XKCD’s latest comic caught my interest. They decided to round up some random “Americans” and draw a map of the world as they saw it. The map, it turns out, is not so bad:
As a result, I decided I would test my own knowledge by looking for some obvious errors (looking beyond some of the gross simplifications, of course), without looking at Wikipedia or any other source outside my brain. Here goes, feel free to join in;
1) China is the wrong shape, there should be another bit extending up beside the western border of Mongolia.
2) On a related issue, Tibet is actually much further south. the area depicted looks to be a portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (aka Xinjiang), the other part being the missing bit I mentioned above.
3) OK, yes this is a simplification, but they pointed out Ireland without highlighting the region of Northern Ireland (which is actually part of the UK).
4) Hawai’i (and pretty much the entire Pacific Ocean) is omitted, probably because the artist failed to provide space on the paper for it.
5) I think Algeria has a coast, meaning that it would be wrong on this map. Unfortunately, Africa is about as much a black hole for me as it is for these guys, so I can’t be sure on that one.
6) Russia seems a bit too large, maybe some of those borders reflect former Soviet territory that is not part of the Russian Federation. Not entirely sure on this one, though.
… going further would get into nitpicking about regions I know fairly well and redrawing some of the vaguely hashed-out regions, and quibbling about some scale issues (I think Japan’s island chain is longer than that), and a couple nomenclature issues (Taiwan and the Republic of China “complications”, many scholars would have the “Middle East” include more of northern Africa). On my own, I could probably fill in the South American map with a good degree of importance (and maybe a *little* finer detail on language by naming some major American Indian languages), and I would probably be able to hash in several more countries in the other regions, and probably work in several provinces, autonomous regions, and major cities of China. If I blew up the map big I could roughly fill in the autonomous communities of Spain as well, but that’s just going too far for this excercise.
I think the big thing to take away from this would be: Unless you make world maps for a living, you probably can’t possibly draw a perfect map of the world with every country in place. Most of the places I could improve here are regions or countries I have studied fairly in-depth and/or travelled to. All told it seems that at least this group of Americans, as XKCD mentioned, is pretty good at world geography, coming right off the top of their heads. That said, feel free to geek out explaining how they totally screwed up your favorite country/region 😛