Fragile/Failed States Map

By: Sam Hyson and Evan Palmberg

The Failed States Index map was first created in 2005 by the combination of the think tank Fund for Peace and the magazine Foreign Policy. The name was changed from the Failed States Index to Fragile States Index in 2014. The goal of the map is to assess a country’s vulnerability to collapsing. The map has been interactive in the past few years and contains an accompanying article with descriptions about why countries has changed in the rankings and what has caused these changes.

Links to 2016 and 2017 maps:



In general, Scandinavian countries rank among least fragile states, along with countries like Canada and Australia. On the other end of the spectrum, the most fragile states often come from Eastern and Central Africa, as well as the Middle East. All of the countries are ranked on a scale from 0-120, with 120 being the maximum level of fragile a country can be. This 120 scale comes from a series of 12 indicators ranked out of 10, separated into three categories: social indicators, economic indicators, and political indicators.

While this map seem mathematical-based and unbiased, that is not the case. Since this map has been made by American companies, it has received critique for being biased, having flawed metrics, and failing to predict important events. Looking through the various years of maps, the argument can be made that these rankings are nicer to American allies, and more critical of America’s enemies, like North Korea. Additionally, this map does not reflect certain parts of countries that are either better or worse then the ranking for the entire country.

This map also brings up the discussion of what it means for a country to be a “failed” state.  By calling a country a “failed” or “fragile” state, this may mislead policymakers to want to intervene in the country and help, when this may not always been necessary or the best course of action. Similarly, titling a country as “failed” presents a negative connotation to the rest of the world. This may have been part of the reason for the decision to change the name of the map. Calling a state “failed” creates the idea that a state is beyond saving, and there is nothing that can be done. Meanwhile, “fragile” causes people to think that there is still some hope for the country, but it needs to be done quick because the country is very susceptible to failing. This was a very important change that will hopefully lead to countries being further up the fragile states scale. While this map may seem simple at first, the connotation in its title and American bias that is presented creates critique about the Fragile States Index.

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Atlas of the Week

For my atlas of the week, I had chosen a pretty rudimentary world atlas at first glance.  However, upon closer consideration, you see that this atlas is a completely interactive experience, allowing viewers to use feature such as: population, hemispheres, oceans, distances, and many others.  This gives the viewer a whole slew of information about the world they live in.

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Blog of The Week

In this blog, the curator breaks down the Library of Congress’s map depicting the route that Lewis and Clark would have taken in terms of maneuvering the Mississippi River.  The original map was created by Nicolas de Finiels.  The blog goes into the detail and process of making this map.

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North Korean Prison Camps Map

By: Katherine Queally and Morgan Tolan

Google Earth was released in June of  2001. It is an interactive computer program that uses satellite images, aerial photography and GIS data to create a 3D world that viewers can explore. People use it to look at places they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. This map was very different than the traditional maps we’ve been studying because it is more technologically advanced and interactive. It shows how cartography has greatly changed over time with all the technological advances that have come out. The projection, in this particular image,  is limited because a specific location is being focused on. The map and Google Earth itself is very transparent, not much can be hidden. This is concerning for many people because it brings up privacy issues. People are not warned when photos for Google Earth are being taken, so different aspects of their lives can be exposed that they may not want exposed. There is a surplus of information available to the public and it can be used in the wrong way. For example, entries to houses are exposed which can lead to robberies. The surplus of information can also lead to terrorist attacks because it makes it easier for terrorists to plan with such a realistic, detailed map available to them.  


The technology used by Google Earth allow for the maps to use realistic colors, showing a particular area in the same colors that it appears in real life, making the maps seem like an unbiased replication of reality. However, as we have learned in this course, all maps have bias’.  Google Earth being an American based company, takes on a very pro-America bias. This bias is illustrated through the different ways that Google Earth shows North Korean prison camps and American military bases. Google Earth has clear pictures of the prison camps while they take the liberty of blurring out the American military bases. This strategic blurring (or not blurring as is the case with the North Korean prison camps) shows Google Earth’s bias towards American protection. While this bias is not a particularly negative one, as it allows for greater security of the American people, all viewers and users of Google Earth maps should be aware of the hidden bias that these maps contain.

At the beginning of our presentation, we asked the class to view their town (or an area that they are familiar with) on Google Earth. We then asked them to reflect on what they saw, specifically looking to see their thoughts on the invasiveness of the maps. We found that the majority of our classmates thought that Google Earth was not too invasive, they were more intrigued with the quality of the images. People noted that the maps offer an interesting perspective and allow for navigation around a specific area. We then presented photos of the North Korean prison camps (the photo at the top of the post). People began ask questions regarding the legality of the maps, wondering how we could see a section of the world that we can not physically visit. We discussed how google Earth is a private company, which gives them a little more wiggle room as to what they can and cannot do. Throughout our discussion our conversation with the class was mostly focused on the invasiveness of Google Earth, as it pertains to our own individual lives (our homes) and our greater protection as American citizens.


