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Where We're Obsessed With Zombies

And what this says about the geography of the web.

Mark Marek Photography

Our favorite geographers behind the Floating Sheep blog have done some pretty sober work mapping the digital geographies of racism, conflict, and inequality. For a while now, though, they've also been at work on a slightly lighter project that seems fitting for a sweltering Friday afternoon (it is sweltering in Washington, and so we assume it is sweltering everywhere). At the intersection of the Internet and the real world, they've also been mapping zombies.

Because, well, "looking for and mapping geo-coded references to zombies on the web provides insight on the memes, mechanisms and the macabre of the modern world."

Mark Graham, Taylor Shelton and Matthew Zook have contributed a chapter on the topic to a new book of academic essays about zombies (or zombie-themed metaphors that explain the current state of academia). By querying all of the geographic information indexed by Google for zombie-themed keywords, they've actually plotted the physical places with the largest number of such geo-tagged hits.

These are references, for example, to places that host annual "zombie walks" (like the one in the photo above), places to buy a zombie Halloween costumes, or even, as the authors write, "perceived sightings of the undead."

To the maps!

Graham, M., Shelton, T., and Zook, M. 2013. Mapping Zombies: A Guide for Pre-Apocalyptic Analysis and Post-Apocalyptic Survival. In Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education. Eds. Whelan, A., Walker, R., and Moore, C. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

On that map, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London contain the largest number of geo-tagged zombie references. Curiously, the neighborhood of Jamaica in Queens, New York City has the highest concentration. Large parts of the world look like they're hardly concerned with Zombies at all. But this is one illusion of the geoweb: People in East Asia or Latin America may well be concerned with Zombies in another language (this search was conducted in English), or they may simply have less access to the Internet in the first place.

"Information, much like zombies," the authors write, "is attracted to existing centres of activity as part of the historical process of urban agglomeration."

Next, the authors similarly mapped geotagged references to a series of "material artifacts" associated with zombies the weapons we might use to kill them. Here is that map in Europe, illustrating the most popular tool for each place:

And the U.S.:

Those patterns that emerge online aren't totally arbitrary; they're directly connected to the social, cultural and political contexts of these places in the real world. AK-47s, for instance, are particularly prominent in the former Soviet Bloc close to where the weapon was invented.

This whole exercise is meant to make a broader point about the utility and limitations of the geoweb. In some ways, information contained there does a good job revealing patterns in real-world society, as well as the geographies of Internet content (some places, like New York, produce a lot more online information than others). "In other words," Graham says in an email, "the internet (and new platforms) never fundamentally destabilises the complex social/economic/political contexts that it sits on top of."

But because the geoweb also distorts our view of the real world, you probably wouldn't want to rely on these maps alone to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

Top image: Mark Marek Photography under a Creative Commons license.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.