Tag Archive: human geography


Territorial boundaries drawn by past empires, who have had little regard for geographic realities, often become major sources of conflict.


Throughout history, empires have chosen specific boundaries based on mainly cultural and physical geographic areas.  The British Empire, which controlled many geographic areas in various continents throughout the world, was notably known for performing choosing specific boundaries.  Frequently, in the news I see Israeland its territorial disputes with its neighbors; therefore, I have decided to focus on Israel’s sources of conflicts based on its boundaries.  I will begin with a brief geographic history of Israel for an understanding of its current events. 


The land now known as Israelwas once called Palestineis considered a holy land to the Muslims, Jews, and Christians.  Ancient Hebrews that lived in this region called the area Caanan.  After 1000 B.C., this area was split into two different kingdoms which were called Israel and Judah and were invaded by other empires constantly, some of which were the Egyptians, Macedonians, Romans, Persians, and the list continues.  Most of the original Hebrews who settled the region were then forced to emigrate elsewhere.  Afterwards, Palestinebecame a center of Christian pilgrimage after the emperor Constantine converted to that faith.  Hundreds of years later, the Arabs gained control of Palestine from the Byzantine Empire and Muslims continued to rule this region until the 20th century.  Throughout this period, Hebrews started to settle back into Palestine. During World War I, British forces defeated the Turks in Palestine and governed the area until they officially withdrew in 1948, which formed the State of Israel.  In the following days, Muslim forces from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded the new formed nation.  As a result, Israel had increased its original territory by 50%, taking western Galilee, a broad corridor through central Palestineto Jerusalem, and part of modern Jerusalem.  Almost a decade later, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and forbidden Israeli shipping to travel through the newly created canal.  This led Israel to seize the area known as the Gaza Strip located on the Sinai Peninsula.  Another decade later, Israel made simultaneous attacks against Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian air bases, totally defeating the neighboring Muslim nations which tripled the size of Israel’s territory.  The areas controlled by Israel were the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan River, Jerusalem’s Old Cityand the Gaza Strip.


As a result, the dispute over the territories controlled by Israel has created a sense of instability in the region.  The land that was provided to the Hebrews from Great Britainis now in constant turmoil.  The Palestinians, who are of Arab descent, are now looking to regain control of their land.  Constant upheavals in the area known as Gaza continue to rise.  The primary issue that continues to instigate this conflict is the attempt to maintain an ethnically preferred state which is inevitable considering the majority of people in Israel are now Jewish.  This region once was mainly settled by Muslims; however, they are now prohibited from returning to their homes because the state proclaims Judaism.  Furthermore, Israel’s military occupation over the aforementioned regions that were seized prior to the 1970’s is still burdensome to the Palestinians who have minimal control over their lives and live in disarray daily.  Peace efforts continue to try to resolve this conflict, but Israel refuses to give the controlled land back to its rightful owners who were forced out.  Obviously, when the original borders were implemented, no one took into consideration that people would be forced out and not have anywhere to go.  Hopefully in the future, Israel will resolve this issue by giving back the Gaza, West Bank, and the other areas they have taken control of especially because it is a constant battle to keep these lands for Israel.  


For the record, I have no bias toward either side; I am just stating my observables.

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The Sumerians are known in world history as being the first civilization dating back to around 3000 B.C.  They excelled in many areas for a civilization of that time.  Furthermore, they established the basics for socio-economics and intellect in the area known as present-day Iraq, nestled in-between the Tigris and Euphrates River.  Many breakthroughs and inventions assisted in the foundations of the Sumerian society which lasted for approximately 1000 years.
Their society was headed by a king and divided into four sets of classes: nobles, clients, commoners, and slaves, which all contributed in some way to their flourishing culture. The Sumerians were heavily involved in trade, whether it was with other nearby civilizations or in the Persian Gulf.  Within their own city-states, citizens were involved in various types of trades, such as masonry, metalworking, and pottery to contribute to the culture within, and trade with foreign entities outward.  Agriculture was a necessity and therefore led to an intensive system of irrigation being created by digging canals from the major rivers.  This lead to rich land for growing food.
Moreover, the Sumerians established a system of writing which was depicted in several forms: pictographs, ideograms, and phonetic signs.  This system of writing bridged the gap between Sumerian city-states and their following generations.  Mathematics, specifically geometry and trigonometry, played a huge role in assisting the Sumerians in erecting structures, such as palaces, temples, ziggurats, canals, et cetera.  Lastly, the Sumerians also used a system of medicine to rid citizens of sickness (or rid them of evil spirits).  Several different treatments were used to help cure the sick and these treatments consisted of magic, surgery, and prescriptions, or even a combination of all three.
All of the aforementioned reasons laid the groundwork for a flourishing civilization in Mesopotamia.  Their influence and culture followed onto other civilizations that conquered in the same geographical region such as the Semites and the Babylonians.  Ultimately, Sumerian culture helped form political and economic stability in the civilized world for the following civilizations to come.
Recently, I came across a book called the Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington which takes a look at people’s cultural and religious identities and argues that this will be the primary source of conflict in the 21st century.
 