This map and Google Earth in general, are particularly important in that they show how cartography has changed as technology improves. This transformation of cartography has created maps that the audience can interact with to explore new areas of the world. In conclusion, Google Earth uses satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS data to create  powerful maps that both increase our knowledge of our world and allow for the exploration of areas that we can not visit in person.

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The Nuclear Map Presentation

In 1981, English cartographers Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal published “The State of the World Atlas”. The atlas was composed of zealous, vibrantly colorful maps that highlighted an array of international affairs by translating economic, political, and social indicators into visual form. Among these maps was the “Nuclear Club” map. The “Nuclear Club” was intended to generate support against the Cold War and paint a cynical image of the United States and Russia.

First, the map is titled the “Nuclear Club” because it divides nations into those who have nuclear powers, those capable of having nuclear powers and those who do not have nuclear powers. Countries with nuclear powers are symbolized by a harsh, dark tone of red, while countries without nuclear powers are symbolized by a dark tone of gray. For the countries with nuclear powers, their militaristic powers are symbolized by icons of missiles, planes and submarines. Further, the spatial projection of this map shows viewers that Europe is geographically caught in between the United States and Russia, thus caught in between nuclear war if the Cold War were to escalate. By using phrases such as “kill capacity” and “kill zone” the map becomes more radical, and, in turn, plays to the audience’s emotions during a time of fear and crisis. In essence, the projection, harsh colors, militaristic icons and warlike language are intended to evoke fear in viewers, specifically European viewers, so that they are swayed against the Cold War and mass weapon stockpiling.

William Roberts and Ellie Ronan

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Team Map Presentation: The Nuclear Club

The “Nuclear Club” map was released as a part of the 1981 “State of the World Atlas” by Michael Kidron and Ronald Segal. Published by the Pluto Press – a radical leftist group based out of London – this atlas features a myriad of fanatical maps. The map doesn’t attempt to hide its strong anti-American bias, and could have possibly been designed in protest of the then-recent election of conservative Ronald Reagan to the presidency. The stiffly anti-nuclear stance taken by the Pluto Press was ridiculed at the time of publication, but grew to be the mainstream position overtime.

The map itself divides the countries of the world into those who have manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon (i.e. members of the ‘nuclear club’), those that are able to or soon will be able to, those that are suspected to have the capacity, and those that are unlikely to before 2000. Countries that are part of the ‘nuclear club’ have their nuclear arsenals depicted in large black symbology that seems to almost comically spill over the boundaries of the states. An inset at the bottom of the map entitled “Kill Capacity” visualizes the explosive radius of the ‘Little Boy’ dropped on Hiroshima, current American ICBMs, and projected American ICBMs for the mid-1980s. Interestingly no mention of Soviet weapons is made here, despite the fact that the USSR detonated the Tsar Bomba over two decades before the publication of this map, and it remains to this day the largest explosion ever recorded. The map also places an unconventional emphasis on Europe by enlarging the continent with an inset in the dead center of the layout. This serves to only elevate European nations onto the same geopolitical stage as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., but it also conveys the notion that any missile launched by the Americans or the Soviets would have to travel over Europe. Finally, the map’s projection of Siberia and Alaska is problematic because it artificially enlarges the space between them. The Bering Strait is made to be roughly the size of a sea and the Aleutian Islands are simply not included on the map. This strange method of depicting the spatial placement of the U.S. and U.S.S.R.’s extreme boundaries again serves to elevate Europe’s centrality in the nuclear conflict by essentially eliminating the possibility of sending missiles over the Pacific.

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Map Presentation: Lunar Wall Mosaic

The Lunar Wall Mosaic was created in 1962. This map shows the moon’s surface, which represents different craters and mountains. After examination of this map, most people would not be interested because it is hard to understand the main idea of it or see specific locations on the moon. Map was made specifically for astronauts to land on the moon, they needed to know exact details of the surface such as its slope and composition. Which are labeled at the bottom of the map, but the important fact of this map is its actual creation not its presentation. Lunar mapping gave people an opportunity to visit and study the moon. This map also represents a political situation between United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The two powerhouses at the time that were interested in lunar maps the most during that time were the United States and the Soviet Union. These two countries were engaged in so called “Space Race” where they competed to explore space in that way showing their power. As a result, the ability to map the moon carried political background. By mapping the moon U.S and USSR demonstrated the ability of organizing their resources and power. Because these two countries were involved in the Cold War, lunar mapping became a form of some sort of mental war. These countries wanted to show their power and be one step ahead in education and knowledge of the moon.

