Changing World, Changing Borders

By: Charles Bowen

Pity the poor cartographers. They have got to be wondering if they ought to draw their maps in pencil these days to make it easier for them to erase and alter all those fluid international borders.

It used to be that once a map was made and verified, it probably could be filed away for life. But in recent years, we have watched the picture of the world change many times. The breakup of the old Soviet Union, the sundering and then re-unification of Germany, the upheavals in the Balkans, the political restructuring of Africa and the Middle East — all have resulted in the renaming and redrawing of borders. Paper maps just can’t keep up.

Fortunately, in our world, the World Wide Web can run — and change — at the same dizzying pace as our world itself. And now that the U.S. and the NATO allies have focused the world’s attention on the fight against terrorism all around the world, the need for fast, reliable maps in our newsroom and in our readers’ homes and offices is greater than ever.

So, it is time to take a look at WorldAtlas.com (http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/world.htm), a site operated by Graphic Maps using in-house data, as well as international sources and information from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State Department. Centered in the site’s introductory screen is a hyperlinked world map. Click any continent to begin zeroing in, then select a country from the resulting screen.

The site then displays a summary of the material it has online for that country, including an outline map, a picture of its flag, and a list of particulars, including the name of its capital city, population, dominant religions, language, size and currency, as well as the current time in that country. More importantly, the summary page also includes links to assorted maps available for that country. This could include maps created by the site’s operators as well as those from sources such as the CIA.

You also can locate maps and other atlas material browsing a list of country names. Start by clicking the Find Any Country link on the left column of the site’s main page. On a subsequent page, click the down arrow on the “Find That Country Here” list and select a country from the drop-down menu. Note that on the same page you also can search for an island or a major body of water anywhere in the world. Select either option and the site then displays a huge list of islands or bodies of water, grouped by geography. Click any on the list to see a map and descriptions.

Also in the left column of the main page of the atlas is a link enabling you to look up data on continents of the world and to find national flags.

Other considerations for using WorldAtlas.com in your writing and editing:

1. If you are writing about the site in your news columns, you might want to direct students and other readers to the site’s “The List” feature, which offers a detailed listing of “continents, countries, currencies, dependencies, oceans, territories, major islands, lakes, rivers, seas, mountains, and the highest, lowest, biggest, smallest, tallest, deepest, places on planet earth.” Interesting reading.

2. If you need a quick check of the current time in different parts of the globe, you can use WorldAtlas.com. Visit the site, click the Current Time link in the left-hand column and select a country from the drop-down list at the bottom of the resulting screen.

3. Your readers also may be interested to know that the site offers free clip art that can be used in word processing and on Web sites. Click the “Map Clip Art” link on the right side of the introductory screen. The freebies include illustrations of continents, flags, globes, outline maps, and USA and world images.

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