Dr. Joshua Hagen, professor of geography at Marshall, has been invited by Oxford University’s Atlas of the World to share his thoughts on the relationship between geography and current events for their publication, Place of the Year 2012. Atlas is the only world atlas which is updated annually, guaranteeing that users will find the most current geographic information.
Hagen, who is co-author of Borders: A Very Short Introduction, commented for the publication on the geography of Europe and Syria as well as the concept of “Homeland.”
Hagen noted that Europe’s ongoing fiscal crisis has served to aggravate pre-existing regional and national divisions and in the process has added an array of political, cultural and linguistic challenges to the dire economic situation which is ravaging most of Europe. He explained that Spain, for example, has fallen on grim economic times as unemployment has climbed to 25 percent and the Spanish government has had to bail out banks and several regional governments, including Catalonia, Spain’s largest regional economy.
“Catalans have maintained a strong regional identity, including their own language, despite recurring efforts by Spanish governments to centralize authority and suppress regionalism,” Hagen wrote. He added that although recent decades have seen improved relations between Catalonia and the Spanish government, including recognition of the Catalan language and a significant degree of autonomy, anger, and resentment from the recent economic depression have still spilled over into culture and politics causing long-standing antagonisms to flare up again.
The continuing economic crisis has also worsened similar cultural-linguistic disputes in Belgium, Italy and the United Kingdom, according to Hagen, and on a broader scale the fiscal crisis has revived long-standing stereotypes of Germans versus Greeks and Europe’s Nordic countries versus the Mediterranean.
“Depending on one’s perspective, Germany and Europe’s North are portrayed as responsible, hard-working and frugal or stingy, bossy and arrogant. Conversely, Mediterranean Europe is viewed as lazy, corrupt and hapless or victimized, swindled and resilient,” he wrote.
In discussing Syria, Hagen noted that Syria’s current government is dominated by Alawites, a religious minority that comprises only about 12 percent of the total population but is a majority in the country’s Mediterranean coast region.
“The forces rebelling against the Syrian government are mainly drawn from the country’s dominant Sunni Arab populations,” he explained. “It is impossible to predict the exact course of future events, but Syria’s demographic and physical geography make it very unlikely that the government will succeed in re-establishing undisputed control over the country.”
Hagen pointed out that the geography of Syria will likely be changed irreversibly, as ethnic-linguistic-religious groups sort themselves out into relatively similar enclaves and significant numbers of minority groups leave the country altogether.
He stressed that, although there have been predictions of a borderless world and an end of geography, mounting calls for economic protectionism and rising anti-immigrant sentiment would signal a rising tide of nationalism and national territoriality. In closing, Hagen noted that “Growing fears of insecurity, scarcity, and powerlessness are likely to fuel increased pressures to define and defend national homelands.”
In addition, some main points of Borders: A Very Short Introduction, were discussed in a recent online article of The New Yorker. The author of the New Yorker article, Adam Gopnik, summarized some of the points Hagen made on page 3 of a 5-page online article titled “Faces, Places, Spaces. The Renaissance of Geographic History” in the section, “A Critic At Large.” Gopnik wrote, in part:
“Another version of space history is available these days, though. This might be called the cartographic turn, and is characterized by the argument that, while geography matters, it is visible only through the maps that we make of it. Where borders fall is as much a matter of how things are seen as how they really are. We can know the shape of the planet only through maps—maps in the ordinary glove-compartment sense, maps in a broader metaphoric one—and those maps are made by minds attuned to the relations of power. All nations are shaped by belligerence and slaughter. Their borders are a fretwork of scars; they are the history of violence made legible on earth. A new field of “border studies” has grown up around this insight, with its own journals and its own institutions: there’s a much respected Journal of Borderlands Studies, and there are institutes of border studies at several European universities. The newly published “Borders: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford), by Alexander C. Diener and Joshua Hagen, makes an excellent and, well, very short introduction to the subject.”