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Countries that have preoccupied Americans the most since 1900 (pudding.cool)
395 points by snailletters on Dec 22, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 194 comments

What's interesting is if you did this for just about any other country, there would be a wall of star spangled banners.

If you ever travel outside the US, you inevitably hear about what the US is doing, what they're discussing, who the important people are, etc. The reverse is not true:

- Everyone outside the US knows the top US politicians. You even know what issues they are discussing, like gun control and healthcare.

- You'll know the names of the states. How many other foreign countries do you know the subdivisions of?

- You might also hear about the US sports leagues.

- You know what movies are big in the US. You know what songs are popular.

There are two parts to this. One is (cold war) propaganda where there is a somewhat vague feeling that the USA has to a greater or lesser extent a set of shared (western) values and aligning ourselves next to them is probably in our own long term interest given the uncertainty that a world dominated by Russia and now China, or, gasp, religion (yes, I know) might bring. The second is aspirational - generations of Europeans and probably other countries too have looked to the USA (and Canada, Australia, etc.) as a way of improving their lot through emigration.

For all it's flaws, I loved my time in the USA and appreciate the people and a lot of what it stands for. Despite of all the imperial crap that comes out of Washington D.C. the USA still represents a sense of hope for a lot of people.

America still has a lot to offer the world. It's role in the world is greater than Holywood or the government. Merry Xmas.

Very relevant: (Bono: America is an idea)


> It's role in the world is greater than Holywood or the government.

Right, of course, how could we forget the petrodollar.

> You'll know the names of the states. How many other foreign countries do you know the subdivisions of

I prefer to compare the USA with Europe as a whole, its member countries as states. In that light, I wager many Americans would know quite a few. Norway, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Ireland surely would make the majority? Maybe even Belgium. Are we still allowed to say UK?

Americans love to chastise themselves for lack of knowledge of foreign countries. But, to compare a >300mm economic powerhouse to a <10mm sideshow? Neither would I. Don’t be so hard on yourselves :D

What percentage of Americans could confidently name one state of India or one province of China? Our education system somewhat talks about Europe, but most of the world is basically ignored.

Concrete example, for anyone who didn't get their primary education in the USA: In the school system I went to, "world history" really meant, "post-Renaissance European history." China and India never really entered the stage. But the East India Company did, which did make it necessary to at least acknowledge their existence in passing.

edited to add: That said, I get the GP's point about excessive self-flagellation, and agree that it's OK to cut people some slack for not having a super-precise grasp of the local geography in places they'll probably never go. When I see major cities that lie within just a few kilometers of US borders described as, e.g., "Toronto, Canada" instead of "Toronto, Ontario", though, I still wonder.

What percentage of people outside the US will know the name or location of more than a few US states? I'd bet it's extraordinarily low. I'd bet less than 1% of the world's adult population can name more than six US states. My experience has been, educated people I know from Europe struggle to do a lot better than that. Point them out on a map? Forget about it beyond the obvious or famous ones like California, Florida, Alaska (near Russia), Hawaii (island), Texas (they know it's big and in the middle), maybe NY, and a select few others. US states have the population and economies of European nations. Americans are unfairly criticized for supposedly not being able to name or locate a lot of other countries. The rest of the world can't name or locate US states either. Why? Because it doesn't matter to their lives. A few of my friends from Romania didn't know where Crimea was, because it wasn't something that mattered to them previously until the conflict. Ask someone from Bulgaria or Belarus which state is Alabama, they generally won't know because it doesn't make much sense for them to learn that.

> US states have the population and economies of European nations. Americans are unfairly criticized for supposedly not being able to name or locate a lot of other countries.

Most US states are culturally and historically insignificant. The comparison between European countries with thousand years of history to most of the US states is lacking.

There are more US states than European countries, which have an older history and an overall larger population.

I am writing this without any intention to take away from the important US states. I am just looking at the bottom half here.

To be fair, as an American I don't even need to go to Europe to prove how little non-US geography I know. I can't even name or point to any Mexican or Canadian regions except for British Colombia

Everyone heard of Beautiful British Columbia, that's where I live, after all :D

Maybe you've heard of Quebec?

Ive heard of Quebec and Sesq... however you spell it, but BC is the only one I could point to on a map

India is not as important on the world stage and as relevant to as many other nations as the U.S.A. or China are. And China's provinces are not as independent and as relevant as America's states. China is much more centralized.

The states aren't just provinces. It's not happenstance that they are constantly talked about.

Hell, it's in the bloody name of the country.

What good does it actually do to know just the names from memory. Without any context they are rather useless. I dont think many people from the EU have to much to say about most US states except their names, if even that.

I think most people from the EU could also name provinces or states where conflict with the central government exists on a larger scale or where people are at odds with the central government. I assume quite a few people will know of Kashmir for example. Just as you are unlikely to know the names of states for for example Germany, except maybe Bavaria, but for Spain you will likely have heard of Catalonia. And you will likely also know about what actually happens there instead just iterating through remembered terms for regions.

> What good does it actually do to know just the names from memory. Without any context they are rather useless.

Point is if you don't know any names, you don't know any context either.

I would argue, that you inadvertently learn the names once you learn of the context. I would see it more as a filing system. If there is nothing it points to, whats the benefit of knowing it in the first place.

This is just a syllogism. Context -> names. !names -> !context.

So we can tell that a guy who hasn't heard of eigenvectors (name) doesn't know much about linear algebra (context).

I think the analogy lacks. You can know quite a bit of for example the Kurdish conflict in Turkey without knowing the names of the Turkish sates in question. The province centric approach is one of the major problems that foreign powers faced in for example Afghanistan or Iraq, where the cultural spheres dont align with province borders. As a worst case, what good does it do if you know the name of the province but brought a translator speaking the wrong language.

A similar argument could maybe be made for voting preferences /political leanings of the different regions in the US to give a more practical example.