I believe that the clash of civilizations seems to be a very broad statement in the use of Huntington’s thesis.  Personally, I have mixed feelings towards Huntington’s theory.  On one hand, it is possible to picture the validity of the clashing of civilizations; however, on the other hand, I am in agreement with an article by Amartya Sen (2006) titled “What Clash of Civilizations? Why religious identity isn’t destiny” that states that “the increasing tendency to overlook the many identities that any human being has and to try to classify individuals according to a single allegedly pre-eminent religious identity is an intellectual confusion that can animate dangerous divisiveness.”  When comparing civilizations, a civilization can be reduced down to a small scale, it doesn’t necessarily have to be compared to historic civilizations such as Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, and so on.  
 
When comparing people from different parts of the United States such as Texans, Californians, New Englanders, and Georgians, all who are classified as Americans; however, each has their own distinct cultures within the United States.  But what is an American?  An American is not only somebody from the United States, but somebody in Mexico, or Costa Rica.  Back in 2005, I had taken a trip to Costa Rica to immerse in the culture.  One thing I noticed from the people there is that they were offended when Americans were only referred to the people of the United States.  With that said, single classifications can be very misleading.  If civilizations are divided by particular cultures, then Iraq, a majority Islamic state, could be broken up into three different cultures: The Kurds, Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims, but Iraq is also home to other minorities such as Christians (Chaldeans), among many other ethnic groups.  
 
For Huntington to state that the world is divided into nine different civilizations is a misnomer.  The truth is that Huntington uses only one type of classification which is based off of religion; however, the different cultures within religious groups, classes, societies, and beliefs are other classifications that can be used to distinctly separate people from one another.  In many nations or states throughout the world, conflict usually arises within their own political boundaries as a result of some sort of clash.  It can usually be defined as cultural differences, but not all conflicts are solely violent.  Some may be political or even economical.  I do not believe Huntington is wrong for his ideology, but he is only looking at conflicts within global politics as one possible perception and is not looking outside the lines of religious/cultural classifications.  This sort of realignment that Huntington predicts has occurred throughout history.  
 
More recently, globalization is now mixing the various different cultures and civilizations throughout the world together and leading these different cultures and religions to share many commonalities than ever before.  On a separate note, Huntington discusses clashes between western civilizations and Islamic civilizations.   The majority of people in western civilization are Christians; therefore, in my opinion, Huntington goes on to discuss the conflicts between these two cultures as a future problem that needs to be considered in foreign policy.  I disagree with his views on this because Christians and Muslims have been fighting for thousands of years and it should already be in our foreign policies.  This is not only a future issue, but a past and present issue as well.


I believe all factors will come into play when conflict occurs, not only cultural factors like Huntington states. Every year, the world is becoming more and more global with technology, especially the internet. Many cultures that were once isolated years ago are now sharing many traits with other cultures because it is becoming the “norm” globally. Immigrants that live in repressed or poor regions of the world are now increasingly migrating to Western countries because they believe it will lead them to more opportunities and a better life. The mixing of cultures is becoming more and more acceptable; however, tensions of cultures worldwide will always have some sort of conflict. Huntington’s thesis is inaccurate when it breaks the world into eight different civilizations. Many states and nations within these “8” civilizations have conflicts daily and even within their political boundaries. Therefore, I believe the world is becoming more economical and countries of different cultures are now uniting with other countries of the world for these reasons. The main conflicts will be more of an internal conflict than a worldwide conflict of cultures.