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Team Map Presentation: Failed/Fragile States Index Map

The Failed States Index Map is a collection of maps produced annually since 2005 by Fund for Peace, an independent nonprofit research organization based in Washington DC. Fund for Peace uses 12 indicators such as security apparatus and state legitimacy to determine the stability of countries, in order to fulfill its goal of preventing violent conflict and promoting sustainable security. The maps are published by Foreign Policy magazine. For our presentation, we compared the 2006 map and the 2016 map, to see the evolution of countries and compare them to others in the region.

Produced in the post-9/11 era, both maps emphasize the growing concern of security and stability. These maps reflect an interconnected world marked by globalization and reiterate how the state of one nation can dramatically affect others.

Consistent with the idea that every map has a purpose no matter how neutral it seems, the Failed States Index Maps use a scientific projection in order to appear credible and legitimate. With Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine being American organizations, the maps perpetuate the idea of US superiority as America is giving itself the authority to define what nations are considered failed. Despite the organization’s use of a standardized system for establishing what makes a failed state, there is always someone deciding what each country gets as a score, further proving that every map has a bias. A significant portion of the class discussion arose from the definition of a ‘failed’ state.

In our presentation, we asked vital questions like “why did the cartographers change the name from failed states to fragile states,” and “how does the definition of country borders affect a state’s status.” In doing this we aimed to progress the idea of perspective, as different nations hold different views on the global politics that influence modern day cartography and this map in particular. With modern maps like these, keeping a neutral stance is important to avoid alienating readers and forcing nations to censor the presented information. However, we believe it is important to draw distinctions between the different ratings (i.e. fragile states vs. HDI) in order to better establish what the fragile states map really represents in a country.

We also used the interactive feature of the maps by having classmates test their assumptions of failed states while exploring the index. The way that their perceptions aligned and contrasted with the map reinforced the idea of maps as a social construct, as maps have the ability to influence opinion.

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Team Map Presentation: USAF Lunar Wall Mosaic

This map was created in 1962 by the Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center to aid with NASA projects like Apollo 11. At first glance, this map may seem devoid of useful information, however, the highlight of this map is the accuracy to which the topography is mapped. The location of craters, latitude and longitude, and other points of interest all serve a very specific purpose. Mapping the moon proved to be quite difficult for these cartographers however, because it had never been mapped in its entirety before, and because so much new information had to be gathered, such as calculating the equator and finding “sea level”. Unmanned spacecraft called Lunar Orbiters were sent into orbit around the moon to collect information and to take photographs, which served as the basis for this map. Such a detailed and accurate map of the moon was needed in order for NASA projects like Apollo 11 to succeed. Astronauts needed to know the exact topography of the moon in order to ensure a successful landing.

This map was created during the heart of the Space Race, a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to be the first country into space and subsequently to the moon. American cartographers were in a race to collect data as well, since this information was needed in order to put a man on the moon. This map is a representation of the competition between the two super powers to collect information necessary for the success of space projects.

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Map of the Week: International Drug Addiction

Image result for map of international drug addictionThe World High 

The World Drug Report estimated that in a given year, 250,000,000 people, that’s a quarter of a billion, used drugs.  Of those people using, it wasn’t all medicinal, it wasn’t all recreational, and it wasn’t all abuse and addiction.  Along with this combination of different types of categories drug taking falls into, comes the different categories of drugs: methamphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, opiates, etc. all played a role in this number.  That being said, in 2008 the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime decided it was best to break down what drugs were affecting what areas of the world in terms of usage and prevalence from region to region.  Drug addiction and usage is a terrible thing in the world, but it is fair to say that some drugs are much more dangerous than others, and so mapping what drugs are being used where, the map is able to serve as a rubric for what areas are in need of the most reform in terms of drug laws.       

An ever growing topic of debate, whether you love it or hate or are undecided on the subject, the spread of drugs throughout the world grows exponentially as technology and laws change over time.  In today’s world, there are recreational and medicinal drugs ranging from common household items such as aspirin to heavy hitting heroin and methamphetamines.  Along with the growth of drug use and drug trade comes rather naturally the abuse and problems of that said drug.  As this map suggests, it shows the prevalence of the main problem drugs corresponding to the continents of the earth.  Asia’s and Europe’s is opiates, a sedative like drug akin to morphine derived from opium.  Africa’s and Oceania’s is cannabis, which falls under the category of a psychotropic drug.  South America deals with the cocaine based drugs which act as anesthetics, similar to opiates.  North America as well as some part of South America is striped with cocaine and cannabis to show that there is a prevalence for problems with both of those drugs in the region. With differing regions and areas came changing percentages of what drugs are deemed as problems.

