so we’ve yet to find a decent world map with south sudan

For my sixth birthday, my grandparents bought me globe. It sat on the desk, tilted at that attractive, precarious angle. I loved that the mountain ranges were palpable beneath my fingertips. Their intention with this gift was to aid my transition into the realm of proper education. I had just begun the first grade.

This was late September 1989.

Within two months, the globe was out of date in the most drastic way possible. (Until global warming inevitably creates Waterworld: The Sequel.) The Berlin Wall fell and half the Soviet Union descended into capital-R Revolution.

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But we never got another globe. That was the one we had in our house for years. Just this little piece of history, rotating slowly, collecting dust.

It is odd to think of now, as our apartment is adorned with three world maps (sure, one is a shower curtain, but still), how big that chunk of the USSR was. It seems like it took up half the globe. That was the legacy I was born into: the legacy of the Cold War. Nothing substantial, but a permanent memory of a giant, abstract chunk of the Earth.

The maps we have up in our place are all out-dated. Husband found it a fun project to analyze the maps to slowly parse out changes. He managed, based on colonial holdings, to date one map to a specific range of three years. 1929 to 1932, I think. That takes an historical precision that’s beyond me. Especially just while standing there staring at it.

I think of those memes currently floating around the internet: the first where people try to fill in the US states on an empty map; the second, the countries of Europe. It’s hard, but maps mean something, don’t they?

Is it easier or harder, in this “day and age” to forget our spatial relationship to the world? One might argue that the speed of modern communication and air travel has rendered distance near-negligible. But tell that to people who reblog pictures of places around the world that they will never get to visit. Because the reality is, no matter the fact that I can eat breakfast in Vancouver and have dinner in New York City, those distances exist in a way that borders abstraction.

We form places in our mind long before we see them, through the influences of pop culture and history. But these images in our mind are like looking at the stars. What we see in that light emanating before our very eyes is actually the past. That star might be dead.

The New York City in the public consciousness is not the New York City that exists now in this very moment. The New York City in the public consciousness is the collective creation of years of history and television and films and music and art. The New York City in the public consciousness is the light from a star.

Perhaps that is the saddest thing about travel, and definitely what makes it most worthwhile: the illusion breaks.

Our knowledge of the world is an old map. We’re caught in a time vortex, always lagging behind. Because borders are changing all the time; it’s a constant evolution.

Any globe will be out of date in a few months, even if the information written on it is not.

65 thoughts on “so we’ve yet to find a decent world map with south sudan

  1. Maps are wonderful snapshots of a moment, of history, politics and geography. I love looking at them, getting them from places I visit. And finding old one as well.


    • I always try to pick up a map from everywhere we go, but something unique in the medium as well as the map itself: i.e. a tube map from London, a map of Powell’s bookstore from Portland, a map of Viking era York, and so on.

  2. I once bought an old World Book set and it was pre World War Two. Hitler was barely mentioned, no cell phones, no computers. It was a real eye opener to how quickly our world evolves into different sections and alliances.

  3. It’s good to know our world a few decades back but living in the past of expecially sharing or thinking of going to places we will never see or which we saw in some outdated photos are really a thing to look at.

  4. What a really interesting and thought-provoking post. I have always loved maps, but I think it’s amazing how subjective they are (the obvious ‘which way round is the globe really’, but also things like what is put in the centre of a flat map). I was in Strasbourg this weekend and saw a map of the front line for WWI: the city was, of course, way deep in German territory, and yet now sits on the French side of the border. Changes that are simultaneously so politically meaningful and yet have no real geographical impact: we can cross borders without even realising.

    • Born and raised in Canada, I find borders elsewhere in the world so fascinating. It’s amazing to think that we learned THIS is Germany, THAT is France, but for the people there and their ancestors, these borders can be so arbitrary. It becomes especially evident, too, when seeing how much language varies from region to region, and that there are dialects where French and German almost blend together!

