A world map, pre-1910:
Map Courtesy of: LEARN NC
And this one circa 2012:
Map courtesy of: Freeworldmaps.net
Beyond the fact that one was done on high resolution paper and the other rendered graphic to a gif file just taking the countries into mind like a 19th century diplomat or foreign minister would, what jumps out at you?
To me there are a few major things that hit immediately:
1) The imperial colonial experiment in Africa failed. There are some colonies that still have their shape, but the vast majority of Nations didn't exist in Africa in the late 19th century. Imperialism, as a way of doing business, didn't work which would have huge implications to a foreign minister transported from the late 19th century to 2012. Worse is that Africa splintered after the Empires receded, meaning that nothing coherent had been left in the wake of them. The grand European experiment of civilizing the world via colonies hadn't worked out in Africa and may actually have left a worse result behind them.
2) The three 'sick men' of the late 19th century had two dying and one surviving. The two that had died were the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The former had left a mess in the Orient and the latter had left a mess in Eastern Europe. There was little that the 19th century Europeans had seen as being able to save the Ottoman Empire and it had been breaking down for at least two centuries. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had episodes of ethnic strife prior to WWI, had been unable to reform itself and create a stable, multi-ethnic State. It was gone. The third sick Nation was China and it seems to have reconsolidated and even expanded even after the anti-Western rebellions.
3) The Western impositions in China were transitory and the history of unitary rule in China obviously (from a 19th century diplomat's eyes) overwhelmed Western troops no matter how well armed they were.
4) Russia has, apparently, remained intact even with many divergent sub-parts of it and has proven durable over time, like China. Neither are Empires, as such, but have vast amounts of land under them which used to be Empires, albeit poor ones.
5) The Sun Set on the British Empire. And the French Empire. And the German Empire (such as it was).
6) The Balkans and ethnic sub-parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire obviously means that such a State cannot last long if it does not have common underpinnings deeper than the larger government at the old Imperial level.
7) The American Experiment has been strangely successful, by and large, unlike the European experiments with Empires and other top-down government systems.
What a 19th or early 20th century (pre-WWI) diplomat, foreign minster or secretary of State can't get from the map without any further discussion is vast.
1) After 2 World Wars, the Cold War, the rise and crumbling of Maoism, there isn't much really left of all of that by 2012, just looking at the map in small scale like this.
2) That same observer could not imagine the British Empire going down peacefully, and even the French putting up some resistance to letting go of their holdings, so there would be imagined strife of a different sort from the World Wars.
3) There has been some vast economic expansion in the world to get to the modern maps, and that indicates that no matter the social failures of the West, its technological triumphs have done vast good for mankind. Surely, mankind, as a whole, must recognize this and rejoice in it?
So much to miss at the highest level, isn't there?
If you put in a GDP map of the world:
Map Courtesy: World Mapper
You then get a wholly different view of what must have happened in the intervening century. The fact that Europe, by and large, has dropped so low is, of course, due to the lack of Imperial holdings and expansive use of those resources. That China is the #2 economy is of little surprise as it was the #2 economy leaving the 19th century due to population and size combined. The disheartening part would be the pure lack of capability in the rest of the world outside of the Western Nations or those having just large landmass, to economically develop.
In that realm, the lack of 'The White Man's Burden' success is palpable, for no matter how paternalistic, no matter that it was often put in by force, the idea was to get something on the ground better than what was there to help the Native populations to civilize and become productive and modern societies. That it can be done is witnessed in places like Australia and the old co-dominion in S. America.
Now a look at GDP per capita in a cartogram:
Map Courtesy: Princeton QED
What would be a surprise is that country just next to China before you get to Japan. which would stand out to a late-19th century or early 20th century diplomat or minister since it was not much of anything there to start with. The peninsular State of Korea was notable in being a place where the eastern empires roamed be they Russian, Chinese or Japanese. Like Poland it was notable as a place constantly over-run by its more powerful neighbors.
The major question is: how did this come about?
And since Korea wasn't noted for it's infrastructure, industry or much else back then, there is a follow-up: how come this cannot be replicated across the world?
Even more astonishing would be to see that this isn't even all of Korea but just South Korea, which means that something happened to divide and impoverish North Korea and that something far different happened in the South to make it far more prosperous. The time travelling diplomat or minister could not even begin to guess just what it was that could do that beyond some sort of civil war in which both sides came to a stalemate and the two different viewpoints then went their separate ways. Seeing such a stark difference that time traveller would have seek further answers into why the rest of the world does not look at South Korea as a solution for global poverty via prosperity.
Perhaps we should do the same.