History of Religion by MapsofWar.com

A reader emailed me MapsofWar.com and I was intrigued. But the mystery only starts with the amazing visuals spanning 5,000 years of religion or imperialism.

Many clients I work with ask me to visually simplify complex problems and we use various techniques to deliver stunning solutions. Maps of War has used history as the backdrop for an artist who’s medium is Flash and large data sets. Techlife interviewed the creator and artist of Maps of War, who wished to remain anonymous.

Techlife: MoW is a dynamic project, why did you create the first MoW? Which one is it?

Maps of War: The first map was Imperial History of the Middle East. This map was the original idea I wanted to share with everyone, and the overall site was created to showcase it.

Imperial History by MapsofWar.com

TL: After you created the first one did you post it right away? Anonymously?

MoW: After I created Imperial History, I created the www.mapsofwar.com website as a platform to showcase my map. Maps-of-War was originally just one long webpage, similar to a blog. As I added more maps, it grew into a much fuller website.

TL: It seems you are an advertising driven right now? What kind of traffic numbers are you seeing?

MoW: It also requires a little out-of-pocket money to pay for the costs of keeping the website operational (hosting, email newsletters, list management, etc.). Google Adsense advertisements, the ads you see on the site, help offset some of these costs. Maps-of-War gets thousands of visitors each day – mostly from the United States, but also from countries such as China, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

TL: Are you making Starbucks, Pizza, or iPod money yet?

MoW: Yes, Google Adsense advertisements help pay for the website hosting, email newsletters, list management, and other costs of keeping Maps-of-War running. Most recently, I’m accepting donations to help pay for the site. The most expensive component is keeping the email-list membership running.

TL: How can a teacher of history in school feel confident your data is accurate when they don’t even know you?

MoW: All of the maps on my site recreate great swaths of history in an oversimplified format. While there may be inconsistencies in dates or the nuances of border illustrations, no one can dispute the fact that the Ottoman Empire existed sometime between the Fall of Rome and the end of the First World War, or that Islam did not expand to include parts of India. My maps may be brief, but they are accurate. History is only as perfect as the historians who record it. (Editor’s note: Some maps have a “Revisions” section, to keep things as fact oriented as possible.)

TL: Would you suggest these maps be used in any lesson plans?

MoW: Yes, and they have been. I’ve received numerous praise from educators and faith-based professionals who use my maps in their classrooms and churches. Yahoo had a great quote about my site,

As long as we can remember, learning history was a linear affair, with static timelines and too much about “great men.” If we were bored high-school students again, sites like Maps of War would have us sitting up straight and waving our hands. Using simple, effective animation and infographics, this site illustrates history’s moving parts, revealing how chronology and geography affect the state of war and disputes.

TL: You mention this is an artist’s site. But it also is an educational site, so while you take an artistic approach are your data collection methods as accurate as possible? Where do you source your data? Pick a map as an example.

MoW: The sources for “March of Democracy” were taken from graphics, statistics, and reports compiled by Freedom House, the book The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century by Samuel Huntington, the US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and broad-based online sources (such as Wikipedia).

TL: How do you decide where to look next for your MoW?

MoW: I am inspired by current events. My newest map, “March of Democracy,” addresses the different forms of government that have occurred across history with a special focus on democracy.

TL: What links on your library page or otherwise inspire you?

MoW: “Iraq War Coalition Fatalities” created by Tim Obleek is particularly deep if you consider that each point represents the end of a human life, an American life. That map is very personal for me. As an American, the war is personal for me as it should be for every citizen of a democracy. I have friends and colleagues overseas.

TL: What has been the hardest MoW in terms of data collection? In terms of animation?

MoW: The hardest map was American Leadership and War. I think I tried to do too much at once, but I am proud of how complex and interactive it is. I can think of no other database or resource where you can visually compare the death toll of each American war, and then sort your results by president or political party.

TL: Have you considered any other data visualization projects?

MoW: I am more graphic-design oriented, and the data-heavy projects tend to be more controversial. Data can be disputed, overall historical concepts cannot.

TL: While you can’t reveal your name, can you tell us anything about yourself? Work, family, age, education, area of the country?

MoW: An American citizen is all that I claim to be. In terms of credentials, I hold a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and am professionally employed in the field of International Affairs. However, I believe my work should speak for itself.

TL: If someone hires you, are willing to make animations for any data set? Have you? Any you can share?

MoW: A custom version of Imperial History of the Middle East was created for the San Diego Natural History Museum for an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

TL: Are you a news junkie? What are the best news sites an American should read in your opinion to get a global perspective?

MoW: I read more than ten news sites from around the world every day. I love the news. Some I read are blog.foreignpolicy.com, realclearpolitics.com , and the blog known as The Belmont Club. For mainstream news, washingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, and news.bbc.co.uk are the best.

TL: Are you a data junkie?

MoW: Somewhat. I am intrigued by statistics, but it is easy to be overwhelmed by data and it can too easily be manipulated.

TL: What does the future hold for MoW?

MoW: As long as I am inspired, I will continue to create new maps.

TL: What’s the next MoW you are considering?

MoW: My newest map, “March of Democracy,” addresses the different forms of government that have occurred across history with a special focus on democracy.

TL: Have you gotten any great fan mail?

MoW: Yes! One fan, a musician, David Daisley, used Imperial History as a backdrop in his rock concert, for the sone “Is this how far we’ve come”.

TL: Have you gotten any hate mail?

MoW: Lots. History is very controversial. Strangely, many people seem to be upset that I didn’t include Zoroastrianism in the History of Religion map. The map had a very specific focus on modern-era religions and including that particular faith while neglecting so many others didn’t seem appropriate.

TL: Have your animations been used on tv, video podcasts, other? If so, where?

MoW: Boston Globe and Al Jazeera are the two most notable mainstream media outlets who have reproduced by content. Mostly bloggers, however, use my maps. I do not track who uses my maps, I just post them in many formats on the site so that everyone can download, use, or reproduce them. I’m big on sharing.

TL: What do you want the average user to take away from Maps of War?

MoW: When you see our world evolve, remember that history plays itself out in centuries, not years. Humanity’s story – our story – is simple. We grow, we live, we fight, we make peace. In the end, the religions, nations, and empires we create are just names and titles, nothing more. It is us and our ideas that last.

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