Continent X: The Geopolitical Lesson of Size, Shape, and Location
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Continent X: The Geopolitical Lesson of Size, Shape, and Location Daryl Byklum
John Adams Junior High School , Rochester, Minnesota Published online: 11 Sep 2007.
To cite this article: Daryl Byklum (1992) Continent X: The Geopolitical Lesson of Size, Shape, and Location, Journal of Geography, 91:1, 18-22, DOI: 10.1080/00221349208979332 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00221349208979332
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Continent X: The Geopolitical Lesson of Size, Shape, and Location by Daryl Byklurn JOHN ADAMS JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA.
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The subject of political geography is often slighted or omitted completely in many high school classrooms. This article offers a practical approach to introducingthe dynamics of geopoliticalissues to secondary students. Size, shape, and location as geopolitical themes are incorporatedinto a student exercise of map analysis. Supplemental activities are also included. Key words: geopolitical, size, shape, location, and map analysis.
As events in the Middle East threaten the stability of the Arab world, and the restructuring of the Eastern Bloc continues to unfold, an understanding of the major concepts of political geography is basic for interpreting world events. With the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, not only will maps of Eurasia be redrawn but geopoliticalchange necessitates a reevaluation of this region. For teachers of geography, and political geographyin particular, these events present an exciting opportunity to reemphasize the dynamics of geopolitics and to provide an understanding of the concepts that interact to foster and influence political happenings.
Territorial characteristics play an important role in the political nature of a nation-state. Of these characteristics,size, shape, and location are among the most important.As political events play themselves out in an increasingly complex world, too often we tend to examine only the event itself, overlooking the cause/effect relationships that territorial characteristics impart to the nature of the happening. Nations throughout history have been known to rise and fall on the basis of such factors, yet students and teachers alike often look past these basic influences and analyze only the end result. A comparison of European maps, before and after World War 11, provides ample evidence of nation-states succumbing to the geopoliticalpressures of their size, shape, and location. Kings and pawns emerged in a geopolitical chess game, the reverberations of which are still being felt today. For a teacher who uses current events in the classroom, a presentation of these concepts should be a prerequisite to any discussion of world events. The following activities provide the opportunitywithin a hypothetical situation to present these ideas in the classroom. Thus, the teacher need not contend with real-world constraints that can turn seemingly clear-cut concepts into murky shades of gray. After engaging in these activities, students will be able to transfer the concepts to actual geopolitical conditions and thereby gain a broader understanding of real-world situations. This project has been designed as an introductory geopolitical unit but could easily be used elsewhere in the
curriculum. Background information is provided upon which to build individual lessons. Ideas for follow-up topics are also included so that supplementary activities can be expanded into other facets of political geography.
Background: The Concepts Size The concept of size has been a political issue since the beginning of recorded history. Many of the “great” nations of the ancient world were actually quite small, but as empires rose and fell, their size, at least in part, influenced the events. Small states were dominated by larger, more powerful ones; large empires, in turn, would strugglewith the impracticalities of their size. The tiny Greek city-state of Athens grew to great cultural heights, but its size became a detriment in the struggle against larger enemies such as Persia. Rome would rise to greatness from very modest beginnings on the Tiber River, yet in its eternal quest for more territory, the Roman Empire became so large that it simply outgrew its ability to govern. What is the ideal size of a nation-state? Is bigger better? Was the former Soviet Union too large? Is France too small? These difficult-to-answer questions are relevant in the context of political geography. A. E. Moodie (1949) wrote that one should recognize that size alone is not always a decisive factor in the greatness of countries. Australia, Brazil, and Canada all have large territories, but none claim the superpower status of the United States. Moodle goes on to point out that size in and of itself is not always the issue but rather that nation-states desire the prestige derived from the size of their land holdings. Often, nation-states thirst for more territory because larger countriesenjoy a greater and more varied resource base, as well as potential space for human settlement.Viewed in this light, territorial expansion is highly desirable. The additional territory, however, can carry a liability if efforts to effectively develop and control the acquisition are met with resistance, either internally, externally, or both. Visions of expansion often clash with the physical realities of governing, as Napoleon and Hitler learned on the battlefields of Europe. The size of a country has a great deal to do with the
