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Lunch & Learn: The “Mapping Globalization” Project with Miguel Centeno and Manish Nag



Detail from “Steamship routes of the World” circa 1900, the American Express Company.

“Mapping Globalization” was the topic of today’s Lunch ‘n Learn featuring Professor Miguel Centeno and graduate student, Manish Nag, both of the Department of Sociology at Princeton.

Centeno began the talk by describing the origins of his interest in globalization, about 11 years ago, about the time of Thomas L. Friedman’s first publications on his theories about the relationships between nations (The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 2000 and The World is Flat, 2004). Centeno said it occurred to him that there were many ways to frame the subject of globalization, and that the process, in fact, had been going on for thousands of years. How, he wondered, was the best approach to grasp the complexity of the concept without resorting to banalities–and what was the best way to diagram information as complex as that describing global trade?

The International Networks Archive

Centeno’s first attempt to answer that question was to develop the International Networks Archive, (INA), where he used graphic arts, among other things, to try to depict complex relationships in easy-to-understand ways. Using some common reports published by the United Nations, he used trade data to support the generation of diagrams that showed some stunning conclusions about global transactions.  Centeno calls these images “infographics.” An example, The Magic Bean Shop and The Fries that Bind Us, are two of the diagrams in the INA collection. They show the effects of McDonalds and Starbuck’s franchises on global trade. This diagram, he noted has been the most popular on the site, having been reprinted multiple times as an example of the sort of trends the INA is best at describing.



The fries that bind us? A diagram showing the effects of Starbuck’s coffee shops and McDonald’s restaurants on world trade. Image copyright 2003, INA.


“Globalization is nothing more than a complex series of transactions across the planet,” said Centeno, alluding to the strong connections that can be made by analyzing trade data. “Most of these data sets are available publicly,” he noted, showing a table that tracks the annual number of minutes spent in phone communications between countries. Data about the imports of movies, books, as well as trade data, are among the many other ways to show how these transactions take place through what seems like simple exchanges.

The INA project was followed by the “Mapping Globalization,” where data was visualized in three distinct ways.

Mapping Globalization

The first section of the Mapping Globalization site contains a collection of maps, and links to maps of various kinds: these include historic maps, interactive maps, and modern satellite imagery that help to convey the notion of geographic location as a critical, but often overlooked aspect of globalization. “Globalization involves connections between at least two places,” the website explains, “and the first step in our understanding must be an appreciation of what this means in a concrete sense of place.”

The second, and least developed, section of the “Mapping Globalization” site is the “Narratives” section, a series of animated movies that show general trends in globalization over time, such as “Migrations” and “Empires.”

Finally, the “Data and Analysis” section uses diagrams generated by technology from NetMap Analytics, which creates diagrams showing the density of trade between nations. Using data from GKG trade statistics, NetMaps are circular diagrams that show relationships between various countries, grouped by continent. Thresholds can be set on the data depicted to clarify the diagrams. For instance, setting a threshold of f “0.3%” means that links corresponding to a trade share less than 0.3% of the total dollar value in the category are not shown in the diagram.


Thumbnail image for ApparalandAccessories1980_2001.png

Trade in Apparel and Accessories in 1980 and 2001 with a 0.3% threshold. From “Brief Introduction to the Data and Selected Images from the GKG Project” by Miguel Centeno and Abigail Cook.

Despite best efforts at the time, there was no way for the NetMaps to be generated dynamically on the website, however images of several of the most interesting patterns can be found in the section of the site called “NetMap Combined Studies.”


The talk next focused on a project undertaken by Manish Nag, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Princeton who now studies with Centeno. Nag explained his past career as an IT consultant, and his first interest in studying globalization at Harvard, studying with Jason Beckfield. At Harvard, Nag worked on a project called Sonoma, as a way to visualize statistical data using maps. When he came to Princeton to continue his studies, he began to work with Centeno on making an interactive database that would allow anyone to diagram world trade relationships. The result was the MapTrade project.

MapTrade, still in beta, shows various projections of a world map (Robinson, Winkel Trippel, Gall-Peters, or equirectangular are the map views that the interface supports). Trade flows can be diagrammed on top of the world projections, showing trade between selected nations, based on specific commodities, or all trade between all nations. Trade data is available for 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2009.

Using the interface, it is possible to save generated maps, so that comparisons can be drawn, and the results saved for use in research and presentation. As with the earlier NetMaps projects, filters can be applied to clarify the data by setting thresholds, or by limiting the transactions by their total percentage of world trade.

Centeno and Nag used the MapTrade interface to generate a series of maps, showing the shift in trade centers over time.



A diagram showing the top 75% of trade in wheat among all nations, 1980. Image generated by MapTrade.


A diagram showing the top 75% of trade in wheat among all nations, 2009. Image generated by MapTrade

The audience then requested several maps showing various commodities, countries and time periods.


Who knew so many fish sticks were traded between the U.S. and China in 2009? That the top 50% of word trade involves only 10 countries? You may have suspected these things; MapTrade can draw you the picture to prove it!

A future phase of Centeno and Nag’s collaboration will include making the NetMaps data interactive, much in the way that MapTrade currently is, so that users can generate and save their own diagrams.


Links to all three of the projects discussed in today’s talk can be found at:



A podcast of the talk can be found here.


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