So let’s take a step back for a moment at all the major conflicts since the 21st century.  Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Sudanese Civil War, Russo-Georgian War, Arab Uprising revolutions, and radical Islamist jihads.  With the exception of radical Islam, none of these other conflicts were really based on religious ideology.  They were either political, economic, or over territory in my opinion.  


Islamist radicalists can blend in with any society, no matter where it is to cause harm toward others.  In Huntington’s thesis, they are mostly concentrated as one civilization, “Islamic civilization.”  Regardless, there are no boundaries to these non-state actors and they have developed cells all over the world in many other civilizations than the Islamic one. I would think this would be the closest example that would tie into the thesis.  Yet still, they also fight within their own “civilization” and against other Muslims.  Their interpretation of Islam is very different than other interpretations within the culture.  Not all Muslims believe what these radical Islamists believe in; Islam is supposedly a peaceful religion, this just comes to show that it is not possible to divide the world into civilizations.  

 
I welcome everyone’s thoughts and comments on this posting.  I would like to initiate a respectable discussion.

Maps can tell a great story without words, especially by showing a temporal depiction of the change of cultures and boundaries. Throughout history though, various empires conquered many lands across most of Asia and left behind many cultural influences that have molded today’s ethnic groups and languages in the region.

There are three main language families in this region depicted in the below map: Semitic (Yellow), Indo-Iranian (Orange), and Turkic (Green).

Semitic language roots trace back to the days of the Sumerians and Akkadians estimated around 2400 BC. These languages have evolved over time into the most commonly known languages of Arabic (commonly used in all Arab States), Hebrew (commonly used in Israel), Amharic (commonly used in Ethiopia), and Tigrinya (commonly used in Eritrea).

Indo-Iranian language roots trace back to 6th century BC. Indo-Iranian is most commonly known today as the Persian language family consisting of mainly Kurdish, Farsi, Pashto, Tajik, and Dari. Other Indo-Iranian languages are located in Pakistan and India.

Turkic language roots trace back to the early Middle Ages (around 8th century AD). Before the Turkic expansion occurred, most Turks were located in the Area known as Mongolia today. In the years following the early Middle Ages, the Turks expanded in all parts of Asia from Siberia to India to Turkey covering a vast land mass and influencing many cultures along the way. Today, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and the languages of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia make up what is part of the Turkic family.

The following maps are courtesy of the Gulf/2000 Project funded by Columbia University:

Linguistic Composition of Southwest Asian States: Present Day

The following group of maps reveals historic changes as a result of the various conquerors, empires, and cultures from 1450 to 2000 AD. Throughout the years, the only long standing empires have been the Ottoman/Turkey and Persia/Iran.

