Bicycle sharing. Migration. Euro-toponymy in the USA. Map-reading. And other matters in today’s potpourri. Pay special attention to the italicized words – they are geography concepts you should explore.

Euro-toponymy in the USA

The USA as we know it is largely a result of immigration from Western Europe in the early stages. In more recent times, the sources of migrants to the USA have been different and include Latin America (why is it called that?), Eastern Europe, and Asia. Africa was an early migrant source, but that was different (how so?).

Anything to do with culture will be reflected on the landscape. This is inevitable because we always “write” our stories on the landscape: ranging from the simple act of graffiti (“Sundaravaradarajan loves Parvathavardhini” on a rock or a tree trunk) to naming places (toponymy). This geographical writing gives us a picture of the history of places – historical geography.


Oxfords in the USA. (Source: Washington Post) Click on image to go to source article.

The early large scale European migration to what eventually became the USA is a classic example. My guru Dr Surinder Bhardwaj used to give a holiday assignment to his undergraduate class on the Geography of North America. The students had to visit the grave-yards of their home towns and make a list of all the last names (surnames) and dates of the deceased (from year X to year Y) on the tombstones. This would show the sources of different immigrants – after all, all Europeans in USA are immigrants or their descendants. When you looked at these data, you could begin to understand why that town was named whatever it was. The history of the toponym of a place is always very interesting.

Here is a Washington Post story on English toponyms in the USA.  Find the names the author has given here on a map of the UK.

Now, try to find the history (or legend) behind toponyms in India. Here are a few suggestions to get you started: Mumbai, Darjeeling, Ajmer, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Srirangapattana, Srirangam, and Madras / Chennai.

Migration to Europe

Continuing on the theme of migration … Europe has not only been the source of much migration to what the earlier explorers wrongly called the “New World”, it has also been the destination of migration from various other

Source of immigrants to European countries. (Click on image to visit source site) Source:

Source of immigrants to European countries. (Click on image to visit source site) Source:

parts of the world and countries within Europe as well. (Why did the early explorers call the lands that they “discovered” the “New World”? Why were they wrong?)i

Here are maps of foreign-born populations in Europe. Now, tell me (or anyone else who happens to be near you at the moment!):

  • Where is the largest Algerian population? Why do you think that is?
  • Where is the largest Indian population? Why do you think that is?
  • Which country has the lowest percentage of foreign-born population, which has the highest?
  • Which country has the lowest percentage change in immigrant population and which country has the highest? What are some reasons for this? (You should be able to answer this question if you have followed recent news about massive migrations to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries of West Asia.)
  • By the way, why is West Asia also called the Middle East? Which name should we, in India, be using?

And so on. You can explore the history of these patterns quite easily with a little extra reading. You could also try discussing these with your teachers and they may be able to help you, too.

Getting around

Geography is all about places. This includes movement. Not just migration, but daily commutes as well. In recent years, we have been hearing a lot about green-house gases in the atmosphere and how human activity is contributing ever-increasing amounts of these. There have been many responses to this ongoing crisis and they are usually reduced to the three-point mantra: reduce, re-use, recycle.

One part of the ‘reduce’ is to use bicycles instead of motorized transportation. For this to be practically implemented, there have to be several things in place – safety for bicyclists (helmets, road rules to protect bicyclists, etc.), space (designated bicycle lanes on roads with markings to show where they are), parking facilities (bicycle racks), and facilities to share (exchange points). In India, this approach has not gained much strength – bicycling in Bengaluru is a nightmare! It is not that different in any other large Indian city.

However, in some cities of the West, they have been making quite considerable progress with encouraging and increasing bicycle riding as an alternative to motorized transportation.

City flows. Bicycle traffic visualized. Click on the image to go to source article. (Source:

City flows. Bicycle traffic visualized. Click on the image to go to source article. (Source:

Here is a very interesting story of three cities: New York City, Berlin, and London. It includes a video visualization of data collected by GPS (Global Positioning System) fitted to bicycles. Find out:

  • What are the geographic patterns of bicycle movements in these three cities?
  • What does the author say about barriers to the movement of bicycles?

Now visit the project website upon which the above article is based – – and answer these questions:

  • What are the scales at which the data are shown?
  • How are they different?
  • What are the different infrastructure facilities available in those cities?
  • How are these infrastructure facilities and rules examples of the stories we write on the geographic landscape?

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition, 11 August 2016.

Featured image, courtesy: Washington Post


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