Nowherelands – Political Geography Of Real Places That Don’t Exist


Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18

Across the globe there are places without diplomatic recognition or UN membership, that function semi-autonomously and are considered countries by their inhabitants. They lie on the margin of legitimacy but can be visited in the real world. This course explores the maps, political status, location, population and language of these shadow states, including Mapuche, Rapa Nui (an island annexed by Chile), and the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Out of stock


Everybody knows what today’s political map of the world looks like. The bold colors and sharp boundaries show the global land surface neatly divided between sovereign states. But it hasn’t always been like this. For most of human history, before the Europeans started exploring and colonizing, people lived in small cultural communities or larger civilizations that were hardly interlinked at all. With time, as more people moved more frequently and more quickly – exploring, conquering, trading and traveling – so the contemporary world of countries, tightly defined by their boundaries, developed.

The final phase of this process is really quite recent. It is only after the end of World War II, with the creation of the United Nations and the process of decolonization, that we came anywhere near to the map of many colors we know today. A truly global international society of countries.

Not that the political world map is static. Countries come and go. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the disintegration of the Soviet Union spawned no fewer than fifteen new states and East Germany joined its western counterpart to become a reunified country. These were quickly followed by Czechoslovakia undergoing a ‘Velvet Divorce’ to create the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Already in the twenty-first century we have seen more new states emerge in Asia (East Timor), Europe (Montenegro) and Africa (South Sudan).

What most of us probably don’t realize about the world map is what it conceals: a multitude of unrecognized and largely unnoticed states whose claims to legitimacy are made invisible by the bold, self-assured slabs of color. This is the shadowy, surprisingly large, and literally unofficial world of countries that don’t exist.

This course explores these wannabe nation states. Each has its own flag and legitimate claim to some territory but, for a variety of reasons, none has quite made the grade, to join the exclusive club of internationally recognized countries.

At a time when the world is experiencing resurgent nationalism, this course shows that throughout history countries change and leave behind composite and stratified cultural legacies. As a result, today we have many things in common, not only with our neighbors but also with people that might live far away but were once connected to us. There are legends, traditions, dishes that we share from our common past, and that bring us closer rather than farther apart.

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

Our approach to academics helps learners view traditional disciplines in unconventional ways. With immersive classes that cross disciplines, learners stretch themselves both within and beyond conventional academic pathways, while small classes encourage close collaboration between learners and instructors. Today, Polyhistoria is the only comprehensive online learning platform teaching in-depth, cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers.

(Read more about our teaching philosophy.)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

Crystal Ferreira

Assignments will be posted on the classroom wall each week for students and may include reading, researching, and watching videos. It will also include participation in the threaded discussions on the classroom wall.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 0 – 1 hour per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18