  5. Great post. I always wanted to have a custom-made globe that would be of either my year of birth, or better yet, if I could get one that reflects the world from an alternate world like Harry Turtledove’s

    • It is so strange to look at maps of the year I was born (1983) and realize how much history has happen WHILE I WAS ALIVE. It definitely makes you feel more connected to the world around you.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I’ve always wanted a globe, one of those fancy ones where you can open it and pick out some liquor or wine, you know what I’m talking about? But now I don’t know what “version” of the world I would want!

    • I know EXACTLY what you are talking about! Husband has made it a life goal for us to have one of those full of scotch. (I can only assume he meant “bottles of scotch,” otherwise… ugh, the mess.

  7. I am also a globe lover from way back Ashleigh. When my husband and I lived and worked in Sudan in the mid 1980s we packed an inflatable globe with us (aka “world beach ball”) and referred to it often as we planned our future nomadic life.

    When South Sudan acquired independence in 2011 we were able to add another country count to our list without making another trip. We realized that in our Sudan wanderings we had strayed across the border into the new South Sudan! And you’re right – there isn’t a decent map. Congratulations on the FP – richly deserved. All the best, Terri

  8. I find myself turning to vintage maps and globes as well. Knowing that the world is ever changing, it seems more peaceful to look back rather than trying to keep up with the present.

  9. Even if a globe is a purely a relief of the physical world without political divisions it will always be wrong. Just operate a bulldozer to change the landforms or watch the latest island form out of a volcano or watch a landscape be carved away by a hurricane.

    • Or even tectonic change, as slow as that might seem, it still blows the mind to learn such things as the fact that Scotland and England were once on two different plates and were literally a world apart! They smushed together and we have the Highlands to show for it 🙂

  10. I am sure that US American’s can find South Sudan on a map, but seriously what is wrong with these people that put the maps together…

    • That exhibit looks fascinating! I wish I was a lot closer to Canberra, but alas… just another problem with the actual size of the world! Also, I love your idea of travelling without Sat Nav. I do not have a GPS in my car and refuse to get one!

  11. Wow! This post was great. The geogaphical changes that happened after 1989 has always facinated me alot as a kid. My granddad used to have a globe in his livingroom and it was not like the one we had at home (his was from the Soviet peroid and ours was from the pros-Soviet period). It took quite some getting used to that maps was not a permanent thing, as I used to imagine. In one way the globes were the same and in others they had drastically changed.

  12. Great prospective, I am only 32 and I can see history happening through geography. It is also worth noting that these geographical revisions brought along a number of economic and cultural changes as well. Lots of possibilities there.

  13. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 59: That’s What Regular Folks Do, Right? | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

    • South Sudan is a member of the UN and the African Union and signatory to the Geneva Convention. I would hope that’s enough for Rand McNally. 🙂 I just think it’s more a matter of printing costs/consumer demand.

  14. Why do you expect to find a map, the whole Darfur tragedy was a nasty game over the oil resources; those who need the geolocation data of the region and oil resources have had it and used it on time.

    • I don’t disagree with you, but that just wasn’t really the point of this post…. I just used South Sudan in the title as an example of a recent major change to the political map that renders new maps outdated.

    • Seeing the whole Sudan there together does stand out, doesn’t it? Like seeing maps with everything lumped together under the USSR, you miss out on different places with their own distinct culture, like Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakstan, and more.

  15. “Light from a star”
    “Illusion breaks”
    Love this. And so true. The wind was nearly knocked out of me when I got to visit Paris – not because of the beauty but because of the opposite. My mind had built up so many stories and pictures and sounds – but it was a REAL city, with REAL problems and I wasn’t prepared for that.

  16. I had an atlas when I was a kid and going through it was one of my favourite pass times. And when I actually started travelling I was worried about the illusion breaking too, but when I went to Italy, it was everything I imagined and to date the best thing I have ever done! So I guess sometimes you get lucky, but everytime you get experiences. 🙂

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