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1. Place of the Year 2015: behind the longlist

You don't need to follow the news too closely to know that 2015 has been a roller coaster of a year. Last week we announced our longlist for Place of the Year 2015, but since then some of you have been asking, "why is x included?", or "why is y worth our attention?"

The post Place of the Year 2015: behind the longlist appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. #760 – The Monster Who Ate the State by Chris Browne

The Monster Who Ate the State Written and Illustrated by Chris Browne South Dakota Historical Society Press      9/25/2014 978-0-9860355-9-3 32 pages        Age 5+ “ROAR! Soozy the dinosaur is awake and HUNGRY! “Bang, bang, tap, tap—the scientists at an underground laboratory in South Dakota are busy with their experiments. A creature …

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3. Announcing Place of the Year 2015 longlist: vote for your pick

Today we officially launch our efforts to discover what should be the Place of the Year 2015, coinciding with the publication of the Atlas of the World, 22nd edition--the only atlas that's updated annually to reflect current events and politics.

The post Announcing Place of the Year 2015 longlist: vote for your pick appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. How did life on earth begin?

News broke in July 2015 that the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander had discovered 16 ‘carbon and nitrogen-rich’ organic compounds on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The news sparked renewed debates about whether the ‘prebiotic’ chemicals required for producing amino acids and nucleotides – the essential building blocks of all life forms – may have been delivered to Earth by cometary impacts.

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5. On the unstoppable rise of vineyard geology

The relationship between wine and the vineyard earth has long been held as very special, especially in Europe. Tradition has it that back in the Middle Ages the Burgundian monks tasted the soils in order to gauge which ones would give the best tasting wine, and over the centuries this kind of thinking was to become entrenched. The vines were manifestly taking up water from the soil.

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6. A world with persons but without borders

Robert Hanna presents an argument based on some highly-plausible Kantian metaphysical, moral, political premises, about a huge real-world problem that greatly concerns me: the global refugee crisis, including its current manifestation in Europe.

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7. The lake ecosystems of the Antarctic

Antarctica is a polar desert almost entirely covered by a vast ice sheet up to four km in thickness. The great white continent is a very apt description. The ice-free areas, often referred to as oases, carry obvious life in lakes and occasional small patches of lichen and mosses where there is sufficient seasonal melt water to support them. The majority of ice-free areas lie on the coastal margins of the continent, but there is a large inland ice-free region called the McMurdo Dry Valleys. 

On the face of it Antarctica would appear to offer little in the way of excitement for anyone interested in the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of lakes. However, surprisingly Antarctica possesses the most diverse array of lakes types on the planet. The ice-free areas, which are bare rock, carry freshwater lakes and saline lakes, some as salty as the Dead Sea. Between land and ice shelves there are remarkable so-called epishelf freshwater lakes, that sit on seawater or are connected to the sea by a conduit and are consequently tidal. Underneath the vast ice sheet there are numerous subglacial lakes, around 380 at last count, of which Lakes Vostoc, Whillans, and Ellsworth are the best known. Ice shelves that occur around the edge of the continent overlying the sea, carry shallow lakes and ponds on their surface, and there are lakes on many of the glaciers. Some of these are short-lived and drain through holes called moulins to the glacier base, while others are several thousands of years old.

Antarctic lakes are extreme environments where only the most robust and adaptable organisms survive. Temperatures are always close to freezing and in saline lakes can fall below zero. While there is 24-hour daylight in summer, in winter the sun does not rise above the horizon, so the Sun’s light energy that drives the growth of the phytoplankton through photosynthesis is much lower on an annual basis than at our latitudes. The food webs of these lakes are truncated; there are few zooplankton and no fish. They are systems dominated by microorganisms: microscopic algae, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. All of the lakes apart from the most saline have ice covers, that can be up to five metres thick. Lakes on the coastal margins usually lose part or all of their ice covers for a few weeks each summer, but the inland more southerly lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys have thick perennial ice covers that contain rocks and dust that have blown off the surrounding hills. This ‘dirty’ ice allows very little light to penetrate to the underlying water column, so the photosynthetic organisms that live there are adapted to extreme shade.

