Anne here, and today I'm talking about maps — specifically the maps that you find in historical atlases. By historical atlases, I don't mean old atlases exactly -- though you can learn a lot from them, too. I mean maps that have been specifically drawn to illustrate changes in borders, the extent of empires at different periods in time, and so on.
I have a number of historical atlases and it can be very easy to get distracted by the stories that are implicit in the maps. Take for instance these two maps, the first reflecting the situation in Europe in Napoleon's time, and the second after Napoleon was finally defeated and the European borders were redrawn at the Congress of Vienna which took place in 1815 — and no, they didn't simply put the borders back where they had been before Napoleon. (Click on the maps to see an enlarged version.)
Before Napoleon, the continent of Europe was a collection of kingdoms, principalities (ruled by a prince and/or princess), grand principalities (ruled by a grand prince and/or princess), grand duchies (where the ruler was a grand duke and/or grand duchess) or duchies, ruled by a duke and/or duchess. Some were independent, some were "client states" of bigger countries, and some were more or less for decoration — the power of the "ruler" was in name only.
Napoleon took over many of these small kingdoms and territories, often appointing his relations and friends as the ruler. Apart from appointing himself Emperor of France, he appointed his relatives King of Naples, King of Holland, Grand Duke of Berg, King of Spain, King of Westphalia and Grand Duchess of Tuscany. More details here.
Today, only the Duchy of Luxembourg remains, courtesy of a decision made by the Congress of Vienna. Countries such as Lithuania and Finland were also grand duchies at some time in the past. It's fascinating to delve into the history.
It was a question about Poland that had me pulling out my trusty historical atlases. I had my current hero returning from Poland — and my critique partner said "Did Poland exist at that point?"
It did and it didn't, but after consulting a number of sources, I decided since the Kingdom of Poland had come and gone over the years and the borders changed —for instance part of Poland under Napoleon was called The Duchy of Warsaw between 1807 and 1813 — my hero could still call it Poland because that's what Polish patriots called it regardless of official titles and shifting borders —and thus modern readers wouldn't be confused. Besides, people are usually slow to adopt new names when they've grown up with the old ones.
Actually, if you want to see how much the borders of Europe have changed over time, go to this site, where the Daily Mail has a fascinating time-lapse animation of Europe's changing borders since 1100. You need to scroll down until you find something that looks like this.
Here's another site where you can see how European borders have changed between 1910 and 2000. Two maps, side by side, the same scale — so easy to see the difference. And that's just Europe.
So if you're interested in history, why not get yourself a historical atlas? They're utterly fascinating. Flip through the pages and you'll see the rise and fall of empires, the conquest of countries, the spread of colonization, the carving up of Africa by the colonial powers — the results of which are still causing untold grief and destruction, the disappearance of civilizations, and more. And you're spoiled for choice.
Do you like looking at maps? Do you have an atlas, or do you just rely on google maps these days? Have you ever explored a historical atlas? Interested in looking at them now?