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Place of the Year: A look back at past winners

Earlier this month, we launched Oxford University Press’ annual Place of the Year competition. For many, geography is just the next vacation, but understanding geography gives much more than fodder for travel fantasies. Geography provides insight into the forces driving people, events, societies, and technology — both past and present. With help from The Atlas of the World, 19th edition, here’s a look at past winning hotspots driving human history.

2007: Warming Island, Greenland

To most people, the effects of global warming are often invisible or minute. But in 2007, a rude awakening occurred when the global warming revealed the truth behind Greenland’s Warming Island. Also known by the less-easily pronounced Uunartoq Qeqertaq, geographers and scientists formerly believed Warming Island to be part of an ice-covered peninsula near the mouth of King Oscar Fjord. Global warming, however, melted the “peninsula” to reveal that water, not rock, lay beneath this ice bridge. Hence, the peninsula was reclassified as an islet. Global warming, disastrous in many ways, has revealed truths about the planet and forced cartographers to redraw the map.

2008: Kosovo

In 2008, Kosovo not only celebrated its declaration of independence from Serbia, but it also celebrated a Place of the Year victory! Since then, recognizing Kosovo has proven a challenge to cartographers, politicians, and policy-makers. Although Kosovo’s independence is acknowledged by many UN member states today, its sovereignty is still contested by many, including Georgia and Russia. In a country of 1.8 million, many Kosovars are subsistence farmers, and Kosovo has the lowest per capita income in Europe.

Kosovo at a glance:
Population: 1,826,000
Capital: Pristina
Government: Republic
Ethnic Groups: Albanian 88%, Serb 7%, Others 5%
Languages: Albanian and Serbian (Both Official), Turkish
Religions: Islam, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic
Currency: Euro = 100 cents

2009: South Africa

Most readers will fondly remember the 2010 FIFA World Cup excitement that spread out across various locations in South Africa. Six months earlier, Oxford recognized the country as the Place of the Year. We toasted its wine and explored its natural beauty. Now in 2012, 50 years following Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, South Africa is the continent’s most developed country yet economic inequality remains alarming.

South Africa at a glance:

Population: 49,004,000
Capital: Cape Town (Legislative), Pretoria/Tshwane (Administrative), Bloemfontein (Judiciary)
Government: Multiparty Republic
Ethnic Groups: Black 76%, White 13%, Colored 9%, Asian 2%
Languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu (all official)
Religions: Christianity 68%, Islam 2%, Hinduism 1%
Currency: Rand = 100 cents

2010: Yemen

In 2010, Oxford made a prescient selection of Yemen as the Place of the Year. Several months later, Yemen became an active participant in the Arab Spring, with protesters demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation in response to proposed constitutional changes and economic strife. Saleh left Yemen in 2012 and was succeeded by the vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Yemen, with a population of 24.1 million, continues to develop, and the future of its revolution is still in question.

Map of Southern Asia and the Middle East from The Atlas of the World, 19th Edition. (c) Oxford University Press USA 2012

Yemen at a glance:
Population: 24,133,000
Capital(s): Sana’
Government: Multiparty Republic
Ethnic Groups: Predominantly Arab
Languages: Arabic (official)
Religions: Islam
Currency: Yemeni rial= 100 fils

2011: Sudan

Since Sudan’s independence in 1956 from Egypt and Britain, the country has fought two civil wars, the first from 1964-1972 and the second from 1983-2005. As part of the peace agreement, South Sudan voted in a referendum to secede, and independence was officially granted on 9 July 2011. As Andrew Natsios, author of Sudan, South Sudan and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know, writes, the world cannot tear its eyes away from this Place of the Year winner as the convergence of humanitarian crises, religious conflicts, and debates over oil and mineral wealth continue to drive conflict.

Sudan at a glance:
Population: 35,680,000
Capital: Khartoum
Government: Federal Presidential Democratic Republic
Ethnic Groups: Arab, Black, Beja and others
Languages: Arabic, Nubian, Beja, English
Religions: Islam, Traditional Beliefs
Currency: Sudanese pound

South Sudan at a glance:
Population: 8,260,000
Capital: Juma
Government: Transitional
Ethnic Groups: Dinka, Nuer, Others
Languages: Local Languages
Relgions: Traditional Beliefs, Christianity
Currency: Sudanese pound

2012: …….

POTY needs YOU!
Where do you think should be Place of the Year in 2012? Use the voting buttons below, or leave us your nomination in the comments. Two weeks remain until we announce the short-list on November 12th!

[cardoza_wp_poll id=6]

And don’t forget to share your vote on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and other networks:
“I voted [my choice] for Place of the Year http://oxford.ly/poty12 #POTY12 via @OUPAcademic”

Oxford’s Atlas of the World — the only world atlas updated annually, guaranteeing that users will find the most current geographic information — is the most authoritative resource on the market. The Nineteenth Edition includes new census information, dozens of city maps, gorgeous satellite images of Earth, and a geographical glossary, once again offering exceptional value at a reasonable price.

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