Miers Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys area. Photo by Saxphile. CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It would be reasonable to assume that during the austral winter biological processes in lake waters shut down. However, that is not the case; life goes on even in the darkness of winter. Bacteria manage to grow at low temperatures and many of the photosynthetic microorganisms become heterotrophic. They eat bacteria or take up dissolved organic carbon and are described as mixotrophic (meaning mixed nutrition). In this way they can hit the deck running when the short austral summer arrives and they can resume photosynthesis. Even the few crustacean zooplankton stay active in winter and don’t exploit resting eggs or diapause. They are crammed full with fat globules, which together with any food they can exploit takes them through the winter. Their fecundity is very low compared to their temperate relatives, but with no fish predators they can sustain a population.

Shallow lakes and ponds on ice shelves and glaciers freeze to their bases in winter. Thus their biotas have to be able to withstand freezing and in the case of saline ponds, increasing salinity as salts are excluded from the formation of ice.

The most topical and currently exciting lakes are the subglacial lakes kilometres under the ice sheet. These represent the modern age of polar exploration because gaining entry to these lakes presents major logistic challenges. One of the major issues is ensuring that the collected samples are entirely sterile and not contaminated with microorganisms from the surface. Subglacial lakes have been separated from the atmosphere for millions of years and potentially harbour unique microorganisms. In the past few years the US Antarctic programme has successfully penetrated Lake Whillans and demonstrated that it contains a diverse assemblage of Bacteria and Archaea in a chemosynthetically driven ecosystem (Christner et al. 2014). The British attempt to penetrate Lake Ellsworth was unsuccessful, but there are plans to continue the exploration of this lake in the future. In the coming years these extraordinary aquatic ecosystems will reveal more of their secrets.

The delicate surface lake ecosystems of Antarctica appear to respond rapidly to local climatic variations and where there are long-term data sets, as there are for the McMurdo Dry Valleys, to global climatic change. Unlike lakes at lower latitudes they are removed from the direct effects of Man’s activities that have changed catchment hydrology, and imposed industrial and agricultural pollution. Antarctic lakes are subject to the indirect anthropogenic effects of ozone depletion and climate warming. The impact of these factors can be seen without the superimposition of direct man-made effects. Consequently polar lakes, including those in the Arctic, can be regarded as sentinels of climate change.

Headline image credit: Lake Fryxell in the Transantarctic Mountains. Photo by Joe Mastroianni, Antarctic Photo Library, National Science Foundation. CCO via Wikimedia Commons

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8. Holiday traditions from around the world

Here at Oxford University Press, we’re getting ready for the holiday season, and we were inspired by the new, twenty-first edition of the Atlas of the World to explore holiday traditions from around the world, including our 2014 Place of the Year, Scotland. Take a look at the map below to learn and see a little bit about the food, decorations, and other traditions of holiday celebrations taking place around the world at this time of year.

Image credit: Christmas lights on the tree in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC by Jonathan McIntosh. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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9. The Best Nonfiction of 2014

A lot is made of the romance of bookstores. The smell of paper! The joy of discovery! The ancient, cracking leather bindings of books with dated inscriptions! And it's true that bookstores are magical places to browse and linger — just maybe not in the two days before Christmas. Because in the swirling mad hum [...]

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10. Magical Scotland: the Orkneys

The light in the Orkneys is so clear, so bright, so lucid, it feels like you are on top of the world looking though thin clouds into heaven.

It doesn’t even feel part of the UK: when you sail off the edge of Scotland by the Scrabster to Stromness ferry, you feel you are departing the real world to land in a magical realm.

Nowhere else on earth can you go to a place and see eight thousand years of continuous history in such a tiny space.

Skara Brae is what remains of a neolithic village, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids, kept secret underground until uncovered by a severe storm in 1850. You can walk in and sit down, look around at the stone walls, stone beds, stone cupboards, dressers, seats, and storage boxes. Recognizably human people lived here, seeing this same landscape and coast, feeling the same wind on their faces that you do, their eyes resting on the doors, hearths and toilets (one in each dwelling).

This is ‘stone age’ but talking about such ages is a misnomer in the Orkneys where they had no appreciable bronze age nor iron age so proceeded from the non-use of one metal to the non-use of another in what is now the best preserved neolithic site in Europe.

Skara Brae by Russel Wills. CC BY SA 2.0 via Geograph.

The Orkneys have been so fascinating for so long that even the vandalism needs to be preserved. In Maeshowe burial mound you can see where Viking tourists who came to the monument, already ancient by their time, wrote graffiti about their girlfriends on the walls. They wrote in Norse runes.

