I am thrilled to launch River Borders– a website/database of river borders across the world, an outcome of my senior CHI fellowship. This website aims to be an accessible pedagogical tool for educators, specifically high school educators, by offering a centralized repository of river borders across the world. Using data from the International River Boundaries Database (IRBD) at Durham University along other databases, this website is an open source database. It is not static, and information will be updated periodically. Furthermore, recognizing that river borders, indeed, all borders are not static, this website recognizes de-facto as well as formal boundaries.
This website began as a side project as part of my master’s in urban design research thesis, nearly five years ago. I had long wanted to create a database that would allow users to understand the scale and sheer number of river borders across the world. Furthermore, I wanted this space to be one where users could easily get information about particular border rivers and conditions i.e. give the users the ability to investigate borders at the micro and macro scales simultaneously. Thus, users could understand borders in their particular, regional, national, continental, and global contexts. In so doing however, this website is cognizant of its limitations. Because it uses the IRBD which itself uses Google Earth to measure distances and river locations, there are some river sections that are difficult to locate because Google Maps does not show these sections. In some cases that is because the terrain doesn’t allow for clear imagery, in South America for instance. In others, it is because the border is contested, as in the case of India and Myanmar.
Architecture of the website
The landing page is the primary output—a map with clickable labels. Each of these labels spells out the name of the river and in some cases, gives more information about the border river. Given that there are over 900 markers on the website, I am slowly populating all the labels with information and hope to have all of them done soon. In the meantime, there labels with more information include: the Amazon, Indus, Amu Darya, Syr Darya, Danube, Volga, Rhine, Nile, Zambezi, Senegal, Limpopo, Niger, Congo, Mekong, Rio Grande, Colorado, and the Detroit rivers.
Apart from the map, there are short pages/essays. The first is a short river border primer, offering the reader a historical, theoretical, and environmental perspective on river borders. Specifically, the primer investigates why rivers are natural bordering allies which are truant because they can shift courses and run dry, and therefore, they are not reliable bordering allies. There is also another page on North American river borders. This is an interpretative essay that seeks to contextualize north American border rivers historically, focusing on the role of infrastructure in making the border visible. Whether it is the Rio Grande or the Detroit River, the role of infrastructure in the form of dams or shipping channels, has been seminal in exposing the otherwise nonexistent political border (since river borders are essentially lines on water). There is a also a page of sources which includes books, articles and online sources.
The map was built in Mapbox, first a layer of the river borders themselves and second a tile set of all the clickable markers. The river borders themselves were first cut from various open source shapefiles on QGIS. Combining QGIS and Mapbox, this website also uses data on rivers from the IRBD, specifically the names of rivers.
Please feel free to get touch at swayampr[at]msu.edu with any comments/inputs/issues!