Islamic States ca. AD 1450
Islamic States ca. AD 1510
Islamic States ca. AD 1550
Islamic States ca. AD 1625
Islamic States ca. AD 1700
Islamic States ca. AD 1750
Islamic States ca. AD 1800
Islamic States ca. AD 1840
Islamic States ca. AD 1850
Islamic States ca. AD 1900
Islamic States ca. AD 1925
Islamic States ca. AD 1950
Islamic States ca. AD 2000
This will be my last post in this series of my Military Geography awareness postings.  I had fun researching and writing this topic.  In this last posting, I want to highlight the effects of weather, climate, and terrain on military forces and how geography plays an instrumental role in this.  A couple of years ago, I read book entitled Battling the elements: weather and terrain in the conduct of war by Harold Winters.  This book was not only intriguing to me, but also interesting at the same time in how it depicts various scenarios on how geographies played a crucial role in winning or losing battles.  This posting is a conglomeration of my thoughts with historical facts contained within this book.
Military operations have continuously been effected by various climates that have posed many problems for militaries in foreign lands.  Ground, naval, and air forces each are affected by climate in different ways, but also have some similarities among them.  Those forces that conduct an offensive battle in another climate have usually resulted in a decisive loss.  In order to counter the threat that the climate poses in a foreign land, military strategists and climatologists must do their part to educate their own military force to be effective.  This can be done by understanding the seasonal changes and how terrain and soil will be impacted by the temperatures and precipitation.  Though no strategy will be completely perfect since the weather within the climate may change from year to year, individuals can still study the historical commonalities over time to establish trends and patterns that will benefit their military force.  The impact of a climate in a foreign land has had devastating results on the movement and logistics of a military.
Intruders into a foreign region may be deceived by the weather in an area and not understand the long-term climatic effects.  Climatic factors that have affected historic campaigns consisted of temperature and precipitation as the primary forces.  Ultimately, these effects of nature have disintegrated armies in the past.  In Russia, temperature levels greatly rise in the summer months, but as the year progresses, the temperatures fall drastically.  In the past 300 years, three armies attempted to invade Russia regardless of its climate.  The Swedes, French, and Germans have all suffered greatly as a result of Russia’s weather and climate.
Temperature can be broken down into extreme heat and cold.  Each extreme affects military forces in several different ways depending on the climate the invading country originated from previously.  Extreme heat is preferably more favorable than cold.  For example, most military campaigns against Russia have began in the summer months since the movement of ground forces was somewhat more formidable than in the winter.  The climate in Western Europe relies mainly on air that originates from the nearby ocean which allows for more moderate temperatures.  This climate is very different than in Eastern Europe, where the ocean cooling and heating occurs at a slower rate since it is further inland.  In addition, Russia is a vast territory in size which allows for four major climates that affect its physical environment: tundra, subarctic, continental, and temperate.
Moreover, extreme cold temperatures create hazards for military forces that are unprepared when traveling from less extreme climates.  For example, the lack of seasonal uniforms that were worn by the Germans during their invasion of Russia forces major delays in their advancement into Russia’s heartland, because of their need to warm their troops and equipment.  In addition, soldiers can become frost bitten which allows soldiers to be more susceptible to death, injuries, disease, or desertion if they are inadequately dressed.  Therefore, climatic temperature can have a great impact on a military forces’ physical and mental well-being when traveling across great distances.
On the other hand, precipitation and moisture can cause damage to any military force regardless whether it’s hot or cold.  In summer months, continuous thunderstorms cause the soil to loosen which results in the ground turning to mud.  Climates that rapid cooling occurs in leads to temperatures dropping dramatically; therefore, colder regions of the world endure large quantities of snow.  In Russia, the large amounts of snow cover allows for reflection of the sun’s energy, ultimately prolonging the arrival of spring.  These conditions were quite different than in Western Europe’s winter and both the German and French armies were not prepared for the Russian winter.