The Orkney islands were the headquarters of the Viking invasion fleets, and to this day the Orkneys are the only place in the world besides Norway where the Norwegian national day is celebrated.

The islands are filled with Tolkeinesque place names like the Ring of Brodgar, the Brough of Birsay, the Standing Stones of Stenness. Sagas were born here, like that of the peaceable 12th century Earl of Orkney, treacherously assassinated and now known as St Magnus, after whom the cathedral is named.

Sagas were created here in living memory. This is where the British home fleet was at anchor and the German fleet still lies. The battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy transferred in its entirety to Scapa Flow in 1919 to await a decision on its future. The German sailors could not bring themselves to give up their ships; they opened the seacocks and scuttled them all. At low tide you can still see the rusting hulks of Wilhelmine ambitions to dominate Europe.

If the Orkneys sound bleak and rocky, that would be the wrong impression to leave. They have rich and fertile farming land with green plains rolling on under a pearl sky. People tell folk tales around the peat fires, drinking ginger-flavoured whiskey; an orange cat pads around the grain heaps in the Highland Park distillery, and the islands shimmer under the ‘simmer dim’ of nightless summer days. I should be there now.

Headline image credit: Stromness, Orkney Islands by Geoff Wong. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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11. Reflections on the 2014 Scottish independence referendum

Scotland was selected as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year 2014. We invited several experts to comment on the decision and Scotland’s phenomenal year.

Scotland has remained in the media spotlight throughout 2014 for one reason: the referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. This was the most significant event to have taken place in Scotland since the creation of the Union in 1707. But it hardly presented an edifying spectacle to the outside world. Nationalists constantly complained about England, describing every utterance by a Unionist politician as “cack-handed” or “an insult to the people of Scotland”. Celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and J.K. Rowling who publicly backed the Union were subjected to appalling online abuse. Financial projections were produced which might politely be described as misleading. The proposals for an independent Scotland, in preparation since the foundation of the SNP in 1934, were marked by an astonishing lack of detail — voters were not even told what currency the new state was to have. The official Unionist campaign showed a crippling lack of passion; politicians argued for the status quo while pretending not to. Most Westminster MPs, aware of their unpopularity in Scotland, opted to say as little as possible. Three Scottish MPs from the Unionist camp stepped in to fill the vacuum: Jim Murphy, George Galloway, and, very much at the eleventh hour, Gordon Brown. Brown’s passionate speech, the finest of his career, delivered on the day before the vote, left everyone wondering why he had not become involved in the Unionist campaign sooner.

The campaign, indeed, had dragged on for three years. The SNP might have been expected to hold the referendum soon after their election to government in 2011. But the year 2014 appeared propitious: it was the year of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which could be expected to give a boost to nationalist sentiment, and of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, at which the Scots had destroyed an English army of invasion, leaving the way clear for retaliatory Scottish raids on England. In the event, the Games were hailed as a triumph for Scotland, but had no effect on nationalism, while the Bannockburn anniversary was greeted with widespread indifference, with thousands of tickets at the commemorative event remaining unsold. The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, in which Scots and English had fought and died side by side, carried a more meaningful resonance.

When the referendum was finally held, independence was decisively rejected. 1,617,989 Scottish residents voted for independence, out of a voting age population of 4,436,428: that is, 36.47%. The leader of the independence campaign, Alex Salmond, had declared immediately before the vote that the result would settle the matter for a generation; immediately after it, he challenged the result and called for a second referendum to be held as soon as possible. His colleagues in the SNP, meanwhile, floated the idea of a unilateral declaration of independence: the support of a majority of the people of Scotland, not having been forthcoming, was no longer deemed necessary. In the days which followed, the losers formed themselves into a group called “the 45” (44.65 per cent of those who voted had voted for independence). The name “the 45” recalls, of course, the doomed Jacobite rebellion of 1745, in which ordinary Scots were driven by their highland lords into an ill-advised invasion of England, and were roundly defeated, with catastrophic consequences for Scotland.

Sign in Greinetobht in North Uist supporting Scottish independence by John Allan. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph.org.uk.
Sign in Greinetobht in North Uist supporting Scottish independence by John Allan. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph.org.uk.

How does Scotland emerge from all this? The referendum exposed Scotland’s politicians to public view, caused old resentments to be stirred up, and led to the airing of attitudes that would have been better hidden. On the other hand, there was no serious violence and no bloodshed. It is enormously to the credit of the UK government that it permitted such a referendum to be held at all. The UK is now much stronger for having given the nationalists the opportunity to demonstrate that their supporters account for barely more than one in three of the Scottish voting age population.