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political make-up and organization of the nation-state. Central government authority can falter if an ineffective political organizationfails to reach the outer territories it controls. The fervor for independence in the republics of the collapsing Soviet Union can be partially traced to the immense size of that country and the accompanying difficulty of effectively governing outlying areas such as the Baltic states. Perception of ideal size varies with advances in transportation, communication, and other forms of technology. During the 19th century, the United States expanded its borders from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The perceived size of this new land shrank considerably with the completion of the Trans-ContinentalRailroad. An ocean grew smaller with the laying of a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. Satellites help countries throughout the world communicate quickly and effectively.Space age technology has shrunk the entire world in the mind of humankind. Shape Popular theory suggests that the ideal shape of a country is circular or hexagonal, allowing easy access to and rapid communication with all parts of the country. A compact country has a shorter boundary to defend. Lucile Carlson (1962) writes that compactness reduces transportation needs and will often produce internal coherence more readily than does elongation or fragmentation of the land within a state. France is a good example of a compact country that is close to the ideal shape. In reality, however, very few countriesin the world are of such a compact nature. Elongation and fragmentation of territory present unique problems that can and do impact the geopoliticalnature of a country. Elongated countrieslike Italy or Chile face the challenge of unifying populations that span the length of their far-reaching extremities. Fragmented nation-states face similar cohesion problems. In 1971, Pakistan succumbed to insurmountable fragmentation problems when East Pakistan seceded to form the independent country of Bangladesh. Stoddard, Wishart, and Blouet (1989) attribute the creationof Bangladeshto problems of unity resultingfrom the fragmentationof east and west. Physically, economically, and culturally separated from West Pakistan, the unifying force of Islam was not enough to hold the two parts together. Overcoming problems resulting from the shape of territory is the concern of every nation, yet sometimes seemingly similar circumstancescan dictate totally opposite results. The industrial might of Japan is undaunted by its island configuration while the neighboring Philippine Islands remain entrenched in political instability and poverty. The shape of a country and the accompanying political implications can also be the result of whether the country’s inhabitantsinterpretthe shape as a positive or a negativeforce. The United Kingdom has encountered a powder keg of problems in keeping control of fragmented Northern Ireland. Catholic-Protestant issues and a deep-rooted sense of Irish nationalism have kept this area a political hot spot. On the other hand, the United States has shown that fragmentation need not be a liability. Alaska and Hawaii maintain good JANUARYFEBRUARY
relations with the rest of the 48 contiguous states in spite of their isolation. If, however, they would come to view,their location as a negative condition, this attitude could lead to instability in the governingprocess of these fragmented areas.
Location The location of a country (in both absolute and relative terms) influences the political nature of a state in many ways. A good example of this is vicinal location (i.e., whom your neighbors are; whether they are large or small, powerful or weak). This, in turn,helps to determine strategic location, a concern of all political states. The United States shares a common border with only two other countries, its northern boundary with Canada being the longest unfortified border in the world. In contrast, Brazil shares a common border with 10 different countries on a continent which, historically, has not been politically stable. From a military vantage point, boundaries can be a logistical nightmareshould aregion become involved in armed conflict. The oil-rich Persian Gulf region illustrates the consequencesof vicinal location in an area that the United States has long considered strategic. Iraq was able to take advantage of Kuwait’s military vulnerability and gain a foothold in the political domain of a weaker neighbor. The result-war in the Persian Gulf. Continental versus maritime location must also be considered. The resulting climate and ecosystem are locationbased and can providepotentialsfor, or obstaclesto, economic development and human settlement. Siberia holds a wealth of untapped natural resources for the Soviet Union, but a combination of remoteness and cold make extraction expensive. Location influences a country’s choice of trading partners. Modem land and air transportationnotwithstanding,sea access is an important component of international trade, and is determined by a country’s location. Landlocked countries, restricted in their access to the sea, become victims of location. The Netherlands has a thriving shipping industry because of ports such as Rotterdam, while nearby Luxembourg is removed from the North Sea and must rely upon others to ship its goods. Location also determines a country’s accessibility or isolation. Great Britain will soon feel the effects of a major change in its accessibility. Moodie (1949) referred to the island insularity of Great Britain as a country “of Europe, but not in it.” Now as the completionof the ChannelTunnel draws near, Great Britain will be connectedby land with Europe. For the first time in history, Great Britain will be confronted with economic, social, and cultural implications that heretofore would never have arisen because of its island isolation. Thus, the concepts of size, shape, and location must be examined to gain a full appreciation of geopolitics. Keen insight can be gained into world politics if the observer is schooled in these basic concepts of political geography. Gordon East and J.R.V. Prescott (1978) write that the political geographermust be aware that the size, shape, and location of a state play a very important role in influencing the attitudes of people and the policies that their governmentsdevelop. By drawing conclusions from the physical factors that shape 19