The aforementioned climatic factors have ultimately decided the outcomes of military campaigns.  Every military force that decides to invade or fight against another nation in a different climate needs to understand the geographic setting and how the weather will impact their mission.  In addition, historic military forces typically have not been prepared with plentiful supplies, resources, and vehicles in order to carry out their mission in an efficient capacity.  A prime example of military forces that have operated from one climate zone to another during a seasonal change was the German and French invasion of Russia.  These two military invasions based their planning and operations during summer and fall months for their movement into Russia in the hopes for a short battle.
Both militaries expected to return to their respected home countries prior to the arrival of winter.  As a result, each army did not plan for the harsh winter which became their ultimate demise.  Regardless, both armies traveled eastward during the pleasant weather conditions in Western Europe in the summer months.  As the early autumn months arrived, harsh thunderstorms created mud conditions which drastically slowed down the army’s trafficability.  In 1812, autumn was shortened by frigid temperatures as well as extreme cold and snowy conditions.  In 1941, the Germans encountered a long wet autumn which then transitioned into similar harsh conditions that the French faced.  Inadequately equipped soldiers and limited shelter became more damaging to the invaders than any other force.  Overall, both armies were forced to retreat because the French and Germans were not match for the brutal climate in Russia.
Militaries have traveled great distances into unfamiliar climates throughout history in order to gain territory or show superiority to another region of the world.  During a campaign under these pretenses, militaries encounter dust, mud, frost, chill, and hot conditions.  Each of these climatic factors can weaken soldiers and their trafficability as well as affecting their logistics.  These factors also impact the maintenance and functionality of weapons and equipment.  Visibility can often be impaired by such climatic conditions for ground and air operations.  Moreover, air warfare is also impacted by cloud coverage and fog which also contributes to reduced visibility, especially in geographic regions where this type of atmospherics are prevelant.  In combining these factors along with the terrain, many foreign armies can expect conditions harsher than in an actual battle.
All climatic factors impact ground forces’ movement and maneuverability in several different ways.  The effects on trafficability change considerably with the progressions of the seasons.  Climates throughout the world vary in the levels of precipitation that is accumulated over time.  Some climates are mainly dry, while others can be consistently wet or change in the amount of rainfall every year.  The physical environment ultimately determines how a climate will impact military movement.  Constant rainy conditions often cause a muddy setting.  Mud almost always reduces travel time, and stalls machinery, vehicles, and soldiers usually by the unfavorable conditions mud creates in the ground.  This seemed to be a huge obstacle for the German and French armies when traveling into Russia.
Operation Barbossa
In higher latitudes, winter conditions also effect movement greatly.  Countries located in these climates have an edge because they are used to the harsh weather.  Foreigners that are not familiar with these types of conditions usually are unprepared in many ways.  Also, these climates have excessive snow amounts which impede wheeled vehicles and persons especially when the snowfall exceeds 12 inches.  Either of these conditions can completely halt or slow down movement, which was the case for the Germans in Operation Barbossa, and were forced to travel 12 miles in 2 days as a result of the foreign climate.  On the other hand, a benefit of higher latitude climates is when the ground freezes on open terrain, faster movement will occur because of the hardened soil which is ideal for ground forces.
Lastly, climatic conditions also have a huge impact on the logistics of an army.  For example, in June 1812, the French army traveled over the Niemen River in modern-day Lithuania and became stuck in a series of prolonged thunderstorms.  These thunderstorms caused the ground to become so muddy that they had to leave behind many heavy wagons filled with many supplies and equipment needed for the journey to Russia.  Assuming they would return to France prior to the start of winter, the French also brought a limited amount of supplies with them and as a result, the late summer and autumn months became very troublesome.  In the winter months, logistic necessities such as fuel, food, and water became scarce an armies had trouble acquiring the necessary supplies because of the harsh conditions and distance from friendly supply depots.  In addition, this results in a decrease in supplies and ammunitions and access to resources.  Since the higher latitude conditions are not favorable in winter months, most foreign armies are forced to retreat.  Overall, militaries that do not plan effective routes and a plentiful amount of supplies usually succumb to the forces of nature in foreign lands that have significantly different climates than in their homeland.
 
