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Place of the Year: Through the years

Next week we launch our annual Place of the Year Contest (POTY), where we reflect back on the world’s hits and misses. Our OUP geography committee is hard at work compiling a list of places that have made an impact felt around the world in 2013. Only one place can be chosen as the winner. While they compile the most newsworthy locales, we wanted to reflect back on past years’ winners.

Last year’s 2012 Place of the Year threw us a curveball when Mars was chosen. How did Mars make it into the mix you may be wondering? Well, back in the summer of 2012 all eyes were on NASA’s Curiosity Rover when it landed on the planet. On 6 August 2012, NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars’ Gale Crater, and transmitted findings back to Earth. It  swallowed some Martian soil, and helped discover new findings on the planet that included an ancient stream bed. While scientists have been mapping Mars from afar since the 19th century, it still represents the new and unknown. Maybe one day we’ll have an Atlas of Mars, but until then it remains a mystery as it sits perched at the highest peak in the Solar System.

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In 2010, interestingly, the place of the year was a country that seemed to be on the brink of collapse. Yemen emerged as a home base for terrorist plots. Nearly depleted of its leading export, oil, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, and was facing a water shortage that  heightened the country’s addiction to qat, a mildly narcotic leaf. The stakes were high, and still are, for Oxford’s 2010 Place of the Year. The future remains unclear for the country as it continues to grab headlines. Once a promising experiment in Muslim-Arab democracy, Western opinion now recognizes Yemen to have all the features of a failed state. Will it make the cut for this year’s nominations as it continues to find itself in the news three years later?

The honor went to South Africa in 2009, as it was given the opportunity to host the World Cup that year. While that may not sound all that monumental, it was the first international event hosted in the country since becoming a post-apartheid, democratic nation only 15 years earlier. This reportedly brought over 55.7 billion to the South African economy, which translated to 415,400 jobs and 19.3 billion in tax income to the government. This reflected a huge transformation to a country that had been marked by violence and danger for years.

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Flashing back to 2008, Kosovo was deemed the place to take notice of as major change unfolded. On February 18, 2008, Kosovo, a former Yugoslav state, declared its independence from Serbia a decade after the start of a violent separatist war that cost 10,000 lives.  While many nations including the United States were quick to recognize Kosovo as an independent nation, others such as Serbia, Russia, and Spain refused to accept it. The two million Kosovars occupying the small part of southeastern Europe posed a challenge for cartographers as they had to contend with their new status as a sovereign state. This meant maps had to be changed and updated. Cartographers continue to monitor Kosovo, as the political, social, and physical boundaries are still at stake.

What would make your place of the year for 2013? We’ll have the nominations from our geography committee next week, but until then feel free to voice your opinion. What countries, cities, and even planets piqued your interest as the year unfolded?

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Image credit: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope took the picture of Mars on June 26, 2001, when Mars was approximately 68 million kilometers (43 million miles) from Earth From NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Image credit: Waving the South Africa flag in support of the national team Bafana Bafana. Photo by Steve Evans. Source: World Cup South Africa fans. Provided with permission by Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

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