Crimea Is Causing a Minor Crisis for Cartographers

How should maps refer to disputed territories?

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Reuters

The Russian annexation of Crimea puts cartographers worldwide in a bit of a pickle: how do maps refer to disputed territories? There are no clear rules devoted to the issue, and so each mapmaker is left to decide for himself.

Online mapping tools from Google and Bing, as well as Mapquest, all list Crimea as a part of Ukraine. Wikipedia’s community is embroiled in a fierce debate over whether or not to recognize Russia’s annexation of the region.

National Geographic has not yet reached a decision on the matter, and is waiting for annexation to be formally approved. They said in a statement:

Most political boundaries depicted in our maps and atlases are stable and uncontested. Those that are disputed receive special treatment and are shaded gray as “Areas of Special Status,” with accompanying explanatory text.

In the case of Crimea, if it is formally annexed by Russia, it would be shaded gray and its administrative center, Simferopol’, would be designated by a special symbol. When a region is contested, it is our policy to reflect that status in our maps. This does not suggest recognition of the legitimacy of the situation.

Rand McNally, on the other hand, takes its mapping data from the State Department, and so will leave its data as it currently stands. It could be a long time before the U.S. formally recognizes Russia’s takeover.

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About the Author

  • Brian Feldman writes for The Atlantic Wire.