Lastly, another good book for anyone interested in getting an overview of military geography is Military geography for professionals and the public by John Collins.
Everything happens for a reason.  At least that is what a mentor told me years ago when I was just walking into the real world for the first time.  Culture is the basis behind every action throughout the world.  All people do things for a reason and this has a lot to do where one is raised or lives.  In the anthropology field, this is called a person’s “Worldview” – A person’s worldview ties into their geography greatly.  In addition, this carries over not only in our everyday lives, but for the militaries across the world.  Moreover, Military Geography is not only used by the military, but also by academics and politicians in order to understand the geopolitical sphere through a militaristic lens.
Knowledge and expertise of military geography is a critical factor in analyzing the enemy.  Military geography of a specific region is the discipline regarding geographic aspects that affect military planning and the execution of operations.  In addition, this discipline is divided into several sub-classes of study: cultural, economic, political, and physical geography.  Each one of the areas of study establishes the base for knowledge of a region or area.  The more expertise of a geographic region, the better suited an analyst will be in order to analyze raw intelligence and apply it to an analysis.  Outcomes regarding past U.S. conflicts have been determined by regional knowledge of military geography and have ultimately formulated standards of knowledge for today’s intelligence to be successful. 
Regional, area, and cultural expertise is vital knowledge required for understanding an enemy’s intentions and vulnerabilities.  Also, this knowledge can result in improved battle tactics by understanding the terrain, weather, soil, and lines of communication that are prominent in an area which may ultimately effect enemy movement.  Expertise in these areas allows for a commander, decision-maker, or analyst to establish an overall picture for planning and executing operations.  Understanding culture is becoming a more important factor for military operations across the world.  Unlike the days of the Cold War, enemies of the United States are now integrating into civilian societies.  These enemies may use certain key locations to take cover that are not allowed to be bombed or attacked to their advantage such as hospitals, schools, and mosques.  Therefore, the U.S. military needs to be cognizant of cultural and social norms within a region in order to identify any anomalies or something that is just not normal within a foreign society. 
Regarding military geography, cultural friction is one of the more significant causes of surprise in enemy action.  When in conflict with an opposing force, enemy intentions may be unpredictable, but it may be the culture of the enemy that is most often misunderstood in this sense.  This causes confusion among the friendly force because they are unfamiliar with the norms of their enemy’s society.  The expertise acquired in studying a certain region, area, or culture will overall determine the course that an operation must take in order to be successful, but at the same time limit civilian causalities.  In my opinion, regional expertise is more beneficial for strategic planning than tactical planning.  Understanding the military geography of an area is essential prior to executing enemy forces in a battle.  Knowing when, where, and how to attack an enemy is also influenced by this expertise and has a major effect on the planning stages of a military operation.
There have been several examples of this type of expertise not being utilized that have occurred throughout history.  A somewhat recent example of this took place in the 1990’s in the country of Somalia.  Somalia is a very unstable region that is in a constant state of conflict.  U.S. military forces where not very familiar with certain aspects of the area of Somalia where they were in conflict, in addition to not having basic knowledge of Somali society.  These aspects included the lack of decent geospatial intelligence.  Based on my overall knowledge of this conflict, I believe our forces attacked our enemy as ordered, but did not do their research prior to the battles in ensuring a successful outcome.  This opinion is based on the continuous failures during the conflict in the streets of Mogadishu that U.S. forces endured.  Overall, this was probably due to a lack of expertise in the region known as the Horn of Africa.  However, the United States has been in many other battles that have resulted in similar consequences that have forced U.S. troops to disband and leave the area of conflict.
In order for military forces to act successfully in a foreign land, they must be mindful of where they are located.  Furthermore, they must be reliant on intelligence analysts to supply them with accurate intelligence.  This ties into the that the United States continues to be involved more with asymmetric conflicts across the world, and fewer conflicts against political or organized entities similar to the past.  Military geography also allows for knowledge of an area to be applied to certain operations.  Tactical, operational, and strategic planning rely on this knowledge to avoid any uncertainties and create a successful battle plan.
Overtime, regional and cultural subject matter expertise continues to become a more substantial key component for intelligence operations.  Education, cultural appreciation, and regional experience of analysts are often insufficient for providing insight for an understanding of the enemy.  Also, there is little knowledge of any historical aspects that create social norms different than in the United States or even the language of the local population which can purely affect an overall analysis of a network’s true intentions.  Overall, this is unsatisfactory and proves why knowledge of military geography of a specified area is vital in understanding and analyzing the enemy.  This seems to be a common issue across the world and probably has led to initiatives such as human terrain analysis also known as human geography and other elements that cater more towards regional studies in academia.

