China: The Largest Migration in Human History

Geography Professor Kam Wing Chan’s work on internal Chinese migration is prominently cited in this week’s Economist article, “The Impact of Chinese Migrati0n: We Like to Move It Move It”.

IF YOU purchased one of the 1.8 billion mobile phones shipped around the world last year, there is a 50% chance it was put together in the Chinese province of Guangdong. There is also a good chance it was not assembled by a native Guangdonger, but by one of the millions of migrants who have left their homes and travelled to the coast to find work. Grinding poverty has long been a cause of migration and was the impetus again after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. The story of migration since then is the story of modern China, as migrant workers have transformed China’s economy.

Kam Wing Chan of the University of Washington has compiled statistics which show that from 1990 to 2005—the most recent period for which reliable statistics are available—there was an overall gross migration across provinces of about 80m migrants (see map). An increasing number also migrate within their own province. All told, some 230m Chinese spend most of the year away from their home town or village. This is almost a third of all people globally estimated by the UN to be migrating within the borders of their own country. Most migrants move in search of work. The number of rural Chinese working away from home is now almost 160m, or 12% of the country’s population. The Chinese government’s population-planning commission forecasts another 100m rural residents could move to cities by 2020. As migration patterns change, though (see article), expect to see rapid social and economic change across inland China

The article also features an animated “videographic” illustrating migration flows.

In addition to Chan’s migration work, his work on the effects of this migration on Chinese economic development has also recently been featured in The Atlantic (Why China’s Migration Isn’t Creating A Middle Class”), and the UW  News & Information website UW Today (“China’s Urbanization Unlikely to Lead to Fast growth of Middle Class”).

Dr. Sarah Elwood Wins Award from Sustainable Seattle!

Congratulations to our own Dr. Sarah Elwood for winning Sustainable Seattle’s annual Innovator in Sustainability award! Dr. Elwood received this award for her university-community partnership work on the uses of GIS in environmental justice and sustainability. More details about the award, as well as Sarah’s work,  can be found here: http://sustainableseattle.org/programs/awards. Congrats Sarah, this honor is much deserved!


The Humanities Are Going Digital & Spatial

Mapping the Salem Witch Trials Benjamin Ray, the director of the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive at the University of Virginia, wondered why witchcraft charges spread so rapidly and widely in 1692, affecting 156 people — 15 times more than in any other incident — across 25 communities in Essex County, Mass. When he plotted the accusations on a digital map that showed their progression over time, it struck him that the way in which they spread mimicked that of a disease. The image at right is a single screen shot taken from an interactive map that traces the sequence of accusations from February through November 1692. It shows the moment at which the accusations began to spread rapidly, when the Rev. George Burroughs was accused on April 20, 1692.

Every day brings increasing proof that the humanities are going digital and spatial.

As today’s NY Times article on digital maps of the Gettysburg battlefield points out, “advanced technology similar to Google Earth, MapQuest and the GPS systems used in millions of cars has made it possible to recreate a vanished landscape. This new generation of digital maps has given rise to an academic field known as spatial humanities. Historians, literary theorists, archaeologists and others are using Geographic Information Systems — software that displays and analyzes information related to a physical location — to re-examine real and fictional places like the villages around Salem, Mass., at the time of the witch trials; the Dust Bowl region devastated during the Great Depression; and the Eastcheap taverns where Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Prince Hal caroused.”

“Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know,” said Anne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It enables you to see patterns and information that are literally invisible.” It adds layers of information to a map that can be added or taken off at will in various combinations; the same location can also be viewed back and forth over time at the click of a mouse.

On another front, David Rumsey, whose collection of more than 150,000 maps is one of the largest private map collections in the United States, recently announced his intention to donate it to the Stanford University Libraries for long-term preservation and scholarly access. With his growing online collection of more than 26,000 maps, available to all in high resolution and with expert cataloging, Rumsey is one of the most visible and important modern distributors of historical treasures for the common good. As Rumsey argued recently in his this week in his keynote address Reading Historical Maps Digitally: How Spatial Technologies Can Enable Close, Distant and Dynamic Interpretations to the Digital Humanities 2011 Conference

Maps are dense, complex information systems arranged spatially. While they share similarities with other visual artifacts, their uniqueness as spatially arranged visual information both allows for and demands special digital approaches to understand and reuse their content. Georeferencing, vectorization, virtual reality, image databases, and GIS-related tools all work to unite our eyes, minds, and computers in new ways that can make historical maps more valuable and accessible to humanists concerned with place and space over time.

Geographic Information Systems Help Scholars See History – NYTimes.com.

“Geography Report Card”: Geographic Knowledge Declining

Winnie Hu’s recent NY Times article, “Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging” (July 20, 2011) laments the fact that fewer than in one in three American students are proficient in geography–to the point where they can’t even identify the American Southwest on a map, according to report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The article is rich in irony, quoting Penn State’s Roger Downs, that “geography’s role in the curriculum is limited, and, at best, static.”

That is ironic given the convincing case that can be made for the importance of geographic literacy,” Mr. Downs said. “But it is doubly ironic given a world in which adults and now children have smartphones and tablets that can download maps on the fly, provide directions to places, and give your location to your friends.

The article also cites the concerns of  David P. Drsicoll, the  National Assessment Governing Board chair:

“Geography is not just about maps,” said Driscoll…who expressed concern that students were not doing better in geography. “It is a rich and varied discipline that, now more than ever, is vital to understanding the connections between our global economy, environment and diverse cultures.”

Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging – NYTimes.com.