But what of overseas visitors who may be contemplating a trip to Scotland next year? Do come. Scotland remains a country of unsurpassed natural beauty with a rich and visible history and a warm and welcoming people. By virtue of its membership of the UK, Scotland punches far above its weight in world affairs. Its language is English and its currency remains the pound sterling. The visitor to Scotland will find that there is one particular subject on which its people are united in not wanting to talk about: the 2014 independence referendum.

Headline image: The debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament Building by Colin. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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12. My Librarian is a Camel by Margriet Ruurs

My Librarian is a Camel: how books are brought to children around the world By Margriet Ruurs Boyds Mills Press. 2015 ISBN: 9781590780930 Grades K-12 I went into my local public library and borrowed a copy of this book. In My Librarian is a Camel, author Margriet Ruurs contacted librarians around the world and asked them to share their stories about their efforts to connect books with

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13. Where Do Our Baby Teeth Go? By Vilasinee Bunnag | Book Review

Author Vilasinee Bunnag, along with illustrator Yasmin Doctor, have created a wonderfully interactive picture book, Where Do Our Baby Teeth Go?, to help little ones understand, celebrate, and document this rite of passage.

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14. Food security in the twenty-first century

There are currently about 7 billion people on Earth and by the middle of this century the number will most likely be between 9 and 10 billion. A greater proportion of these people will in real terms be wealthier than they are today and will demand a varied diet requiring greater resources in its production. Increasing demand for food will coincide with supply-side pressures: greater competition for water, land, and energy, and the accelerating effects of climate change.

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15. #708 – National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016 by Nat. Geo Society & Nat. Geo Kids Magazine

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016
National Geographic Society & National Geographic Kids Magazine
National Geographic Society        5/12/2015
352 pages         Age 8—12

“This New York Times bestseller is packed with incredible photos, tons of fun facts, crafts, activities, and fascinating articles about animals, science, nature, technology, and more. New features include a special section on animal friends; an updated “Fun and Games” chapter filled with all-new games, jokes, and comics; a new “Dino Myths Busted” feature; all new weird-but-true facts, crafts, and activities; a new special “15 Facts” feature in every chapter; updated reference material, and much more! And, this is the only kids’ almanac with mobile media features that allow kids to access National Geographic videos, photo galleries, and games.” [publisher]

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016—Wow, where do I start? Color blasts out from every page. The photography is as spectacular as National Geographic photography has always been—brilliant, intimately detailed, knock-you-off-your-feet fantabulous. Divided into ten sections, the Kids Almanac 2016 begins with a section on interesting things happening in 2016, and then it explores the usual topics of history, culture, science, geography, nature, and animals. The almanac also includes a section on green technology and its effect on Earth, and a section about exploration and survival. Most likely, a favorite for kids will be the section on games. Actually, the Kids Almanac 2016 contains a game throughout the entire 350 pages. In each chapter is a clue. Find all ten clues and you can open up digital extras.

dino mythsIn reading the Kids Almanac 2016, I think National Geographic has covered all the subjects kids will find interesting and all those they need to know about. Adults can get a lot out of this almanac as well. There is a tremendous amount of information in this relatively small book. I loved the animal topics, of which there are many. Kids interested in dinosaurs will find a prehistoric timeline, nine “Bet you didn’t know” facts, and myths. Each section ends with a quiz on that section’s subject. When you cannot get to a place, or want to know what is happening in different places around the world, the Kids Almanac 2016 is a tremendous aid. Kids can also dig a little deeper in subjects they love and learn about subjects they never thought about or thought were dull. There is not one tedious word or picture in the Kids Almanac 2016. Here are a few subjects I found to be amazing:

“Secrets of the Blue Holes”
Animal photography and how to get the shot.
“The Wonders of Nature: the Oceans”

Worlds Wackiest Houses”

“Worlds Wackiest Houses”

“16 Cool Facts about Coral Reefs”
The jokes and comics in Fun and Games
Orangutan to the Rescue (Survival Story)”

What would a National Geographic book be without its gorgeous maps? The Kids Almanac 2016 has plenty of maps and flags. I think the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016 is a must read, if not a must have, for kids, especially middle graders who will learn a lot without realizing they are learning. The Kids Almanac 2016 is fun, exciting, and interesting. The pages are colorful, the photographs and images extremely detailed, and the subject matter is diverse.

volcanosThough kids are just now beginning to enjoy their summer school breaks, the Kids Almanac 2016 will keep them reading through the summer, which will help kids during their next school year, make them more informed about their world. Parents concerned about the books their kids read will have not one worry about this almanac. Every word, every subject, and every article is kid-friendly. The National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016 is an interesting read that will keep kids hooked long past summer vacation.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ALMANAC 2016. Text and images copyright © 2015 by National Geographic Society. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, National Geographic Society in partnership with National Geographic Kids Magazine, Washington DC.