#GIS #geography #remotesensing #geospatial #humangeography #cartography #spatial

In addition to my tumblr blog which is themed for pictures of anything geo-related – I have recently created an additional blog which will be more text-based with geographic storyboard postings.

Check out my new geographic blog!

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications in social science are becoming more and more frequently used throughout the world in understanding several sub-fields of geography.  For this posting I will be discussing specifically the human geographic aspect that concentrates on understanding local populations and the implications of social change from effects of economic, political, geographic, and ethnographic issues through the use of GIS.  The typical uses or norms of GIS applications usually include science-related mapping, utility mapping, and/or disaster response/humanitarian efforts, and last but not least, map-making in general.  The social sciences and human geography are often overlooked and many people that I have encountered in life, school, and work are doubtful of the possibility of mapping human cultures.  This may be because in a global world today, most cultures are becoming more intermingled than ever before.  However, though globalization is beginning to merge many cultures, the majority of cultures still have unique characteristics that history has lent to them.
In GIS, there are many layers that would assist in developing spatial relationships among various aspects of human geography. This application is becoming more and more reliant by the United States government as a result of the issues with our military not understanding the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan before the invasions earlier in the century. Not only do federal governments have a vested interest in human geographic applications, but non-government organizations also have their fair share of a need to understand the world from a social science perspective.
As a proof of concept, the following 3 layers are an integral part of this overall system, but keep in mind there many layers that are needed in order to understand the big picture.
Ethnicity Layers: These layers would consist of the cultural groups within say for instance in Iran such as the Azeris, Kurds, Iranians, among various other smaller cultural groups. A polygon layer would represent the generalization of where these groups mainly have geographic control over;  however, there may be overlap among the polygon layers in a macroscopic view of the region. This would provide a baseline for understanding any implications the Iranian government would enforce on the local population.
Neighborhood/City Layers: These layers would provide more of a microscopic view of the parts of the regions, specifically cities or urbanized areas. Within these urban areas, a mixture of cultural groups may be present. Identifying the neighborhoods specific to a particular group would help to isolate groups and provide geographic context to conditions under the assumption that segregation is prevalent in the city.  I have noticed through my studies that even in a global world, there is still much segregation in neighborhoods because ethnic groups and religions tend to stick with like people.  Also, the mix of ethnicity would be more visible with these polygon layers, because at larger scales, a GIS user can begin to see the relationship and isolation of each of the groups.  A new technique such as settlement mapping can also divide formal from informal neighborhoods assisting in identifying certain demographics of people.
Religious layers: These point layers will help identify any historic or religious sites across an urban area to assist in the overall analysis of identifying spatial attributes to a particular group. Examples of point shapefiles would be churches, mosques, religious sites, relgious institutions, religious monuments, et cetera.  Alternative to point layers, polygons may also be helpful from a macroscopic scale for identifying which religions tend to favor certain geographic areas over others.  This may be from diasporas or history.
Researching human geography can be done and converted into geospatial information.  Another thing to keep in mind is that geographical text can be extracted and developed into data, which is one thing in any social science field, is part of the data collection.  One would have to convert text into geographic data, not only from information with geographic locations, but the surrounding context.  There are many ways to go about finding information.  Many anthropologists and other related fields have published many studies regarding cultures and civilizations.  These types of papers have an abundance amount of geographic insights, references, and data that can be extracted in to spatial data.
Commerical remote sensing imagers (i.e. Orbview, Geoeye, DigiGlobe) may also lead a helping hand; many cultures or ethnic groups in the eastern hemisphere have their own specific characteristics for architecture, buildings, and homes.  Many of these architectural distinctions are observable from space, especially with a favorable look angle.  If the imaging platform takes a snapshot of an area at nadir, it may be more difficult.  Other ways to find information is through social media sites that promote collaborative mapping and that may also provide insight into human geography.  Sites like Wikimapia, openstreetmaps, and amateur cartographic sites provide insight into cultural data.  Of course there are many different sources of information, and it would be someone’s job who is involved in human geographic mapping to analyze all possible layers to establish a final cartographic map that details the human geography of an area.
Keep in mind, if you are expecting 100 % accuracy on any of these layers, then you are in the wrong business, as you should always question the data since nothing is perfect.  There are many things to take into consideration when looking at mapping human geography.  You also have to consider what is the end use or final deliverable for the project.  Some geographic layers that are important to conduct such analyses are terrain, elevation, roads, buildings, hilltops, rivers, transit zones, local language, ethnicity, education, and demographics.  Where does one get all of this information?  The data can be acquired via remote sensing, various open sources, or other means.  All this data plays into the bigger picture, but most of us take them for granted.

Ease of mobility is a huge factor in cultural mapping.  In rural areas across Asia, even if the groups are forced out, they tend to stick together.  Not all populations have the luxury to send their kids to Tehran University or hop on the highway to go to Kashmir on a nice scenic vacation.  Ethnicity is another hindering factor like race is still an issue in America.  Therefore the infrastructure plays a huge role in identifying areas where cultures are prevalent.  In the United States, when people emigrate there, they tend to stick together with like-minded and like-speaking peoples hence why we still see segregation in our urban cities.  It’s not much different when cultural groups are forced to flee their land to another part of a country or to neighboring countries, hence why you see other ethnicities such as the Turkmens in Afghanistan or Iran even though there is a country of Turkmenistan.

Furthermore, there are many factors involved in understanding this and aggregating information is the key to success.  You need to acquire as much data and information that one can.  In addition to data, information is a key aspect to this in providing context to areas.  The world is not as isolated as it once was and there is a plentiful amount of information and data that would be suffice for a fairly accurate assessment of an area; you just need to know where to find it.

I just wanted to provide a little taste of what could be done more than the typical GIS applications that everyone knows about.  Hope this helps!

Brian G – @geocrusader80

Geographic/linguistic drama in country names @geocurrentslive #humangeog #geography #lang

What’s in a (Country) Name: The Georgia/Grúziya Controversy « Headline « GeoCurrents

For some reason, the history of placenames is starting to interest me.  Maybe its because of the cultural effects that have had some affect on society today?  Who knows…but it’s a good notion how how cultures influence other cultures.

The Migration of Place Names: Africa, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan

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