Week 15

“War, sectarian violence, and famine have forced more than 50 million people from their homes—the largest number of displaced people since World War II” (The Uprooted, Introduction).

Created in 2016 by the Esri Story Maps team, The Uprooted maps the movement of the refugee crisis, focusing mainly on Syria, and the reactions from the destination countries.

Project Team:

  • Cooper Thomas, Story Maps Product Engineer
  • David Asbury, Cartographer at Esri
  • John Nelson, Product Engineer at Esri
  • Grégory L’Azou, Web Developer at Esri
  • Allen Carroll, Story Maps Team Leader

Research questions:

How, and at what rate, has the refugee crisis spread throughout Western Asia and Europe?

How can we use maps to tell a story about the refugee crises?


The authors uses images, GIFS, text, graphs, and maps to tell their story. All of these elements are integrated into a long-scroll/parallax layout, which creates a more fluid scrolling experience.

The story is broken into five sections.

  • Introduction: The story begins with a short introduction to the refugee crisis and provides a bar graph that shows the number of displaced people by year, a map that shows the number of refugees by country of origin, and a map that shows the destinations of the top 3 refugee source countries.
  • The Disintegration of Syria: The next section focuses on Syria as the origin country with the most refugees: “more than half of Syria’s population has been displaced; entire neighborhoods in cities such as Homs have been destroyed” (The Uprooted, Syria).
  • Zaatari Camp: The following section describes the Zaatari Camp, a refugee camp in northern Jordan that only originated within the past 4 years and has become the largest refugee camp for Syrians.
  • Exodus Into Europe: This section describes the movement of refugees to European countries, the economic consequences of the sudden influx of refugees, and the receptions of those European countries. Many countries have built borders or began enforcing stricter laws to make it more difficult for refugees to enter their country, but as each country created a border, it diverted the primary path for the refugees.
  • How You Can Help: The final section explains how readers can donate or volunteer through organizations to help reduce the suffering of refugees. Their list includes the International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, UNICEF, UNHCR, World Vision, and Missing Maps.

Data sources:

  • Satellite Imagery – Airbus Defense & Space
  • World refugee/IDP statistics – UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
  • Migration routes – International Organization for Migration
  • Refugee camps – UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
  • IDP camps – U.S. Department of State Humanitarian Information Unit

To outline the processes involved in creating the maps in The Uprooted, John Nelson of the Esri’s Story Map team created a new Story Map called The Cartography of ‘The Uprooted.’ In it, he shares the data sources used to create the maps for The Uprooted and invites others to download these sources. He also shares how and why they built the basemap as they did, how they created the refugee lines that show the origin and destination of the refugees, and how they created the the circles which “represent how big an area a country’s departing refugees would cover if each refugee were spaced out every quarter kilometer” (The Cartography of ‘The Uprooted,’ Labels).


Story Maps is a feature of ArcGIS, which is a proprietary mapping tool by Esri. However, there is also an option to sign up for a free public non-commercial account to create Story Maps through their website.

The Story Map is made with a JavaScript API. There are several available layouts for use. For The Uprooted, the Esri Story Maps team experimented with a new layout. In the introduction to The Cartography of ‘The Uprooted,’ Nelson explains “The Uprooted is an early prototype of a Story Map template in development, called Cascade. It’s a long-scroll/parallax layout, and is meant to showcase both slippy dynamic and good old static cartography within a simple, linear, scrolltastic user experience.” I experienced a lot of technical difficulties while viewing The Uprooted. I could not view it at all using my tablet, and on my laptop, several of the sections lagged and often the page stopped responding after a bit of scrolling. Also, sometimes the sections were listed at the top, and at other times, they were missing.

The Esri Story Maps team authored several of the Story Maps in the online Story Maps gallery. It seems like they are trying to show other organizations and individuals the capability of the tool, especially across multiple disciplines. The Story Maps feature, especially with the free non-commercial account, makes ArcGIS more accessible than ever for digital humanists.