Purchase National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016 at AmazonBook DepositoryNational Geographic.

Kids! Join the National Geographic Kids Book Club HERE!
Teachers and Librarians can find additional information at: http://www.ngchildrensbooks.org
National Geographic Educational site is HERE.

Learn more about National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016 HERE.
Check out the National Geographic Society website: http://www.nationalgeographic.com
Find other National Geographic books at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/books
Learn more about the National Geographic Kids Magazine at the website: http://www.kids.nationalgeographic.com

Kids Almanac 2015 
Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved

Review section word count = 496

nat geo kids almanac 2016

Filed under: 5stars, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: and animals, culture, fun, games, geography, going green, history, liss instructive information, maps, National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016, National Geographic Kids Magazine, National Geographic Society, nature, science

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16. Look away now: The prophecies of Nostradamus

If you like your prophecies pin sharp then look away now. The 16th century celebrity seer Nostradamus excelled at the exact opposite, couching his predictions in terms so vague as to be largely meaningless. This has not, however, prevented his soothsayings attracting enormous and unending interest, and his book – Les Propheties – has rarely been out of print since it was first published 460 years ago. Uniquely, for a renaissance augur, the writings of Nostradamus are perhaps as popular today as they were four and a half centuries ago.

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17. India’s foreign policy at a cusp?

Is India’s foreign policy at a cusp? The question is far from trivial. Since assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited well over a dozen countries ranging from India’s immediate neighborhood to places as far as Brazil. Despite this very active foreign policy agenda, not once has he or anyone in his Cabinet ever invoked the term "nonalignment". Nor, for that matter, has he once referred to India’s quest for “strategic autonomy”.

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18. Cecil the lion’s death is part of a much larger problem

Effective wildlife conservation is a challenge worldwide. Only a small percentage of the earth’s surface is park, reserve, or related areas designated for the protection of wild animals, marine life, and plants. Virtually all protected areas are smaller than what conservationists believe is needed to ensure species’ survival, and many of these areas suffer from a shortage of

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19. Windows on the past: how places get their names

Standing underneath the monstrous Soviet statue of “Motherland Calls” looking out over the mighty Volga River, I could understand why the city should have been renamed, rather unimaginatively, Volgograd “City on the Volga”. Between 1925 and 1961 it had been called Stalingrad, and was site of one of the most ferocious battles in the Second World War. By 1925, Josef Stalin was the Communist Party General Secretary, and the trend to rename cities and towns in his honor had begun. Since he had been chairman of the local military committee which had organized the defense of the city in 1919 against the White Russian armies, why not name this city after him? But in the years following his death in 1953, Stalin began to fall from grace and many places named after him were renamed. So what was Stalingrad called before 1925? Tsaritsyn. Something to do with the Tsar, probably, and given this name when it was founded as a fortress in 1589. This is a tempting assumption, but it is an assumption too far; toponymy is prone to such traps. Tsaritsyn is actually a Tatar name meaning “Town on the (River) Tsaritsa” from the Turkic sary su, “Yellow River.” It was given this name because of the golden sands of the Tsaritsa, at the point where it flows into the Volga.

So rivers have played a part in two of Volgograd’s names. Rivers attracted people because they provided fish to eat and water to drink, and facilitated movement and communication. People needed to differentiate between their settlements so they began to give them names: “river” (Rijeka in Croatia), “river mouth” (Dartmouth in England), “fast-flowing” (Bystrytsya in Ukraine and Bystrzyca in Poland), “white water” (Aksu in China, Kazakhstan, and Turkey), the “yellow river” (China).

In due course, something more creative was needed, and somebody trying to curry favor suggested naming their settlement after its leader. Leaders, at all levels, liked this idea and it spread rapidly. It helped to be royal (Victoria appears at least 31 times in 19 different countries), be a person of great power or influence (Washington), someone who had achieved some conspicuous feat (Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut), or explored new territory (Columbus). During the age of colonialism, some senior administrators and generals achieved comparative immortality by having places named or renamed after them, notably in the British Empire (Abbottābād).