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Objectives 1) Students will be able to define the concepts of size, shape, and location as they relate to geopolitics. 2) Students will be able to list advantages and disadvantages associated with size, shape, and location of political units. 3) Students will use map analysis to compare and contrast real and hypotheticalexamplesby citing circumstances imposed by size, shape, and location of territory.
Figure I .
nation-state policy, the political geographer can evaluate the world more effectively.
Guidelines and Objectives Topic Map analysis of size, shape, and location of territory. Target Audience Secondary level and above. Time Requirement Two to three class periods. Materials Required Student copies of Continent X, Classroom atlases. 20
Suggested Procedure The concepts of size, shape, and location are easily introduced in the geography classroom with the help of mythical ContinentX (Figure 1)and alittle imagination.This lesson can be tailored to work with many age groups (I use it at the 8th grade level) and will accommodate whatever degree of time and depth a teacher desires. Although this activity was developed as an individual assignment, it lends itself well to small group analysis and cooperative learning techniques. Getting students involved with political geography is yet another way to make them more aware of the world around them. The map of Continent X was constructed on an Apple II GS computer with a program called PaintworksPlus. Analternatemap would be easy to construct with any such ‘‘paint’’ program (or teachers can copy the map provided). An appropriate hand drawn map would work also. Continent X is a flexible assignment and can be modified to meet many goals or objectives. A good addition to the map might be lines of latitude and longitude to provide yet another perspective for comparison and analysis. ~
Directions 1) Distribute copies of Continent X (Figure 1). 2) Begin with a general statement instructing students to examine the map in terms of desirable living conditions. Do not specifically tell the students at the outset that they will be analyzing this map in terms of size, shape, and location. 3) Ask students to list advantages and disadvantages of living in each of the five countries on Continent X.
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Note: At this point, student answers will probably focus on the physical features of Continent X-mountains, lakes, rivers, and deserts. 4) Ask students to speculate on the significance of each country’s name (Figure 1). 5 ) Have students write a paragraph answeringthe following question: In which country would you most like to live? Note: Be aware that student choices will often be a matter of perception and circumstance. For example, many students might like to live on an island. Be sure to have them explain and defend their choices. Such reactions can make for lively discussion. 6) Discuss student responses and reactions. With a little prompting, it is likely th& many aspects of size, shape, and location will surface. Problems that occur from fragmentation and elongation will almost certainly be brought up as well. It is important for the teacher to steer the discussion in the desired direction and provide leading questions if students are stymied. 7) Introduce the concepts of size, shape, and location, individually and in more detail, using the map for specific examples. Note: From this general introduction, you can delve into the geopolitical arena as deeply as you like. It is always fascinatinghow easily students grasp this type of analysis and sometimes pursue lines of questioning that you had not even considered. 8 ) Homework Assignment. Using a world map, students should look for examples of countries sharing the same characteristics as those of Continent X. For some classes or students, it might be better to use a map of a single continent such as Europe or Africa. 9) Use the ensuing class period to analyze student responses in terms of political realities that have resulted from the size, shape, and location of these countries. This is a marvelous way to introduce other current event activities. The following list offers examples of countries which could be cited for their particular size, shape, and location characteristics. (Note that countries can be placed on more than one list.) Ask students to give possiblereasons why some of these nations are more politically stable than others. Compact Countries: France, El Salvador, Lesotho, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Uruguay, Zimbabwe. Elongated Countries: Chile,Italy, Norway, Mozambique, Panama, Thailand, Vietnam. Fragmented Countries: Australia, Canada, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, United Kingdom. Island Countries:Cuba, Iceland, Indonesia,Japan, Madagascar, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan. Landlocked Countries: Austria, Bhutan, Central African Republic, Chad, Czechoslovakia, Mali, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Paraguay.
