A to Z World Culture: Finding your place
By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
The world is shrinking. Is Earth imploding? Have we taken so many natural resources out of the ground that the planet is actually becoming smaller? Not likely, but as global communication continues to advance; we are more connected than ever before in human history. Travelling across the Atlantic was once a dangerous trip that took months in a creaking wooden ship. Now, travelers can safely fly across the pond in under ten hours. Information can be sent around the world instantaneous by way of fax, email and cellular telephones. Fifty years ago, the chance that a child born in Appalachia would ever come in contact with someone from Southeast Asia or Latin America before leaving the region after adulthood was slim. In today’s world, because of various push/pull factors and globalization, that likelihood is high. We are in an age where it is increasingly important to understand the diverse cultures of the world as we are becoming progressively more linked. Information about the diversity of the cultural landscape was certainly available fifty years ago, but it was required that one go to a library to access the data in print form. Today, scores of data is accessible from anywhere at the click of a mouse button or tap of an icon. While there are countless websites and databases to choose from, A to Z World Culture provides an excellent resource for students who are doing a research project or anyone who is simply inquisitive about geography and world culture.
The home page of A to Z World Culture has a simple, user-friendly design that allows visitors to easily locate information, regardless of age or computer skills. Either click on a country on the interactive world map or choose one from the scrolling menu. After choosing a country, users are shown the “Cultural Overview” of that country, which includes images showing the global location, the country’s political flag and pictures of people or landscape. Here, readers will also find written information on the cultural diversity, religion, stereotypes and popular culture of the country. Much more detailed information is available within the menu on the left. For example, clicking on “Maps” gives users a list of seven thematic maps that are available to download as PDFs. Among the downloadable maps are Political and Provincial maps (showing place names and boundaries), Physical and Natural Earth maps (showing natural features and topography), Population, Precipitation and Temperature. In addition to the thematic maps, there are also two useful blank outline maps, which are often helpful in learning location and preparing for a test or quiz.
The Demographics tab under Country Profile is a valuable resource for population data. This page shows the total population for the selected country, the age structure, life expectancy, birth, death and migration rates and the population of major cities. Most of the data is relatively current, with estimates from at least the last year or two. This is useful information and an easy means for acquiring demographic data for comparative or survey purposes.
Exploring the other tabs reveal general geographic information about the selected country such as Climate, Culture, Education, History, Language, Music and National Symbols, just to name a few. Clicking on the Country Profile tab is a good place to start. Here, users can learn about the demographics of the country, its economy and government, and its current leaders.
For teachers, the Lesson Plan tab provides valuable resources for introducing place-specific geographic issues and topics to students in grades 7 – 12. Some could also be used in the college classroom for introductory social science courses. Most of these lessons involve role playing that allows students to learn interactively. All lesson plans are available to download as either a Microsoft Word document or as a PDF.
Finally, if you are using any of this information in a paper or project, you will need to cite your sources. A to Z World Culture has made this easy by providing a link that generates Chicago Manual of Style, MLA and APA citations for the A to Z World Culture website. Additionally, there is a “Print this Document” button that opens the document for printing.
As our world becomes smaller and more global communication barriers are permeated, we are experiencing less friction of distance and an increase in space-time compression. Resources like A to Z World Culture are powerful tools in bridging the cultural divisions that we more frequently encounter. In today’s global landscape, understanding cultures other than one’s own is essential in defeating xenophobia, increasing our knowledge and being successful in the new global economy. Visit www.atozworlculture.com and pick your destination.