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Can you draw the map?

John Joyce regularly ends his posts by telling us where we can find their subject on a map. In this week's Spectator, Paul Johnson has a new challenge for those who profess to be well-informed about a place: map it.

Ignorance of map-reading is just part of a wider ignorance of geography. I suspect the subject is badly taught, especially in the state schools. The old system, learning capes and capitals and countries by heart, and poring over atlases, was mechanical but it meant children learned facts and had a good idea of where places were, and their shapes. A generation ago the subject was taken over by the Left, and instead of facts and places children learned about protecting the environment, saving the planet, emissions and how nature is being ruined by industry in the USA. The result is they simply parrot current fads and fantasies, and know nothing. They cannot draw maps, the ability to do which is the essence of geographical knowledge. If I hear somebody ranting away about the Middle East, Iraq, etc., I say ‘Let us see what, if anything, you know about the subject. Here are pens and sheets of paper. I want you to draw a map of the Middle East, including Egypt, the Gulf and Iran, the northern shore of the Black Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Put in all the political boundaries, including those of the Gulf states, and all the capital cities. Mark all the principal oil fields. You need not put in the rivers except the Tigris and Euphrates, but I expect key points such as Mecca to be accurately indicated. While you are doing it, I will draw a similar map and we can compare the two.’ This tactic works very well in deflating the ranters. It confirms something I have long suspected: few people know exactly what is in the Middle East (a term invented by Winston Churchill in 1920-22 or thereabouts) and may mix it up with East Africa. I have never come across anyone who can draw an accurate map of Iraq.


The magic of a good atlas is that you can scan its pages and conjure up in your mind images of distant landscapes. Mere travel will not do this: a knowledge of history is more vital. It is one of the most dangerous myths that travel broadens the mind. If the mind is not broad in the first place, mere tripping and junketing will make no difference. No group travels more today than the 15- to 25-year-olds, and none are more ignorant of geography. I heard recently of a couple who went to the Seychelles believing them to be in the West Indies. Moreover, they returned, after a fortnight in a beach hotel, none the wiser.

The Spectator's offices are in Old Queen Street, which you can find on a London A-Z. They used to be in Doughty Street. Is the move symptomatic of the general pansy-ass wussiness that we are told is taking over our once great country?

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