But yes that is rebutting my last comment. You dont necessarily learn the state names by learning the context.

I don’t need to know the names of Chinease subdivisions to know most people live on the eastern side, the west is dry to the north and mountains to the south etc.

Knowing similar things about the US tells you the area Texas covers is dryer than average even if you don’t know the name Texas.

Punjab, Szechuan, Hunan, if they've opened a restaurant, we know it.

Can students outside the US name Indian states or Chinese provinces? I assumed that was a general "west not thinking about the east enough" problem.

Anecdotally about 100% of foreigners I work with know roughly where NYC and LA are. 50% on top of that know where Chicago roughly is. My sampling is based on every foreigner I meet asking where I'm from. St. Louis. Which few know, so I use Chicago. Most think Chicago is dead center though and are happy when I teach them to use the bottom left of the lakes as a clue.

Americans live Chinese food, and from that: Sichuan Hunan Canton

Sichuan, Tamil Nadu ?

I think most somewhat educated people could.

You know, there is another country that have United States in its name, the United States of Brazil. Do you know any of their individual states? You may know now some of the ex-URSS component countries because recent conflicts, but back then, would they had count as countries or states?

Talking about EU is like talking about OTAN. Each of their component countries have their own president, their own political countries, and in a good part and their own policies, besides the group common policies.

Countries are about political borders, not economical. Would you put California, Wall Street, Shenzhen and a few more at the same level as countries?

I do know the names of the states of Brazil, yes, but fair is fair: that's a coincidence.

However, to your second and third point: yes, I do consider California more on the level of a European country. With its own laws, which very significantly impact the lives of her citizens. Hell, I'd wager almost everyone knew the name of its political leader at some point! Quite a famous guy :) originally European, even.

Political borders exist very strongly between the states of the U.S.A., that's why they call it the "U.S.A.".

I'm not just being glib; the level of delegation to states is so intense, capital punishment is a states rights issue. That is unheard of within any other country I can think of.

At the end of the day, this is politics and linguistics: famously unspecific and imprecise. We will never find a perfect classification. It's about what is "least wrong." And to me, comparing a U.S. state to a European country makes much more sense culturally, economically, and politically, than it does to squeeze all of the U.S.A. into Denmark.

(I don't know whence "Wall St.", but my point was never merely economy. Perhaps because of the "economic powerhouse" when referring to the U.S.A.? That was more an attempt at a jazzy moniker than a complete summary of what I think makes the country relevant, but I see the confusion. Apologies.)

Not that you’re wrong, and not that I disagree with much, but I would take issue with your cherry picking.

The United States is a Federation. The States do have strong borders, their own laws, their own takes on a republican system, even their own electoral and judicial systems that are in many ways distinctly different. California is not distinct from South Dakota in this way.

The States do tend to have very large GSP’s relative to most countries, always directly comparable to the GDP of a nation. This is two parts being part of the single largest national economy in the world and one part the fact there are some very poor countries in the world, and even some European countries aren’t exactly rich, even if they aren’t exactly poor either. Generally each State does punch above its economic weight, even if the budgetary considerations are often complicated by that largest national economy in the world having a multi-trillion national budget backing up four of the largest armed forces in the world.

However, that doesn’t make each and every State particularly relevant to an internationally-minded person of the world. A well educated person might be able to name every nation in Europe, South America, North America and even the Middle East and quite a number of subdivisions to boot, but what about Micronesia, Africa or Polynesia? Most probably won’t be able to tell the difference between Polynesia or Micronesia anymore than they can tell the difference between North Dakota, Alabama or Colorado.

Then certain other States have brands, and punch way above their weight. California. Texas. New York. If they are well known, it is because they are distinctly relevant on the global stage by themselves. California alone has Hollywood, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Stanford and Wine Country. These are all fairly well known brands on their own, SFO and LAX are effectively brands to a well seasoned air traveler.

The fact that California has an economy in the Top 5 in the world in her own has no bearing on the life of your average adult almost anywhere in the world, but they will probably recognize the products and services of California, Inc. Even if they don’t, there is still a decent chance they partake in some of California’s bounty of farm products, almonds in particular are largely grown here.

My point being you can’t cherry pick California and use an argument that would apply to any of the other 50 States when you can also make many of the same claims for: German States, Austrian States, Swiss Cantons, Australian States, Canadian Provinces, and UAE Emirates (name more than two without looking it up, you might be able to but at most the only two most hear about are Dubai and Abu Dhabi), and these are just off the top of my head.

There are a lot of places that get to make their own laws and enforce them. In the United States there are many tribal nations that get to make their own laws and enforce them which are largely anonymous and unknown to most Americans and you won’t find them on most maps that mark the States. That doesn’t necessarily put them all on the same level as the sovereign countries they reside in. Norway is a sovereign country, California is not. The United States is a sovereign country, the European Union is a mess of treaties.

AFAIK Brazil doesn't have "United States" in its name now (it did in the past). It's now called the Federal Republic of Brazil. Mexico does, it's called United Mexican Sates.

> Each of their component countries have their own president, their own political countries, and in a good part and their own policies, besides the group common policies.

US states have their own governor, their own political counties, and in a good part and their own policies, besides the common group policies.

> Would you put California, Wall Street, Shenzhen and a few more at the same level as countries?

Tennessee has approximately the same population, GDP, land area, etc. as Ireland. Texas was an independent country before it was a state.

> US states have their own governor, their own political counties, and in a good part and their own policies, besides the common group policies.

That’s also true of the sub-divisions of many European states.

> That’s also true of the sub-divisions of many European states.

And cities have mayors and school boards have chairmen etc. But a US State has its own Supreme Court with the final decision on matters of state law. The governor of California doesn't work for President Trump.

And the Landeshauptmann of Lower Austria doesn't work for chancellor Kurz. I get what you're saying, but the US is not that special.

> You know, there is another country that have United States in its name, the United States of Brazil.

Brazil is called "Federative Republic of Brazil". It's been that way for half a century.

> Countries are about political borders, not economical. Would you put California, Wall Street, Shenzhen and a few more at the same level as countries?

It's about both, and when it comes to the world stage? Yes. Californias GDP is greater than every country in Europe except Germany - just barely. Heck, CA's GDP on the world stage is 5th according to wikipedia.

If you want to talk about land mass, there are also only a few countries in Europe that are larger than CA.

Wall Street, and by extension NYC is one of the most important cities in the world. It is absolutely on the same level as a country.

Mexico is the United States of Mexico as well

Also: Estados Unidos Mexicanos

That's not a fair comparison. America's population is nowhere near that of Europe and our states don't have soveirgnty. Do you know the subdivisions of Russia or China? There is a lot of parochialism in thinking America is in any way comparable to the entire continent of Europe.

US states do have sovereignty. The federal government can't force them to do anything or override their courts unless they violate federal constitutional rights. For a recent example, see FIDC v Sibelius, which concluded that the federal government doesn't have the authority to expand Medicaid.

Unless it has something to do with commerce, taxes, investment and finance, scientific research, intellectual property, the military, international law, and the Capital, the Feds can't do it. They can ask states nicely to do it (like the Medicaid expansion), and they can give monetary incentives (like tying the drinking age to highway dollars), but they can't do it themselves.

The real question is whether this semantical distinction is productive: how many people know about subdivisions of non-US countries and how they work

The whole point of this is that people couldnt write the essay you just wrote about practically any other place on the planet, and the court cases that support it assuming it was ever challenged

Sure you could. Germany, for example, is a federal republic following the American model. German states arguably have more power than American states, thanks to their representation in the upper house and the ability to independently conduct foreign trade.

People know about the political divisions of America which make the news. Likewise, Americans know about important provinces of other countries.

For example, when I was in China, people asked me all sorts of questions about Texas. It turns out the Lone Stars have built quite an international reputation as a... libertarian paradise. Hawaii, California and New York play on the international stage, but nobody has heard of Idaho.

Americans know the divisions of the UK. They might know Holland is a part of the Netherlands. Most of us know Bordeaux Normandy and Champagne are provinces of France, Bavaria is in southern Germany and Crimea is supposed to be in Ukraine. We know Venice, Sicily, Kashmir, Tibet, Manchuria, Xinjiang, Siberia, Baja California, the Yucatan and Patagonia.

Also our states don’t get redistricted often (ever), unlike some countries.

No-one has heard of Idaho, the potato state?

>"Most US states are culturally and historically insignificant." //

Someone said upthread.

Thing is they're not culturally insignificant, I've no idea where Idaho is (NW?) but somewhere I've heard about its potatoes! That's because in the UK almost all the TV is from USA. Perhaps someone in a film, cartoon series, TV serial, song was from Idaho, maybe a country singer sang about it.

That said, the impression as a European is primarily one of homogeneous culture, and primarily of European immigrants (though I'd say this is changing), particularly that Spanish speaking USA is making more impact in UK the last decade.

Generalising the UK impression is that French, Spanish, Italian, etc., are distinctive (and in stereotype monocultural) in the same way USA-ian (which most just call "American") is.

Yes, the differences of Silicon Valley/LA/Cali vs. the mountains of the Wild North, vs Washington, vs the Deep South, vs swampy Florida, etc. stand out. But the impression I, at least, get in movies is of no more variance across USA than within a Euro country.

My wife and I did a test and could name all but one of the US states (with no prep) but not all the UK counties.

There's a movie trope of kids learning the positions, shapes, State flowers, etc., of all the USA states ... I must have seen that at least 20 times in movies/TV. Never once have I seen anything approaching that for any other country (not even my own whilst I was at school).

To clarify a bit, the existence of official state flowers and so on seems to mainly be a way for legislators to waste time.

I have absolutely no idea what the official flower of any state is, including the state where I was born, and the one I live now.

dogwood, Texas!

I think that's the only one I (think I) know.

Do be hard on yourselves, because the rest of the world isn't so proudly uneducated.

Is there any real difference between those who think the US is uniquely terrible in every way and those who think it is uniquely great in every way?

Only accuracy.

Being able to regurgitate the locations of countries doesn't mean you are educated; it means you sat down with a map for a few hours and did some memorization...

Saying the entire United States population is proudly uneducated is roughly equivalent to saying all of the UK hates Europe and wants to leave the EU, or that all of Germany is racist because of recent violence against migrants, or that Italy is full of lazy alcoholics who don't want to work. Just because a subset of the population holds certain views (and I don't think anyone is really proudly ignorant, just apathetic because they can be) doesn't mean the whole country or even most of the country thinks or acts that way.

You attack our population for being uneducated and culturally ignorant and yet here you are regurgitating tired stereotypes...

I'm not sure about geography, but the vast majority of U.S. population is proudly uneducated in mathematics and many hard sciences. Math taught in high schools is pretty laughable and physics isn't even required in many places.

Source: Lived in the U.S. for many years.

I agree that our primary schooling in general is suboptimal and inconsistent across regions. Where I disagree is that we are happy about that at a population level or somehow intentionally undermining education because we enjoy being ignorant (disregarding religious nonsense). In fact, if you look at where people decide to settle, school district quality is often a strongly weighted parameter.

Yeah, "proudly" is probably too harsh, but I do find a general attitude of willful disregard of math and (hard) scientific education in the U.S. I don't think the disregard from policy makers is an accident. Mathematical or scientific reasoning capability is almost nonexistent in the average Joe, and if you look Ph.D. programs in math or hard sciences in any prestigious university, or maybe any university, you see a very international community of students — a marked shift from undergraduate programs. Not saying everyone needs to hold a Ph.D. in math or science, but the overall ignorance means any quantitative argument among a general audience usually meets indifference, confusion or blind acceptance/rejection (at least in my experience). I find this rather frustrating. You know, one can usually pick up humanities and social sciences stuff any time in their life (which usually only involves reading), but there are relatively few examples of self-teaching math and hard sciences later in life, and a good chunk of that subculture seems to end up in the crackpot bucket.

Strangely, living in the U.S. for many years doesn't qualify you as a credible source, just as someone who's collected a bunch of anecdotes.

"Math taught in high schools is pretty laughable" is somewhat subjective but a general observation and evaluation (this is actually easily observable even as an outsider, by looking at SAT Math, AP Math, etc.); "physics isn't even required in many places" is a fact. Neither is a bunch of anecdotes.

My degrees are in mathematics and physics, and I've tutored students in elite colleges, so I know a thing or two.

A city in at least one of those countries issues their own visas and has their own seperate visa granting privileges

Why is that?

Your preference is cute, with Europes new and old supernational governments but it isnt comparable to the US and gives you no insight into the inner workings of those countries or subdivisions.

> Norway

You do realize, that Norway is not a member of the EU. So in the context of Europe and the EU, it's more like Canada vs. USA.

Norway is a part of the EEA. In practice, we are an EU member; just a non-voting one, with a few carveouts for fisheries and such.

Norway's also part of the Schengen Area. There's no practical difference to an American in terms of travel and trade between Norway and, say, France or Germany, other than the fact that the money is krone and not euros.

>In that light, I wager many Americans would know quite a few. Norway, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Ireland surely would make the majority? Maybe even Belgium. Are we still allowed to say UK?

As names (if that). Try having them pinpoint them on a map, or say anything intelligent about them.

This is so mean spirited, and honestly just wrong. Why do you think this?

I've actually tried it with people.

And in US-own media, I've seen people unable to name the vice president, think Africa is a country, not know the 50 states, and all kinds of things.

This is really just your own confirmation bias. I’ve travelled quite a lot, and can assure you that everywhere you go, you’ll find people that lack knowledge that you think is common place.

Like Barack Obama's assertion that the USA has 58+ states?


I've seen it happen multiple times

I agree that there is certainly a US focus in the world, but you could frankly replace “US” with any G8 member or China, and everything you’ve listed would be true for me. It would also be true for all our Scandinavian neighbours.

I’m part of what you could fairly call the cultural elite of my country, and as such I’m not representative for every Dane, but knowing what goes on in important countries, is frankly part of being a small nation.

Anyway, that also means the US doesn’t dominate as much as you might think. Even with Trump, the most important countries in our news sphere much of this year have been Sweden (election), Germany (der mutti crisis and CDU chairman), France (reforms and later revolts), Russia (Putin being evil in a new way each month) and Britain (brexit).

As an Australian I know the names of quite a few Chinese cities but I think I know a whole lot less about the country because of the language barrier and the fact that most of the websites I use are blocked in china so I don't meet the people online much.

Language barrier would prevent memory of a lot of these. Consider the Shaanxi province vs the Shanxi province.

It’s much harder to recall things you can’t spell in you vocabulary to break them down and where pronunciation is similar.

> Anyway, that also means the US doesn’t dominate as much as you might think.

Look at Berlingske today. There's a story about the US/China trade war that's brewing, there's a story about the US stock market going down, there's a story about the US government shutting down, and a story about a hypothetical US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

By contrast, there's an opinion piece about Ireland and Brexit. And there's story about Germany and China.

And it tends to be like this. All the other countries are there from time to time, but the USA is always there x3.

The American government is in a budget crisis, even so, it’s not a major story in the printed version of Weekendavisen, Børsen or Information this weekend.

I’ll agree that the more populist papers, like Berlinske, are very US focused and so are a lot of the free internet news.

I was not trying to say that we aren’t US centric. The very first thing I wrote was literally that I agreed that we are, but the US hasn’t owned our news cycle every month of 2018, far from it. Obviously is an important part of our news cycle, but so is every G8 country, and in my social circles people follow those countries as closely as we follow the US.

As a Brazilian, that's not exactly my impression.

> Everyone outside the US knows the top US politicians. You even know what issues they are discussing, like gun control and healthcare.

"Everyone" is not the right word here. People speaking english on the internet probably know about those to a superficial level. There's a lot english speaking of people on the US, so we hear about your issues.

> You'll know the names of the states. How many other foreign countries do you know the subdivisions of?

People that knows some US state names also usually know some of other countries.

> You might also hear about the US sports leagues.

At least for Brazil, Spanish is the one everybody knows about.

> You know what movies are big in the US. You know what songs are popular.

Agreed here, people really like US movies and songs.

Here are my assessments as somebody who has traveled to South America, Europe, and spent 4 years living in the Middle East.

> Everyone outside the US knows the top US politicians. You even know what issues they are discussing, like gun control and healthcare.

That is only vaguely true. People outside the US tend to know of these issues in the media about as well as the average American, which isn't very well.

> You'll know the names of the states. How many other foreign countries do you know the subdivisions of?

I don't find that is true. Most Americans don't even know of most US states and I find people outside the US are about as aware of US geography as the average American. Americans that frequently travel abroad tend to be well versed in geography particularly where they are traveling to. Likewise, foreigners who travel to the US to be far better aware of US geography than the average American.

> You know what movies are big in the US. You know what songs are popular.

That is absolutely true. Everybody is in love with American media.

In terms of states, I don’t think they meant, “everyone can’t point to Delaware on map.”

I’d wager it’s more like, “People know Texas, and California, New York, and Florida, Hawaii, etc.”

I’d wager most people can name several. This is mostly because of point 3, movies and media.

American states are also the size of countries. A more apt comparison would be counties, which barely any foreigners know.

And if we're going there, it's more likely they'll know more European nations than U.S. states. I think there's probably few European nations that people wouldn't recognize by name (e.g. Andorra, Azerbaijan, Slovenia).

Azerbaijan is in Asia. Its east of me and I am in Asia.

Knowing about France is equivalent to knowing about California.

US states behave a lot like EU members and knowing many US states is not indicative of anything.

This. My international friends often express surprise at how things are in the US. I’ve told them they should try thinking of the US as the EU and the States as the EU member nations. Then our federal dysfunction suddenly makes a lot more sense to them.

Yep. How many US counties would a person from outside the US know about.

These are just the ones that come to mind right now: oakland county, providence, dupage, king, fairfax, essex, norfolk, san bernardino, los angeles, orange, spokane, sedgwick, sonoma, fresno, queens, cook, wayne, almeda, sacramento, san francisco, oklahoma... Don’t ask why these are the ones that come to mind, but I would bet I know 70-80% from books and movies, the rest from news articles.

Knowledge of counties are somewhat of a function of the state. In some states, counties (or their equivalents like Parishes in Louisiana) are fairly powerful. In others, they're almost meaningless. I live in Massachusetts and I could name maybe 3 or 4 counties--and that's because I've lived in two of them.

I don't think MA has much more than that :)

It actually has 14 apparently.

One little thing my American expat friends always find strange: maps are centered "wrong". As in the US is located at the top left and Asia is on the right.

I'm quite sure this is the world standard map, but apparently many grew up only with one that has the states centered.

That surprises me (as an American). Just about every map I’ve ever seen here, and all the ones used in school, have the Atlantic Ocean in the center and the US in the top left.

Actually I’d point out this annoys some Alaskans in my family, as that projection usually cuts part of Alaska off and leaves it dangling on the far right of the map. But we’re so euro-centric it just seems like the “correct” map even though it makes looking at part of our own country more difficult.

There isn't a standard map I'd say. Wherever you go, the "home continent" is typically centered. I was (naively) surprised the first time I went to USA long time ago and saw maps that had the Americas in the middle - but thinking about it, it made sense.

I'm confused, I grew up in the USA and for global maps the US was never centered. It was always on the left, like every map here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Maps_of_the_world , and Africa is in the middle. If the Americas were centered on a world map you'd have to cut Asia in half, with it being on both the far left and right. It makes a lot more sense to make the split in the middle of the Pacific ocean and that's how I've always seen it done, I can't even picture a world map with the Americas in the middle. Is this a misunderstanding?

Ah, thanks for clarifying. I was totally under the impression it would be the norm. Here is an example of a map: http://www.freeworldmaps.net/world/america-centric/physical-...

I think it was on west coast or Hawaii I saw those.

But what really made me think it's the norm was that the a Universal Pictures logo also has the Americas in middle and their intro ends with the Americas centered also: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KpNkgRv_8XE

Quite interesting.

Yeah, that's not typical and the reason is pretty much practical. If you center at or near the Greenwich Meridien, the edges of your map are more or less right between Alaska and Russia and go down the middle of the Pacific Ocean where there's very little land. Of course, one 2D map projection can't cover the whole earth effectively but centering a typical projection on 0/0 gives you something that works for most of the areas people are looking for on a world map.

The standard map has zero degrees in the center.

Yep, this is a good one.

When America is in the middle then Asia is broken in half.

With America off to the side the "edge" of the map is the International Date line, thus no land-mass is broken.

In Australia, I've seen maps with North America in the top right.

That's just because you guys are looking at it upside down :)

This is not entirely accurate, except in those same countries that appear in the US's collective conscious (e.g. Russia, China). The news in my country, for example, does not have the luxury of focusing a lot on other countries -- we have enough things to deal with domestically. Although India and China do come up a lot because it is believed that we're at the center of a tug of war between those two nations.

I don’t think I could name any provinces in China, but I’m sure many Chinese know about New York and California.

I think that has more to do with TV and Movies than news...

You’ve really never heard of Sichuan, Hunan, or Canton (aka Gaungdong) ?

Depends on how you ask. Yes, I’m aware that those are Chinese provinces, as in, if you had provided me a list of Chinese cities and provinces I could have probably picked those out, or associated them back to China if the task was to match a province to its country. But I don’t think I could produce any of these if I was asked to give the name of a Chinese province.

I would have known those were regions of China (and cuisines). I would not have known with any certainty that they were actual provinces.

Not so sure about all these statements, but regarding to the headline count on newspapers I mostly agree.

Wars have a very strong role in it. Both in the countries in this map and in US dominanting headlines here in Brazil when they go to war.

Regarding at least the location names, the US is definitely a massive exporter of pop culture and our pop culture tends to mention place names frequently.

Depends really which section of the media you analyse. The majority of headlines on media channels and newsprints here are mostly on domestic matters. News about/from the US will find mention on the international section unless it is 'big' news.

And most people in the world probably don't know US politicians beyond the current President and his/her main challenger (during election time).

Part of this is just that USA's chief export is culture. People know about subdivisions of other countries when their country imports a lot of culture from there. E.g. most Americans will know about Sicily and Champagne, because of cultural (mostly food) imports from those places.

Could this be a manifestation of power law at work through historical accidents/events? i.e., the amount of information in the vogue about countries is distributed as a power law with ~20% of countries like the US, China taking 80% of the share of international headlines.

But I do remember Scientific American(mention unintentional, but could be the same power law) debunking power law's presence in many networks.

it is related to soft power[0] and we argue that it is a form of imperialsim[1].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_power [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperialism

I ve noticed that most americans are not aware how important the US is for the rest of the world.

I don't even think it is a matter of education, except for some elite northwestern european countries, where it matters. Most people learn a lot about the US through the movies and random news headlines. It's what always happens with global leaders.

> I ve noticed that most americans are not aware how important the US is for the rest of the world.

My experience has generally been the opposite: many Americans overestimate their country’s importance in the world. Just because the U.S. does or says something doesn’t mean other countries will necessarily go along with it.

I honestly don't think you could over-estimate the USA's role in world's affairs for the last 100 or so years. The West is lead by the USA.

And I don't even live in the US and I think that.

This is because America is the wealthiest and fastest-growing economic nation in the history of the world. It has the right combination of laws, institutions, freedoms, infrastructure, and people, to create a new life.

There's a reason it's by far the top destination for immigrants around the world.

Then why is there so much harsh criticism of America from Europeans? Seems like Europe should be the top destination for immigrants seeing as it has superior healthcare, workers rights, gun control, drug policy, etc.

A significant portion of people, for real, decide their immigration destination based on movies. I've answered many questions on various Q&A sites, in English and Hungarian both which decidedly has this impression.

> What's interesting is if you did this for just about any other country, there would be a wall of star spangled banners.

So the US has the most headlines for about any other country? I highly doubt it. All your following points actually contradict that assumption.

That's just what happens with empires/superpowers thoough.

Rome would have been the #1 talked about country evereywhere else when it was at the top of its game. Same with the British Empire etc.

> You'll know the names of the states. How many other foreign countries do you know the subdivisions of

United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales, ...

Canada - Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, ....

I think you get the US plus a bunch of other countries that you hear much less about in the US.

I know the subdivisions of most of the countries I've been to, which includes most of Europe, Australia and USA...

The US spends a lot of money exporting its media, so it can't be surprising that everyone follows its movies and songs or that in London we occasionally have to endure a temporary hysteria about hand-egg (american football)

None of those feel true at all in western europe

Not that true in myopic UK. We know your president, and big news events. I can't even list one US box office movie from this year.

No? Honestly kind of surprised Avengers: Infinity War didn't cross your radar. That movie was huge.

No, totally honest. Not interested in movies.

I think that reflects more on you than “myopic UK” then

Badly worded, I'm not chasing after new and US releases. I do watch films and I do follow the news, though not that obsessively. And while the UK press will flag Trump's exploits and major disasters, the US doesn't get that much of a look-in. We are an island nation and quite blind beyond our waters. The information is there to find, but it's not thrust in our faces. Heck my niece has more interest in Korean popular culture than the US. People generally are only concerned for their own back yards (HN has a blatant US bias, perhaps unsurprisingly as it was born there).

So- you are Manhattan...

that's how you think it is.

What you've written there would definitely be an exaggeration for the UK. I would guess that most university-educated British people would not be able to point out more than a couple of US states on a map. Very little interest in US sport here, as far as I know, except perhaps tennis and maybe golf, for a minority of people. As for films and pop music: hard to say, seeing as the same films and songs are probably being pushed here. Of course, a significant proportion of university-educated adults have no interest in films or pop music and couldn't name a single recent pop song from their own country (though they'd be able to name songs that were in the charts when they were teenagers).

US trivia finds its way very easily into UK news. Probably lazy journalists take anything off social media that is in a language they can understand and copy-paste, with the result that in the UK media there is more of that kind of story from the US than from the UK.

Trump's antics get reported. I'm not sure British people are generally aware of there being any other politicians in the US.

"What's interesting is if you did this for just about any other country, there would be a wall of star spangled banners."

Pure conjecture.

Making that statement however does tell us a lot about you.

A few things which I found of note:

1. The blanket of Union Jacks, especially in the first half of the 20th century.

2. The impact of the Korean War clearly pales in comparison to the impact of Vietnam.

3. If you didn't know better, it would look like the US and China were at war.

4. France in 1926-27. I'm not sure what happened in France of international significance then? The bombing of Damascus?

4. The French were having (prolonged) issues with some of their colonies around this time, such as in Morocco and the Great Syrian Revolt - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Syrian_Revolt

It would be neat to extend this visualization into clicking through to see which headlines/stories influenced the choice.

There is a “show headlines” button.

Where? I can't find it

> France in 1926-27

Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget airfield in 1927, which might explain the mentions in the last half of that year.

super nit: the flag used for China before 1949 is incorrect. The PRC (People's Republic of China) didn't rule China until 1949. From 1912-1949 the flag of ROC (Republic of China) should be used.


Historically inaccurate flags are used for the Soviet Union, Germany pre-1949, and Libya as well. It seems the creator chose to use the modern flag in all cases for consistency.

The US and China are at war. Economic war. Cyber war. The Cold War never really ended, the players and the venues just shifted.

> The Cold War never really ended, the players and the venues just shifted.

That makes a good soundbite, but I think that changing the players and venues means it's a different war.

> changing the players and venues means it's a different war

The war of Theseus?


This isn't really true. China and the United States, since after the Vietnam war until very very recently, have basically been allies. The United States has gone out of its way to support China's economic growth. I think the idea is, when they opened up, that they would transform into a democracy as they became prosperous, which was basically happening, until Xi took over.

Unfortunately, I don't think the population of either countries see things this way, and stoking the hatred is politically expedient in both countries. It's really too bad.

3. And judging by history, it’s not looking so good for China!

Nope, and I’m guessing this is the main reason for China’s Belt and Road project. Their reliance on maritime trade puts them at the mercy of the US navy.

This is interesting more for what picking one country per month hides than what it reveals; the winner takes all approach submerges emerging trends and informative outliers and leads to abrupt phase change like artefacts in the visualisation - suddenly it's all about Russia, suddenly it's all about China....

It would be a cool feature if one could flip to the second or third most mentioned. Perhaps a different visualization of this data would be beneficial.

Another cool feature would be if you could click on a cell in the infographic and see the top headlines for that month. For example, what happened in Nicaragua in Jan of 1928, or in Laos in 1961?

This is a wonderful illustration of American obsession over the years. Back in the 1990s, Japan was the target. Articles attacking Japan appears on NYTimes and the like daily. The accusation was Japan used all these unfair trade practices to protect its industries, unwilling to open its market to US companies, etc. Then after a while, these criticism disappeared. Has Japan changed much since? Apparently not.

Now the target is China. Which makes me wonder how much of this avalanche of attack on China is driven by a insidious political agenda.

I was surprised that the Korean War barely stood out compared to most other conflicts (at least, if you're only looking for a Korean flag). There are indications of changes like Chinese involvement in late 1950, but I think it'd be hard to pick out the start date if you weren't sure of the decade. Compare that to Kosovo for example, where there's at least roughly half a year of prominence.

One other factor that stood out to me was that it seems like there are more countries popping up from the mid 70s to the 90s, then it flips back to the previous pattern of a handful of countries dominating the picture (Iraq, then China).

It's a very interesting visualization, thanks for sharing!

> I was surprised that the Korean War barely stood out compared to most other conflicts

Especially with regards to more controversial conflicts, this says more about what NYT chooses to drive. I'd argue in many cases they attempt to deliver narratives instead of reacting on them.

It's because it was an early undeclared war authorized by proxy. The only time it dominates the news is when it is "over" which reads to me as a heavy government push to use a "victory" as a retroactive justification for a war that was never directly approved by US citizens or their representatives.

Now, this is how all wars are done, but then, it generally wasn't the case.

Probably the only lasting legacy of the Korean War in the US to people who weren't directly involved is the meme of "brainwashing" and its permanent association with Communist Asians due the Lifton book[1] which ironically popularized both the idea of the "thought-terminating cliche" and the throught-terminating cliche of "brainwashing."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Reform_and_the_Psychol...

Far too noisy!

A simple line chart (each line labelled with the country) versus year would have been far better.

A line chart would forgo the act of scrolling which would eliminate the narrative feel of the graphic (scrolling through time to see what happened next). Considering that the content of the graphic is somewhat complex I think the "noise" serves to represent the data in the clearest possible way (representing countries by their flags) while establishing visual fields that represent relevant conclusions (the long-term preoccupation with a single foreign country). If this had been a simple line chart not only would the data need to be different (showing comprehensive amounts for each year rather than one or two top values) but it would be visually bland. The informational margins and somewhat infotainment-esque color variety are perfectly appropriate for this graphic. A more studious design would betray its content for something more quantitatively robust.

I like the infographic, but scrolling is an imprecise and annoying way to select a year to see additional information. There were quite a few years which I couldn't get the scrolling to stop at. Web designers: please don't mimic this technique.

Wonder how it would change if e.g. mentions of Soviets had flag of USSR rather than Russia, etc.

It would just split and dilute the mentions of the Soviets/Russia during the USSR's existence. While it existed, Russia and the USSR were pretty much synonymous.

I don't think Russian SSR and the USSR were synonymous terms for anything but for informal colloquial usage.

The Russian SSR had only 51% of the population and 77% of the land of the Soviet Union.[1] Both the Belyrussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR were United Nations members states and constituent states of the Soviet Union.[2] After the breakup of the Soviet Union, some scholars have referred to Russian Federation as a rump state.[3]

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republics_of_the_Soviet_Unio...

[2] https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/506/why-did-the-...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rump_state

I think the previous poster's point was precisely about the vernacular - don't forget the flags in the articles derive from news headlines, of which the vast preponderance are very much expressed in the vernacular.

Speaking for myself, growing up in the 80s, I definitely wasn't completely aware that Russia and the USSR were separate concepts, probably until the latter's break-up.

You're starting with the concept of "Russian SSR" to mean "Russia" and going from there, and this line of reasoning makes sense. But really, "Russian SSR" was the novel concept. Before the USSR, "Russia" meant the "Russian Empire", which comprised of basically the same area as the USSR. So during the time of the USSR, "Russian SSR" had no meaning (to the West), it's only significant now in hindsight after the breakup. To summarize this perspective I'd view it like this: The "Russian Empire" i.e. "Russia", was renamed "USSR" and internally they drew lines to make states, for which "Russia Core" for lack of a better name was simply called "Russian SSR".

Do you think the nytimes was respecting that difference? Nothing else really matters for this.

As someone from India it is probably a good thing that the US has seemingly not had us in mind at almost any point during the last 100 or so years, except for a brief period when we conducted some nuclear tests during 1998(?)... /s

Also during the Nuclear deal in the end of 2008

I would think the November 26 attacks were responsible for the spike in November and December of 2008. I didn't even think of the nuclear deal.

Yeah, I don't think any Indian even remember the nuclear deal, let alone the date. The terrorist attack is however entrenched in memory

Why was Germany not more prominent during WWII (but apparently during WWI)?

According to a well informed reddit comment on /r/dataisbeautiful the main focus was on supporting the determined and brave British rather than defeating the Germans.

The US has a huge German immigrant population, and during WWI many people sympathized with the Germans and felt they were basically forced into a preemptive strike because Britain and France would have declared war on them soon anyway. A lot of Americans wanted to join the war on the side of the Germans.

Then the Germans sank the Lusitania and became the chief bad guy.

In WW2, as others have mentioned, the US was more concerned with the plight of the British (would they hold out?), and then especially focused on Japan. Japan attacked Hawaii and subsequently the Philippines, which was owned by the US at the time and home to a lot of Americans.

Certainly the US played a role in every theater in WW2, but there were almost two different wars going on —- in Europe, primarily Britain and Russia versus Germany; and in the Pacific, primarily the US against Japan.

The US also made a huge amount of hard currency from supplying the UK before Germany declared war on the US.

> Then the Germans sank the Lusitania and became the chief bad guy.

The Zimmerman Telegram helped, too.

The main threat came from the west (Japan). Especially after Pearl Harbour. Before that, the US was neutral, officially. [1]

In the beginning of WWII (not sure exactly till which years but at least 39-41), the US only fought in Europe via pilots (the UK greatly lacked pilots), and transport boats. The ground troops only arrived before D-Day at which point the US did get [more] involved in the WWII in Europe.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrality_Acts_of_the_1930s#E...

My guess is there were a lot of articles about supporting the British, especially economically.

With WWI the British were still the preeminent economic power.

Maybe headlines tended to say "Nazis" instead of "Germany"?

Because as I understand it, the US was largely aloof until Germany started pursuing atomic weapons and even then the Manhattan Project was done very secretively. So until Hitler started incarcerating millions of people and threatened all out war on Europe, the US wasn't really bothered all that much. So naturally Germany hits the headlines for the final 2 years of the war, and then Japan for a year because Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings.

> Because as I understand it, the US was largely aloof until Germany started pursuing atomic weapons ...

No. The USA public was isolationist until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Germany stupidly declared war after Pearl Harbor in sympathy with Japan.

The key things to understand about WW2 are:

1) Germany and Japan declared war on a country they couldn't invade because of geography.

In other words, the USA did not have enough deterrence at the time to prevent WW2. [paraphrasing Victor David Hanson]

The B-29 was the ultimate weapon in WW2, not the atomic bomb (which was dropped from a B-29.) So much so that Russia spent vast resources after WW2 copying it down to the last rivet.

2) The USA was already the "arsenal of democracy" a year before Pearl Harbor. Historians regard Pearl Harbor as more of a trap than a victory for the Japanese, which would have required both sinking all of America's carriers plus a successful land invasion of Oahu to end well.

3) All sides thought that bombing the enemy's cities would break their will to fight. As any chess player knows, people will fight to the bitter end with very few exceptions.

> until Hitler started incarcerating millions of people and threatened all out war on Europe, the US wasn't really bothered all that much

If by US you mean the public, many in the public did care, insofar they were aware. Generally not enough to want refugees in their country, but they still wanted to see the atrocities of the Nazis condemned by their government more than they were.

But if by US you mean the US government, parts of it were bothered enough to block reports, at the very least:


> In early 1943, US State Department officials blocked reports about the mass murder of Jews from reaching the United States. Some at the State Department wanted to avoid any increase in public pressure to aid Jews and thought that if the American people did not have information about the atrocities, they would not protest.


> In November 1943, a group of congressmen, influenced by activist Peter Bergson, introduced bipartisan resolutions in the House of Representatives and Senate calling for President Roosevelt to create a government commission to rescue Europe’s Jews. In secret testimony before Congress, Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long declared that the State Department already had admitted 580,000 refugees, a claim soon publicly proven false.

> At the same time, US Treasury Department staff investigated the State Department’s delays and obstruction in sending relief into Europe to aid Jewish refugees. They discovered that State Department officials had deliberately suppressed reports about the murder of Jews. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. agreed to present their findings to President Roosevelt.

> As a result of Treasury’s efforts, Roosevelt signed an executive order on January 22, 1944, establishing the War Refugee Board. It was charged with the rescue and relief of victims of Nazi oppression as long as it did not interfere with the war effort.

This is really interesting. I would be interested in seeing a visualization of just China by headline count, for the time it has been in mind, 2009 to present, as it seems to have picked up significantly in the last year or so.

Why is 1964 empty? JFK was assassinated in November the year before, and LBJ took the con. Was the US simply distracted by its own domestic realignment?

Per footer, there's an issue with the API so there's no data that year or for parts of 1978.

Missed that tidbit. Thanks for pointing to it.

The Civil Rights Act was far more important.


One headline from 1913 was talking about New England.

Fun idea but as someone from a country that has changed shape and occupation quite a bit last century (we also changed flags quite a bit) I find it a bit low on meat. It is conflating words or names with countries while doing a oh-so typical "let's drop lots of data into algorithms and visualize the result" dataviz for grabbing internet attention.

If you’re going to be dismissive and somewhat pompous, You could at least point out specifics of what you see wrong with this and how you would’ve done it differently or liked to have seen it done differently.

At least that way people could engage with you beyond down voting you.

Personally I think this visualization is quite neat. Sorry.

Putting Russia and the Soviet Union under the same flag is the obvious one.

"...Through the Eyes of the US" they mean the same.

A lot of times this is done for continuity of the data not for political ignorance.

If you look at gapminder.org they use modern countries so that you can track data over time. Gapminder goes back to 1800 before Germany existed - yet they still call it Germany.

Gapminder was originally Swedish although it is now owned by Google.

maybe it would be fun as an interactive map of locations instead

Nah. A simple rule in data visualization: If you think it should be a map, chances are it shouldn't be.

What's the deal with Japan in 2002? I don't recall any Japanese events then, it was all War on Terror stuff.

Possibly the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was held in Japan/South Korea that year.

Odd I would have thought Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia would have taken October-December. At least that's all I think about the world outside of the usual US stuff.

I am surprised does not include 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt.

Wonder what the 1900ish single Canadian flag was about.

Looking through the Wikipedia pages for June 1910, it looks like quite a bit was happening in the US. Oklahoma chose its capital, O. Henry died, statehood was given to two states, and Halley's Comet made a visit. Newspapers might have been preoccupied with domestic issues.

Other than Diaz winning yet another election in Mexico, it doesn't look like much was going on internationally. Goldwin Smith, who appears to have been very well known at the time with comments on American politics, died that month. He lived in Canada. A few front page headlines about his death might have been enough to put Canada on the chart, given the conditions.

No headlines on revolution in Russia in 1917?

You need three different flags for China: (1) Ching dragon flag until 1911, (2) Taiwan sun flag until 1948 and (3) red Communist flag thereafter.

I think generally having time-accurate flags and names would greatly improve the look of the chart. It is just weird having modern flags for the Axis countries in WW2, white-blue-red for the USSR (that's not even the Russian flag at the time), and so on.

A graph for the decline of the British Empire. These Brexit fans still believe they can revert it.

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