GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

5.6 ArcGIS Exercise - How Ideologies Territorialize



In this lesson you’ve read about nationalism as an aspect of identity, and about the complicated relationship between nationalism, separatism, and terrorism. As indicated in the lesson content, nationalism is inherently territorialized, as it involves an attachment to (and claim over) some particular territory. In this assignment, we will investigate that territoriality more directly.

We can debate the nature of the Islamic State (do they constitute a nationalist group? If so, how so? Is this a case of religious nationalism or is it something else?), but what is clear is that the ideology driving their activity has a significant territorial component to it. In this lesson, we’re going to look at the territory that the Islamic State controlled over various points in time. As you complete this assignment, consider what the territorial goals were of the Islamic State, why they chose this particular territory, and how they acquired it.

Overall Task

Using the various layers in ArcGIS Online depicting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq’s general territory between 2014 and 2019, consider what it means for an ideology or an ideological group to “control” territory across international borders. Upon a visual inspection of the territorial claims of the Islamic State during those time periods and the violent acts that are still ongoing, you will write a two page paper evaluating the territorialization of an ideology and what it means even once the territory is deemed to have been reclaimed. Use the questions posed throughout the exercise as a guide.

Introduction to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq

The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has been called by several names including ISIS, and ISIL, Daesh, but the group originated from al Qaeda in Iraq, which dissipated in 2007, only to resurface in 2011, changing its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013.

Please read the following Timeline: the Rise, Spread, and Fall of the Islamic State

Analyzing the Changing Territory of ISIS (2015-2019)

The caliphate was at its height of territorial control in 2014. At the end of 2014, airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq began to be conducted, and also marked a turning point in the control ISIS had over the landscape. Using ArcGIS Online, evaluate the approximate areas of control for ISIS in January 2015, October 2016, July 2017, and March 2019. Please note that the area of control for March 2019 is exaggerated for visualization purposes.

  1. Using your Penn State credentials, sign into ArcGIS online, and open a new Map viewer.
  2. Add the following Layers to your map:
    1. Lesson 5: ISIS_AOC_Jan2015_
    2. Lesson 5: ISIS_AOC_Oct2016_
    3. Lesson 5: ISIS_AOC_Jul2017_
    4. Lesson 5: ISIS_AOC_Mar2019
  3. Rearrange the layers so that they are in descending temporal order, starting with the most recent (March 2019) first. Using the techniques you learned in previous lessons, also change the colors so it is easier to visualize.
  4. Evaluate the changes in ISIS territory over time. You may choose to turn different layers on and off or adjust the transparencies to make the changes more apparent.

Consider the following questions

  1. How does ISIS territory change over time?
  2. How does an ideological or extremist group that is a non-state actor such as ISIS gain and maintain territory?

Islamic State Attacks After the Fall of the Caliphate

After March 2019, area of control maps for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are next to non-existent. Does that mean that ISIS is no longer a threat?

  1. In the same map where you were investigating the changing boundaries of the areas of control for ISIS, add the following layer to your map:
    • Lesson 5: ACLED Islamic State in Iraq and Syria 2020 2021
    The layer shows Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) for violent acts perpetrated by ISIS between 2020 and 2021, with a geoprecision level of 1 (the highest level of geoprecision). This subset of the ACLED dataset includes with just the locations of the violent acts.


This weeks assignment is to answer the following questions in a 2 page paper (300 to 500 words)

  • How different are the locations of the violent acts, shown in the ACLED data, to the approximate locations of the areas of control for ISIS over time?
  • Areas of control maps for ISIS since 2019 have been non-existent. Given the ACLED data of the violent acts continuing to be perpetrated by ISIS, what does the lack of an area of control map potentially signal? If we create areas of control for an ideology and place them on a map, does it give the group legitimacy or prominence? Explain why or why not, and justify your response.
  • Based on the ACLED data provided, do you believe that ISIS still has “areas of control” in Syria and Iraq? Explain why or why not. If so, where would you consider placing the areas of control?

When you are ready to submit your assigment, please ruturn to the Lesson 5 module in Canvas where you will find the Lesson 5 ArcGIS Online Exercise dropbox which contains specific instructions for submitting the assignment.

Please check the Canvas Syllabus or Calendar for specific time frames and due dates.