One look at this map and the mind is bombarded with thoughts that everyone in that region is high off of the said drug with the highest percentage.  This map in turn makes the entire world look like one sleazy back alley club where morals are through the floor and drugs flow like a river, but that’s not the case.  The map is to show what drug is use the most, among drug users.  Not everyone in the pie charts have drug addictions, not everyone on the pie charts are high school dropout nobodies.  The map is mapping out popular drugs by percentages around the world and what causes one area of the globe to have an abundance more of a certain drug compared to another area are fluency, availability, pop culture, and laws.

Humans have a tendency to want to do something more when they are told no (just look at the story of Adam and Eve), so if “the man” tells you not to take a drug, the odds of people wanting to take that drug more skyrocket.  An increase in laws preventing certain  drugs from being consumed can lead to both an increase in addiction but as well as the pricing of the drug and its availability.  With cannabis being legalized by more states in The United States, the black market price for weed as plummeted since the only thing keeping the prices high were all caused by the danger of the production and selling of it.  The stricter laws there are in an area for a certain drug, the higher the danger and in turn the higher price for that drug.  Fewer people want to buy it in a smaller amount which can all lead to a scale down of addiction and users.  Now, since every drug is different and should be handled as so, a drug such as cannabis that is being welcomed into the ever changing world is a drug that wouldn’t need a strong control since theoretically it is a less dangerous drug than some of the drugs on the list (there have been no confirmed deaths from cannabis use).  Drug laws and drug use are all subject to their own change since they are all different.    

Popular culture has always been a hub for drugs.  Whether it be Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa smoking joints on stage at their concerts or Prince overdosing on Fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid, the music industry has seen its fair share of drug users.  What drugs are used as muses in music pieces add to what drugs are popular concerning pop culture.  It was once “cool” to smoke cigarettes and now there is an all out war being waged on big tobacco companies because times, ideas, and yes, pop culture, have changed.  Will it eventually be deemed “cool” to do heroin or smoke weed or snort a line of cocaine, maybe, but that’s only if the media puts a positive and glamorous spin on the drugs.  Take a look at North America on this map for example, where it seems like every day there’s a new rap song about smoking weed or casually doing cocaine with friends, the drugs most prevalent to that area and the culture.  The map is able to be used to break down what regions use what drugs, and that could then serve as to what is popular or cool to do there.      

The UNODC aimed to raise awareness of problematic drugs in areas in order to spur ideas of how to fix those problematic drugs and why they are problematic there. When looking at the map, the map creator divides it up into the main continents of the world, classifying the problems in percentages of the continents.  Pie charts are thrown in to make the reading off the map more quantitative to the reader.  In doing this however, the mind of the reader is to think it’s 30% of the population, and not drug users, making them fear that everyone around them is using the drug, a scare tactic to goad people into wanting the expungement of the problematic drug.  Another awareness tactic that is applied in this map that would make a chart less effective is the reader’s ability to pick out exactly where they live and see what drug is problematic there.  Seeing the borders of your country and having meth be the problematic drug is pretty scary if you’ve never encountered it yourself as compared to just seeing a bar that says “Europe” because you don’t associate that bar on a bar graph with your area, just “the other parts of Europe.”

Some countries may be exempt from the problem drug and what percentage they carry of drug users on that continent.  This is where legality comes into play because a certain drug might not be as readily available in one place so a different drug is abused, but they are still grouped into the overall continental problem drug. For example, Sweden is colored blue instead of purple to show that they deal with amphetamine type stimulants rather than the opiates that plague the rest of Europe for one reason or another.  

In terms of choosing coloring for the percentages, the map maker most likely chose the color closely related to that drug.  Opium is originally a reddish brown before it is synthesized into opiates, so a maroon pink color suited.  Cannabis mainly has a light green hue, so a mustard color is used.  Before cocaine is turned into the white powder everyone is accustomed to, it started out as leaves of the coca plant which are a faded green, so a faded green color was chosen.  Most of the amphetamine drugs used in today’s world come in forms of small tabs, often of a blue color, or a generic pill with one side clear so you can see the drug inside with the other being a solid color, mainly blue.  

It’s no argument that there’s a drug problem in the world.  This map aims to put a number to those drug problems.  Not all drugs are harmful, if used correctly.  Some drugs mapped out on this map have a great future in the medical if they are used properly, but putting a stop to drug problems and drug addiction can’t be put in effect without knowing exactly where and what drugs are doing the harm.  Thanks to the UNODC, we know just exactly what drugs we are fighting.    


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