explaining them, than Oxford University Geographer Danny Dorling.

A pioneer in the methods of creating and understanding the world though maps, his Ted TalkMaps That Show Us Who We Are, Not Just Where We Are – is a must watch for any intrepid explorer with a thirst for knowledge.

A World Without Borders

Dorling’s work has become controversial in recent years however, compared to popular opinion. As people become more nationalistic in their views, topics like free movement, open visa agreements and immigration have become intensely debated.

As Danny Dorling explains however, border controls are a very recent construct. Up until just one hundred years ago they didn’t exist. People were free to go where ever they wanted in theory. Passports hadn’t been invented yet.

World Map By Population Proportion
World Map By Population Proportion

Border controls were only introduced by wealthy countries like the UK, after they had built up huge riches from colonising other nations, taking their natural resources and trading them to become rich countries. Then, to protect this wealth, countries like the UK introduced border controls to prevent poorer nations citizens from migrating to the wealthy areas, to improve their lives.

Now, the world’s leading geographers and people like Danny Dorling advocate that we should bring an end to border controls – that they are counter productive and actually increase not only inequality but immigration – yes, you read that right, border comtrol increase immigration.

Listen to Danny Dorling explain in this short video.

Mapping Home Truths

In my home town of Glasgow, the effects of colonisation are all around me every day. If I walk down Buchanan Street, Glassford Street or Millar Street, I am reminded that these streets are named after slave-trading tobacco and sugar barons and that the city was build from the wealth created by the slave trade.

It seems horrific to me that we continue this oppression through border and economic controls today. And that these controls prevent Africa recovering from 250 years of Euroepan and North American oppression. It is hard to feel proud of the place you come from, when you know we haven’t righted the wrongs of this terrible injustice in our past.

GDP of whole countries equal to states of USA

Travel to Learn

Travel is a great way to learn about the world but it will also make you see your home differently when you return. This is a good thing, this is an honest thing. Our eyes can be opened by our experiences of how others live and this can be a force of improving understanding between different cultures.

A world without borders would be a more equal place – I hope we are able to get there one day.

World Airline Travel Routes
World Airline Travel Routes

Travel is a Privilege

As the above map shows, we see that the dense airline travel routes link North America, with Europe We should be under no illusions that the enormous wealth of Western countries is the reason that many of us are able to travel.

I’m sure many people from Latin America, Africa or the Near and Far East would dream of doing the kind of trips that we do but it is simply not economically possible for them to do.

Although there are some dark lines to Asia in the flight route map above, considering the Asian population size, you can see very few are able to explore the world.

China India Population Map

What Next?

So what are we supposed to do with all this privilege? If we travel with a view to spreading cultural understanding. If we can be open to lifting the living standards of people across the world. If we can be accommodating and accepting of the basic human right to freedom for all to go where ever they want, then slowly the world can change.

Globalisation is happening right now in the world. Trade barriers are coming down and business is becoming more international. It is up to us to decide if it will be a used as a means for our respective individual countries to get richer, or if it will be a tide that raises all boats. To do that, business cannot be allowed to move more freely than people.


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