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How we decide Place of the Year

Since its inception in 2007, Oxford University Press’s Place of Year has provided reflections on how geography informs our lives and reflects them back to us. Adam Gopnik recently described geography as a history of places: “the history of terrains and territories, a history where plains and rivers and harbors shape the social place that sits above them or around them.” An Atlas of the World expert committee made up of authors, editors, and geography enthusiasts from around the press has made several different considerations for their choices over the years.

Warming Island was a new addition to the Atlas and conveyed how climate change is altering the very map of Earth. Kosovo’s declaration of independence not only caused  lines on the map to be redrawn, but highlighted the struggle of many separatists groups around the world. In 2009 and 2010, we looked to the year ahead — as opposed to the year past — with the choices of South Africa and Yemen. Finally, last year was an easy choice as South Sudan joined us as a new country.

We took a slightly different tact with Place of the Year this year. In addition to the ideas of our Atlas committee, we decided to open the choice to the public. We created a longlist, which was open to voting, and invited additions in the comments. After a few weeks of voting, we narrowed the possible selections to a shortlist, also open to voting from the public.

Four front-runners emerged in both the longlist and shortlist: London, Syria, Burma/Myanmar, and Mars. These places have changed greatly over the years, but 2012 has been a particularly special year for each. London hosted the Queen’s Jubilee and the Summer Olympics, as well as the Libor scandal and Leveson Inquiry. The Arab Spring has spread across the Middle East and North Africa, but after the toppling of dictators in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, civil war threatens to tear Syria apart. On the other side of the globe, the government of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is slowly moving to reform the country and only two weeks ago President Barack Obama made a historic visit to Rangoon. And finally, this August the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars. Although you can’t find Mars in our Atlas of the World (for obvious reasons), it captures the spirit of cartography: the exploration of the unknown and all that entails.

It was these four front-runners that we asked Oxford University Press employees to vote on and our Atlas committee to consider. Mars won the public vote, the OUP employee vote, and the hearts and minds of our Atlas committee.

Once we made our final decision on November 19th, we began contacting experts on Mars from around Oxford University Press to illuminate different aspects of the red planet. Inevitably, the first response we received asked us whether we had heard about the rumours surrounding NASA’s  upcoming announcement. We took that as a good sign — and we’ll bring up An Atlas of Mars at our next editorial meeting.

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One Response to “How we decide Place of the Year”
  1. Annie Morgan says:

    Wow, you have experts on Mars already? Do they like it there?

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