The Age of Borders

Lea Bernier-Coffineau

Since I have chosen a decolonial approach to the mapping of the global phenomenon of encampment, I picked a map designed in 2018 by Redditor (user of the platform Reddit) PissGuri82 -“The Age of Borders: When were the world’s current borders first defined?”- and featured in the Decolonial Atlas’ collection.

After investigating the archives of their Reddit profile, I was able to learn a bit more about the person hiding behind the pseudonym: they, a former graphic designer, are a librarian at the National Library of Norway, and regularly scan ancient maps found at their job to share them, along with their own creations, on Reddit. Among them one can find the map of independence referendums, the map of current governments in exile, or the map of countries that have changed their name

“The Age of Borders” map is the result of impressive, extensive archival work. The author has researched the date of “founding” of each current state border around the world. They openly assume any possible mistake or imprecision, and explain that their only purpose with this project is to show “how the concept of modern borders has spread throughout the world.” As I am myself working on an educational tool aiming at denaturalizing borders, I can only appreciate PisseGuri82’s undertaking. However I cannot refrain from spotting strange “categories of knowledge” in the map’s legend, as well as “unexamined ways of thinking” that could improve the quality and efficiency (towards its purpose: education) of the mapping project.

 The author’s point is made very clear: most borders have been established in the last 150 years. They use three different infographic features to heavily insist on this: the original “Border age by period” graphics showing that 77% of borders have been established since 1875; the “Average border age by region” map on the left of the poster; and the “Borders younger than 100 years (33,6%)” map on the right. Unfortunately, these features are flawed and misleading. The graphic doesn’t display the number of borders established per 25 years, but the number of kilometers of borders established per 25 years. The “Average border age by region” map is also quite confusing: the median is a more accurate value than the average if the data distribution is extreme. In this case, the average might help the author to make their point but doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of border age by region. Finally, the “Borders younger than 100 years (33,6%)” map is based on the amount of kilometers officially established and repeats the deception reviewed earlier in the “Border age by period” graphics. 

One other major flaw of this map is that it only focuses on land borders and supposes that water constitutes the border of states surrounded or partially bordered by oceans and seas. Unfortunately, the reality of things is not so simple and the question of maritime borders takes on even bigger importance when we know they are responsible for killing thousands of migrants each year, particularly in the Caribbean (e.g. between Venezuela and Trinidad), the Indian Ocean (e.g. between Mayotte and the Comoros), and the Mediterranean sea (e.g. between Tunisia and Italy, between Turkey and Greece). 

The legend of the map is another problematic point. What are those “originally internal borders” that we can see particularly in Eastern Europe and Africa? When does “originally” refer to? Does it mean that there are original and non original borders? The author has also chosen to show “defunct sections” of older borders. But why have they decided to show these ones and not others? Where are the borders of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish Empire? Older borders can tell us so much about the geopolitics of the contemporary world. PisseGuri82 also represented sections of “officially undefined borders,” which makes me ask, official for whom? undefined for whom? Often, Cyprus is represented divided in two by a border because the northern half of the island has been occupied and claimed by Turkey since 1974, following a war between Greece and Turkey for the territory. On this map, it is not. Following the same reasoning, Tibet doesn’t appear on this map: does it mean that the author supports its annexation by China? And finally, my favorite, “disputed borders.” Which border is not disputed? 

Because PisseGuri82 directed their attention to the “founding date” of borders, I cannot help but ask, founded by whom? Are all of these borders recognized by the concerned populations? Who decided to trace these borders? Why and how? The author has made an attempt to offer some context around the establishment of some borders. But if this map is to be called decolonial, this context should be offered for each of the borders represented on the map. A digital and interactive display would allow us to click on each of the border segments to make a “history bubble” pop up.

My prototype uses this digital and interactive approach to the phenomenon of encampment. It mainly relies on a layering feature that allows us to better understand connections between camps and borders, borders and ethnicities, ethnicities and crises, crises and camps, and so on… The user would be able to play with those layers to understand the relationships between different types of crises and learn by themselves. Each layer would have a specific legend attached. It would also be possible to hover above a camp, a border, a crisis to learn more about the context that led to the current situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *