Search for a map:

An interview with Anna Barford

Image of Anna

Anna Barford has worked full-time on the Worldmapper project for two years. In October 2007, she leaves the project to begin a PhD. We felt we couldn't let this occasion pass without taking the opportunity to ask her to share some of her thoughts and experiences.

What is your favourite map, and why?

Anna: I like the population map - if everything was fairly distributed between everyone in the world, then all the maps would look like this. (Of course some uneven distributions are difficult to avoid, for example rainfall or fuel exports. However, basic health care, education, and income could be much more evenly spread between people).

What is your favourite quote, and why?

Anna: I really like this one because rather than describing an insurmountable problem, it talks realistically about change.

"... poverty in the world is an artificial creation. It doesn’t belong to human civilization, and we can change ... the only thing we have to do is to redesign our institutions and policies ..." Muhammad Yunus, 2006

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?

Anna: A selection of maps were shown at an art gallery in the town on Nuoro in Sardinia (Italy). A friend and I were invited to go the opening of the exhibition - I don't think that I stopped smiling all weekend. We arrived in Nuoro quite late at night, feeling hungry after not be prepared for our budget flight. On arrival, feeling slightly dazed, we wandered around the town trying to find somewhere to serve us some exquisite Italian food. Most places appeared to be shut but we finally found somewhere for a mediocre sandwich. Walking back to the hotel, via the town square, my friend spotted a poster with a Worldmapper map on a poster. It was amazing to think that the residents of Nuoro were already familiar with these maps.

As we continued, we noticed that some of the walls beside the pavement had been completely covered with posters advertising the exhibition in which the maps were about to feature (the posters for the exhibition all showed worldmapper maps). By the time we got back to the hotel it had started become normal, but no less exciting, to see these posters plastered onto the walls. Just as we were about to turn into the forecourt of the hotel we spotted a billboard with a huge version of the exhibition advert on it. We must have walked past at least 100 maps without noticing any and were shocked at quite how unobservant we had been earlier - possibly why we spent so long no managing to find somewhere to eat!

After this exciting late-night introduction, we spent a few enjoyable days with a group of international artists whose work had also been selected for the 'Confini' or 'Boundaries' exhibition. We were well entertained, fed and accommodated thanks to the exhibition organisers. We were also very lucky to meet the journalist who had originally written about the Worldmapper project, and drawn it to the Nuoro gallery's attention. She gave us a plotted history of the island, explained the local and national politics and helped us to understand the other artists and their artwork.

One of my favourite parts of this was to see 5 of the worldmapper maps printed very large - this revealed quite how much detail Mark Newman has managed to keep whilst changing the sizes of the countries so significantly. Being primarily an art exhibition, some people thought that these maps were hand drawn caricatures; I think that the maps being based on real data was a bonus for many people who seemed to find them visually appealing just in and of themselves.

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!

| Articles | Data | FAQ | News | RSS |

Sheffield University Logo University of Michigan Logo
The Geographical Association Logo
Center for the Study of Complex Systems logo Society of Cartographers logo

| © | Credits | About Us | Site Map |

The Leverhulme Trust Logo