A partial view of Aksu Stream nearby Waterfall Kuzalan in Dereli district of Giresun province, Turkey by Zeynel Cebeci. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A partial view of Aksu Stream nearby Waterfall Kuzalan in Dereli district of Giresun province, Turkey by Zeynel Cebeci. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Russian and Soviet leaders were keen to project power or to intimidate. So in 1783, Count Paul Potemkin built a fortress at Vladikavkaz, which he called Vladet’ Kavkazom (“To have command of the Caucasus”). The name is now taken to mean “Ruler of the Caucasus”. In the same way, Vladivostok, also founded as a military post, has the name “Ruler of the East”. Founded in 1818 by the Russians to spread fear amongst the Chechens, Groznyy, capital of Chechnya, was given the name “Awesome” or “Menacing”. As recently as 2008 Vladimir Putin, the present Russian president, conferred the name “Peak of Russian Counter-Intelligence Agents” on a previously unnamed peak in the Caucasus Mountains.

There is no shortage of saints’ or religious leaders’ names throughout the world, particularly in California, Central and South America, and the Caribbean as a result of the earlier Spanish and Portuguese presence. Some may have been founded or sighted on a saint’s feast day (St. Helena), because they were the personal saint of the founder (St. Petersburg in Russia). or because the saint was thought to have been martyred there (St. Albans in England).

Possibly the three most important elements of toponymy are languages — living and dead — history, and geography. Numerous modern names in Europe are derived from their Latin names, since they were within the Roman Empire, and some of these Latin names had Celtic origins (Catterick and Toledo). Many names appear to have barely changed over the centuries (Lincoln and Civitavecchia) and thus their meaning can be deduced with little difficulty. Others, however, might appear to have an obvious meaning, but in tracing their history, it may be found that the origin or present meaning is not as anticipated (New York). It is sometimes the case that the original and modern forms are almost identical, but the meaning of a word has changed. The modern “field” is taken to mean an “enclosed piece of land” whereas the Old English feld meant “open land”. Place names are a window on the past. For example, Scandinavian names in England indicate where the Norwegian and Danish population was concentrated a millennium ago. Birkby, from Bretarby “Village of the Britons”, shows that this was a village inhabited by Britons rather than Anglo-Saxons.

The descriptive element of geography has a role: points of the compass (West Indies, East Anglia), the presence of ports, bridges, or fords (Oxford), the color or shape of a mountain (Rocky Mountains), even market day (Dushanbe “Monday” in Tajikistan).

Toponymy is a bit like astronomy — there is always something more to discover. There is probably no inhabited place on earth without a name. Yet the origin and meaning of some of the best known names are unknown. London is a case in point.

Some places like to draw attention to themselves by having unusual names: Halfway, Scratch Ankle, Truth or Consequences, Tombstone (all in the USA); or by having a name so long that virtually nobody can either remember it or pronounce it. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales has 58 letters, and the Maori name of a hill on the North Island of New Zealand, Taumatawhakatangihangakōauauotamateauripūkakapikimaungahoronukupōkaiwhenuakitanatahu, has 84 letters, the world’s longest place name. Bangkok makes do with Bangkok, but a native of the city might give you its full name, all 60 words of it in English.

Have you voted for Place of the Year 2014? If not, vote now, and follow #POTY2014 to find out which place wins on 1 December.

The Place of the Year 2014 shortlist

Heading image: Monument in Volgograd – Motherland by alex1983. CC0 via Pixabay.

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20. Place of the Year 2014 nominee spotlight: Ukraine

With only one more week left until we announce Place of the Year 2014, we’d like to spotlight another one of the places on our shortlist: Ukraine. The country entered the news early in 2014 when a referendum held in Crimea resulted in the peninsula uniting with Russia. As the twenty-first edition of the Atlas of the World notes, Crimea currently remains under Russian control, though this union is not internationally recognized.

For a little more information about Ukraine, take a look below at the eight facts we compiled about the country’s history, places, and people.

1. According to OxfordDictionaries.com, the origin of the name “Ukraine” is “from Old Russian ukraina ‘border region,’ from u ‘at, beside’ + kraĭ ‘edge, border.’”

2. Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, has been an important settlement since the Middle Ages, when it was the capital of early Slavic civilization, Kievan Rus.

Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, at night. By Anton Molodtsov/Tony Wan Kenobi. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Out of all the countries in Europe, Ukraine is second only to Russia in geographic size, with an area of 233,089 square miles, or 603,700 square kilometers.

4. The most common religion in Ukraine is Ukrainian Orthodox.

Orthodox cathedral in Nova Kakhovka. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

5. An overwhelming 78% of the country’s population is ethnically Ukrainian, with the next largest ethnic group in the country being Russian (17%).

6. Prypiat, Ukraine remains a ghost town to this day as a result of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 that left the city uninhabitable.

Swimming Pool Hall 4 Pripyat by Timm Suess. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Swimming Pool Hall 4 Pripyat by Timm Suess. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

7. Although he is often grouped with Russian authors like Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol was born in Velyki Sorochyntsi, modern-day Ukraine, and is ethnically Ukrainian and Polish.

Nikolai Gogol by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1847. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

8. Ukraine has been independent since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Currently, Ukraine’s government is a multiparty republic, and Petro Poroshenko is president.

Do you think Ukraine should be Place of the Year? Cast your vote!

The Place of the Year 2014 shortlist

Don’t forget to vote and follow along with #POTY2014 until our announcement on 1 December to see which location will join previous Place of the Year winners.

Image credit: Flag of Ukraine by UP9. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. Income inequality in the United States

How has the average American income shifted since the US Census bureau began collecting data in the 1950s? Are median wages rising or falling? Andrew Beveridge, Co-Founder and CEO of census data mapping program Social Explorer, gives us the hard data on income inequality in the United States. In the short video below, Beveridge analyzes decades of income data from the American census to illuminate the factors causing this economic disparity, which has increased significantly over the past four decades. Exploring median average income and wages through time, along with the implications behind these changes, allows for a more complete picture of the increasing wealth gap among modern-day Americans.

Featured image credit: A man sleeping under a luxury condo sign on the street of The Bowery in Manhattan. Photo by David Shankbone. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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22. How has World War I impacted United States immigration trends?

Where did the first Chinatown originate, and how many exist across the country? Where do the majority of the country’s immigrant populations currently reside? Andrew Beveridge, Co-Founder and CEO of census data mapping program Social Explorer, discusses the effects of the First World War on American nativity demographics. Analyzing native and foreign-born populations both during and after the War, particularly around the time of the 1917 Immigration Act, Beveridge shows how you can follow immigration trends over time up to the present day.

Featured image credit: Jacob Lawrence, 1917-2000, Artist (NARA record: 1981548) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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23. Looking back at Scotland in 2014

With the announcement of Scotland as Place of the Year for 2014, we’re looking back at some of the key events that put Scotland in the news this year. News of the Scottish Independence Referendum dominated the headlines, and politicians, economists, and analysts discussed and debated Scotland’s role both in Europe and on the global market. However, a number of other important events also put Scotland in the news this year, including playing host to multiple sporting events, passing a bill that will legalize marriage in December 2014, and seeing the first female First Minister of Scotland take office. Here is a look back at Scotland in 2014, in pictures.

Heading image: Flag of Scotland by Cayetano. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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24. Is your commute normal?

Ever wonder how Americans are getting to work? In this short video, Andrew Beveridge, Co-Founder and CEO of census data mapping program Social Explorer, discusses the demographics of American commuting patterns for workers ages sixteen and above.

Using census survey data from the past five years, Social Explorer allows you to explore different categories of American demographics through time. Here, Beveridge walks viewers through the functionality of the “Transportation” category, revealing the hard truth of Americans’ car dependency, as well as the true scope of the bike-to-work trend gaining speed across college towns and urban areas. Want to see how your travel time stacks up to the rest of the population’s workers? Use the “Travel Time to Work” category to explore other American commuting trends, or explore the various additional categories and surveys Social Explorer has to offer.

Whether it is the speed, assumed efficiency and control, or the status-marker of the automobile that makes it so ubiquitous, the numbers don’t lie – for most Americans, “going green” may be only secondary to “catching green” (lights, that is).

Featured image credit: Charles O’Rear, 1941-, Photographer (NARA record: 3403717) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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25. An excerpt from Scotland: A Very Short Introduction

This is an excerpt from Scotland: A Very Short Introduction by Rab Houston. Although the book was published in 2009, long before the Scottish independence referendum, the thoughts Houston expresses in the conclusion on the future of the country certainly proved relevant in the Scotland of 2014.