Follow-up Topics Effectof Physical Features The various physical features of Continent X, such as mountains, deserts, and rivers can be examined for positive and JANUARYEEBRUARY
negative political attributes. For example, mountains and deserts act as barriers. River access and water control will be hotly debated because three countries might battle for water rights. Peninsular areas can be considered in terms of real or perceived isolation while coastlines should be examined for potential harbor sites.
Possible Activities Discussion.Discuss the statement,“Ideally, a state should have rugged mountains and hills around its edges and plains in the interior” (Jordan and Rowntree 1990). Jordan and Rowntree cite the town of Berchtesgaden, which is wreathed by the Bavarian Alps, as an example of the political importance of terrain. Protected from invading armies before the development of modem transportation and communication, would such physical features offer political relevance today? Research. Have students research and report on state water rights within the United States and the controversies and/or solutions that have developed. Water claims along the Missouri and Colorado rivers would serve as good illustrations. Map Analysis. Have students examine population distribution maps of Africa, Australia, or any other political region. Ask students to identify physical features which encourage dense populations and those that prove detrimental to human settlement. Enclaves and Exclaves An enclave is defined as a state or territory completely surroundedby another state or territory, but not ruled by it. An example of an enclave is Country D on Continent X. A realworld example is the African nation of Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa. Exclaves are pieces of territory that are separated from the political body that controls it. Country A has an exclave on Continent X. Alaska is an exclave of the United States. Possible Activities Discussion. Direct student attention to Country D, an enclave on Continent X. Discuss the question: What are the positive or negative aspects of Country D’s location? Consider such complexities as defense, trading partners, and movement of goods. Research. Have students research the history of Pakistan, founded in 1947. Students should report on the problems and instability created by East Pakistan, an exclave, located some 1000 miles east of Pakistan. The report could also include the subsequent founding of the country of Bangladesh. Map Analysis. Have students examine world maps and list examples of enclaves and exclaves. Examples of enclaves would include Vatican City and San Marino. Since few enclaves exist in the world, have students reflect on why this might be. Examples of exclaves can be found in the list of fragmented countries. Political Boundaries Boundaries are a part of every political state; however, the 21
nature of those boundaries differs greatly. Boundaries are imposed in many ways and by a variety of circumstances. Natural boundaries (consisting of features of the physical landscape), ethnographic boundaries (based on cultural traits and features), and geometric boundaries (surveyed boundaries often consisting of straight lines) are all examples of politicalboundaries, the effect of which impact the population residing within.
References Carlson, L. 1962. Geography and worldpolitics. Englewood Cliffs,New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. East,G. W., and J.R.V. Prescott. 1978.Ourfiagmented world-An introduction to political geography. London: Macmillan F’ress. Jordan, T. G., and L. Rowntree. 1990. The human mosaic. New York Harper & Row, Publishers. Moodie, A. E. 1949. Geography behind polirics. London: Hutchinson University Library. Stoddard, R. H., D. J. Wishart, and B. W. Blouet. 1989.Human geography-People. places, and cultures. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
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Possible Activities Discussion. Discuss the statement, What problems can develop from the use of rivers as political boundaries? The changing course of the Rio Grande, and thus the United Stated Mexico border, is a good starting point. Research. Have students research the history of colonization in Africa and the effects of political boundaries on the continent. This project could be used in conjunction with the
map exercise below. Map exercise. Have students redraw the map of Africa taking into account ethnic and tribal distributions.