Criticism of European Regional Maps

The textbook Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts, defines a geographic region as a combination of “cultural, economic, historical, political, and appropriate environmental features”. The regions of Europe map created using the data from the Country Similarity Index, also defines regions by considering a multitude of different factors, including demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and physical geography. Unlike most regional maps created in the past, which have been defined by geographers based on their own finite knowledge and biases, the Country Similarity Index is a more rigorous, statistically based approach to this extremely complicated task. It is worthwhile to look at how the Index’s map compares to ten other European regional maps. Examining the differences between these maps and the Country Similarity Index, can help find where there might be mistakes in these maps, as well as faults in the Index’s map as well. The following nine maps were compared against the Index:


Only three of the nine maps show the British Isles as its own region. However, there is a lot of evidence to support grouping Ireland and the United Kingdom into their own region. The infrastructure of these countries differs from the rest of Europe. They drive on the left side of the road and use Type G electrical outlets. The only other European countries that have this type of infrastructure are the former British colonies, Cyprus and Malta. Ireland and the United Kingdom‘s legal systems are also different from the rest of Europe, since they use Common Law. These countries also play some unique sports that are not typically seen in Europe, like cricket and Gaelic football.


Unlike the nine maps studied, the Country Similarity Index suggests that Italy, Spain, and Portugal should be considered part of Western Europe. Most geographers them into a Southern Europe region. However they do form a distinct sub-region within Western Europe. Perhaps the Index does not weight geography and climate enough to pick up on this distinction. Some geographers add the Ireland and the United Kingdom into this group. Sometimes Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are classified as Central Europe instead. When the British Isles are included Germany, Switzerland, and Austria tend not to be included, or visa versa.


Another region in Europe that is well-defined is Northern Europe. All nine of the maps include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Occasionally, either the Baltic countries or the British Isles are included in this region. The map created by the Country Similarity Index suggests that the Baltic countries are part of Eastern Europe and the British Isles are their own distinct regions. The Index also split this region up into three different sub-regions: Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland, since they have their own unique features. Iceland is far away from the European landmass and has especially unique geography. Unlike the other countries in Northern Europe, most people in Finland do not natively speak an Indo-European language. Finland and Iceland are also not constitutional monarchies, unlike the Scandinavian countries.


In all nine of the maps studied, Greece and Cyprus are not considered to be a region unto themselves, in contrast to the map created by using the Country Similarity Index. They are usually grouped with either Italy, Portugal, and Spain, or the Balkans. However, their language and writing system is significantly different from the core Balkan countries. Furthermore, Greece and Cyprus have a higher standard of living and are wealthier than most Balkan countries. It is also difficult to group Greece and Cyprus in with Italy, Spain, and Portugal, since they are mostly Catholic and their people natively speak Romance languages.


Unlike the nine regional maps of Europe that were studied, Albania is its own region in the map created by using the Country Similarity Index. Geographers almost always group Albania with the rest of the countries in the Balkans. However, the analysis shows this country has enough significant differences from most Balkan countries, so it should be considered its own region, despite being only one country. Kosovo would also be grouped into this region, but there was not enough reliable data to include this country into the study. Albania is the only European country with significantly more Muslims than Christians. In addition, while Albanian is an Indo-European language, it is still extremely different from Greek or Slavic languages.


Eastern Europe is probably the most ambiguous region. Some geographers reserve the name of this region for only Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, or all countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Other geographers include much of the Balkans into the region and leave out Russia. Since the countries in this region have a wide variety of characteristics, the Country Similarity Index breaks Eastern Europe into four distinct sub-regions: the Baltics, Central Europe, the Balkans, and Romania. The Baltic region includes the three former USSR countries that are now in the European Union. The Central Europe region includes Slavic countries (except for Hungary) that are mostly Catholic and use the Latin alphabet. The Balkans includes Slavic countries that are mostly Orthodox Christian (except for Bosnia) and use the Cyrillic alphabet. The Romanian region includes Moldova and Romania, two countries that speak Romanian and use that Latin alphabet that are mostly Orthodox Christian.


The analysis shows that the countries of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine should be considered their own region, distinct from the rest of Europe. Sometimes geographers also group the Baltic countries and Moldova into this region. This is because they were all once part of the Soviet Union. However, those countries have some significant differences with Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, so the Country Similarity Index suggests those countries should be grouped with other regions instead. The Baltic countries are part of the European Union now. Furthermore, most people in these countries are not Orthodox Christian. Moreover, they do not use the Cyrillic alphabet.

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