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Grades 9-12
Consider the term "boundary." Now apply it to Earth. Earth is crisscrossed and layered with a system of complex divisions. Beyond the familiar political boundaries of countries, states, provinces, cities, towns, and counties, there are legislative districts, school districts, police precincts, sewer or water districts, the property lines of residential subdivisions, and many more boundaries within which people live. Some boundaries are blurred, based largely on personal or group perceptions: ethnic neighborhoods (Little Italy, Chinatown) or larger perceptual regions (Tidewater, the Middle East).

In this lesson students assume the roles of decision-makers in a boundary dispute. They are asked to consider existing boundaries and other characteristics of an area to reach a consensus on whether an area should be divided or remain a single political entity.

Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, political science
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 13: "How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
  • Copies of the article "Yugoslavia: A House Much Divided" from the August 1990 issue of National Geographic magazine (excerpted online )
  • Maps of the fictional colony "Ugeria"
  • Pencils and markers
  • Paper or poster board
Students will
  • understand why and how cooperation and conflict help shape the distribution of social, political, and economic spaces on Earth at different scales;
  • think about the impact of multiple spatial divisions on people's daily lives; and
  • learn how differing points of view and self-interests play a role in conflict over territory and resources.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Conduct a discussion about the following terms: region, territory, boundary, sovereignty, alliance, colony, ethnic group, exclave, enclave. At the conclusion of the discussion students should have a working knowledge of the terms. Some definitions:

region— an area with one or more common characteristics or features that give it a measure of homogeneity and make it different from surrounding areas

territory— a part of a country that does not have the full status of a principal division

boundary— any line or thing marking a limit

sovereignty— an independent state or governmental unit

alliance— a close association of nations or countries for a common objective

colony— a community of people of the same nationality or pursuits, concentrated in a particular district or place

ethnic group— people who share customs, characteristics, language, and common history

exclave— a bounded (non-island) piece of territory that is part of a particular state but lies separated from it by the territory of another state

enclave— a piece of territory that is surrounded by another political unit of which it is not a part

Hand out the National Geographic magazine article on Yugoslavia and have students read it. Have students answer the following questions:
  • Describe the boundary characteristics from the 14th century to the present of the area known in 1990 as Yugoslavia. Have they stayed the same? Changed? If so, in what ways? Have students find maps in the Xpeditions atlas of the countries that used to comprise Yugoslavia.
  • What cultural (economic, social, political, religious) factors have affected the boundaries of Yugoslavia?
  • In what ways has the physical setting played a part in the boundaries of Yugoslavia?
  • What factor(s) do you feel were most significant in shaping Yugoslavia's boundaries?
  • In what ways have outside powers played a part in shaping Yugoslavia's boundaries?
  • In what ways have Yugoslavia's boundary changes affected other countries, including the United States?
  • Based on news reports since 1990, what issues have shaped the boundaries of the countries that were created from the former Yugoslavia?
  • "We're all supposed to be Yugoslavs, but scratch one of us and you'll find a Serb or Croat or something else." How does this statement from a citizen of the former Yugoslavia relate to the conflicts over its partitioning?
  • Make a case supporting or refuting this statement: "The United States is just as physically and culturally diverse as the former Yugoslavia, but such diversity has historically had less effect on the boundaries of the U.S. than on Yugoslavia's boundaries."
Discuss other boundary conflicts around the world. Identify some common features of political land division. Explore natural divisions such as mountains, rivers, deserts.

Make maps of a fictitious colony called "Ugeria." The colony should contain mountains, rivers, and several major cities. Label several small parts of the map "Group B majority," and the rest "Group A majority."

Divide the class into four groups. Distribute a set of pencils, blank paper or poster board, markers, Ugeria maps, and the following Ugeria background information to each group:

Ugeria Background Information

Ugeria has been a colony of a distant country for the past 143 years. Two ethnic groups populate the area in large numbers. In 18 months the colonial power will grant sovereignty to Ugeria. A United Nations commission will meet with representatives from the ethnic groups to decide if Ugeria should remain a single political entity or become two or more separate countries.

Ethnic Group "A" Characteristics

This group

  • makes up 72 percent of Ugeria's population;
  • is largely secular;
  • desires a democratic political system;
  • averages high annual wages;
  • has developed minerals, harbors, oil fields, fishing grounds;
  • has a 93 percent literacy rate;
  • has a 65 percent urban population; and
  • presently doubles its population every 87 years.
Ethnic Group "B" Characteristics

This group

  • makes up 28 percent of Ugeria's population;
  • "fundamentalist approach" to their religion;
  • desires a theocratic political system;
  • averages low annual wages;
  • has developed hydroelectric power as its primary energy resource;
  • has a 19 percent literacy rate;
  • has a 12 percent urban population; and
  • doubles its population every 35 years.
Have at least two students in each group perform the roles of members of the "A" or "B" ethnic groups in Ugeria. The other students within each group may assume roles of UN personnel who are helping mediate boundary issues between members of the two groups.

Have each group study the maps and data and seek a solution to the conflicts that may arise. Differences in the two ethnic groups and their spatial distribution in Ugeria may cause trouble. If a boundary creating two new countries is created, the group should draw it on the map. The students should record reasons for their decision.

Have each group give a report on its recommendations and the rationales for its decision. The maps and written rationales should be displayed for comparison among the groups.

As a class, attempt to come to consensus regarding the fate of Ugeria. Construct a final map showing a whole or partitioned Ugeria and list the reasons for the class's decision. Be sure to highlight the physical geography and the political, cultural, and economic issues that emerged in the decision-making process.

Suggested Student Assessment:
Have students research one of the following boundary conflicts. They should develop a presentation that includes the historic and geographic setting, causes, and outcomes of each conflict.
  • American Civil War
  • Creation of Bantustans in the former South Africa
  • Korean Conflict
  • Vietnam Conflict
  • Indian/Pakistan/Bangladesh Conflict
  • Division of Europe after World War II
  • Berlin Congress (dividing many of the Balkan regions among Turkey, Austria, Great Britain, and Russia)
Extending the Lesson:
Have students research and give presentations on several political or economic alliances.

Gary Miller of F. W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, contributed classroom ideas for Standard 13.

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