An interview with Anna Barford
I also like these two; the first is about the protest in London against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the second is about the textile trade between China and the European Union.
"Aren’t all those who are encouraging school children to skip school and demonstrate acting very irresponsibly?" Liz Fairbairn, 2003
"... we are trying to balance a number of interests here because obviously people want less expensive goods ..." Tony Blair, 2005
I like them because, for me, they both miss the point of what is important by so much that it is almost funny. Why should a day of school matter more than your country going to war? Why should we focus on rich people's demand for more (generally unneeded) cheap goods, rather than prioritising the labour conditions and pay of producers? These quotes take me out of my bubble and confront me with ideas that contradict my own.
Have there been any of the maps that you have found particularly shocking and/or revealing?
Anna: Yes. The maps that make me the most angry are those that show the unnecessary deaths of very young children, huge profits being made by people in rich countries from selling medicines, and the map of changes in terms of trade. The terms of trade maps are a bit complicated - they show whether countries are 'improving' or 'worsening' their trade positions relative to other countries. The bleakest parts of the terms of trade maps are those that show already poor countries with worsening terms of trade.
How does your work on Worldmapper rate amongst your achievements so far?
Anna: Number 1 out of 5 ;) I haven't been thinking of this as an 'achievement' - more as a process or experience. It's been fantastic to work on this project. My colleagues are genuinely lovely people to work with. I've learned a lot about the world, though not all of it has been good (unfortunately I have forgotten a lot as well). Also, I moved to Sheffield to do this work and have since decided to stay here a bit longer .... Hopefully the benefits go beyond my own enjoyment as the aim of this project is to share information more widely.
How do you feel Worldmapper has been received by people generally?
Anna: At the risk of sounding like an advert - I think people are often impressed by this way of showing information. Cartograms draw people to them as the map reader tries to identify countries that have undergone varying degrees of distortion. Sometimes people take a little while to 'click' and understand how these maps work, because they are a new concept to many people. I think this novelty adds to these maps as we like to experience "oh, I get it!" moments.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the project?
Anna: Getting my head around the hundreds of different topics mapped has certainly stretched my brain. However, this was an amazing aspect of the work as well, because I could learn about education systems, various diseases, and ways of measuring wealth amongst other things.
In writing the text that accompanies the maps, has it been difficult to keep political neutrality?
Anna: Overall, no. This is thanks to Danny keeping a check on what I've written and improving it where necessary. I often had to suppress the urge to try to explain the distributions that the maps show; the idea was to be descriptive rather than explanatory. Saying that, it would be impossible for me to be politically neutral having spent almost 2 years looking at maps of vast, destructive, persistent, unjust and degrading international inequalities that we live with.
What has been the most enjoyable aspect?
What is the usual response from people when you explain what you do?
Anna: "Oh, you really are a real geographer aren't you! You work with maps." or "Umm, that sounds interesting." (In an attempt to sound interested. I think people really have to see these maps to appreciate them, it would take a lot of words to do them justice).
What do you plan to do next?
Anna: Revert to studentdom. I start on 1st October, studying ways of visually representing the human geography of the world, and how people interpret this.
Thanks Anna for the interview and all your hard work on Worldmapper, and good luck in your PhD, from the rest of the Worldmapper team!