What are the implications of the past for Scotland’s future? First, Scots retain a deeply embedded sense of history, albeit a selective one. Like others in the Anglo-Saxon world, they understandably seek identity, empathy, and meaning for their private present by researching family or local history and they want to know about wars and history’s celebrities. They are less interested in the public past that creates the context for the social and political present, including for Scotland a separate national church, a distinctive legal code, and a very different experience of government. This detachment may be linked to any number of factors — a preoccupation with individual personal authority, disenchantment with politics, secularization, and electronic communications — but its effects are clear. Yet Scots still feel themselves touched by history and that awareness is a strong part of their identity. Modern Scotland is solidly grounded on historical foundations and the continuity this provides helps in dealing constructively with change.

One manifestation of the public past is a firm civic sense, which helps Scotland’s communities to score highly in polls of the most desirable places to live in Britain. Coupled with this is the enduring importance of locality and all the variety and the non-national solidarities it implies. An important reason Scottish devolution has worked so well is that historically Scotland had less centralized government than England and there was an effective civil society: precisely those forms of association below and outside the apparatus of the state, such as churches, communities, and families, mediating between public institutions and private lives, which now so concern the modern West. The notion of civil society empowering citizens has appeal both to the New Right and to left-leaning communitarian ideas of voluntary association, because it insists that people cannot have rights without responsibilities and that individualism has to be tempered by acknowledgement of a common good. Based on their historic experience of government, Scots felt that central authority could and should intervene for benign ends, but that most power should be diffused.

This appreciation of civil society is not rose-tinted. Scotland’s history has a dark side of greed, social inequality and injustice, the oppression of women, children, and other races, and bigotry towards different faiths, all repulsive to modern sensibilities. In the present too, there has been sleaze (notably in Labour’s ‘one-party states’ in west-central Scotland), there is a legacy of social conservatism that may encourage ignorance and intolerance, and there are problems of drug and alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour, and crime, like anywhere in Britain. ‘The street’, once indicative of intimacy, has become a by-word for danger. Yet a vivid sense of the past, a firm national identity, and a strong civil society rooted in locality mark out both historic and modern Scotland.

The crowded tenements of Edinburgh’s Old Town by Hansueli Krapf. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

History touches modern politics too, for as well as being Scottish, many Scots also feel British. The most important implication is that Scotland’s near-term future is unlikely to involve shunning community with the rest of Britain, because it has for hundreds of years been locked into a British paradigm. That does not mean Scots are always comfortable with their past or present relations with England, and they have never been slow to speak out when they perceive injustice. Less laudably, they have long played a ‘blame game’ against their neighbours. History shows they have a point, but to be a victim is to deny oneself agency. Better to accept how much has been gained from association with England, to recognize what is shared, to take justified pride in what is good about being different, and to change what is not.

The political implications of Union with England are still being played out three centuries on, albeit in a very different world. The component parts of Great Britain (and Ireland, both before and after independence in 1922) developed separately, but they also progressed together in ways that modified their experiences. In some regards, the parts have grown closer over time, but in important ways they remain different. All modern states are artifacts based on conquest and colonization, and laboriously created national solidarity (including Scottish, English, and British identity). Held together for centuries, the integrity of states everywhere is now maintained only precariously, their sovereignty and supposedly inviolable borders steadily eroded. Easy travel, immigration, trans-national crime, and global terrorism, capitalism, and environmental degradation are challenging and complicating our understandings of geography and politics. After 500 years of multi-national accretion, nation states, including Britain, are crumbling back into their component parts. Founded on centuries of uncertainty, experimentation, and compromise, the relations between Scotland and England remain open-ended.

During that time, Scotland has not been a backward version of England waiting to catch up, but something quite distinct. Politically, Scots have known what it is to be both independent and semi-detached in a way that is less true of Wales (whose institutions, if not its language, culture, and habits, were more completely assimilated) and wholly untrue of English regions since the early Middle Ages. Naturally the past should not determine the future, or we should never have shaken off the multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender. But history can liberate as well as limit and attempts to make a destiny that works with rather than against it are likely to be easier, more successful, and longer lasting. If one day Scotland did take the path of independence, it would be as much in tune with its history as would a future within the United Kingdom.

Image credit: Common Green, or ‘The Green’, Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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