Wednesday, November 30, 2011

abyssinia later: I'm off to hang with dahomeys

My brief dalliance with mid-20th century African history and politics in the last book post, as well as the interesting old bits of paper post a few days ago, remind me that I have been sitting (not literally) on some more interesting stuff for a while. As so often the more fascinated by maps you are the more interesting it'll be.

My sister Hannah gave us a book of photographs from the Magnum photographic co-operative last Christmas - fascinating in its own right, but almost more fascinating (to me, anyway) was the paper she'd wrapped it in, an old wall map of some sort. Clearly fairly old, judging by the names of some of the countries. But how old?

We all know the method for dating a dictionary: masturbation. I don't mean doing it, I mean looking the word up. Maps require a different approach, though, and the obvious one would seem to be: construct a table of date ranges from the names shown on the map, and the date of the map will be in the (hopefully narrow) band of dates that they all have in common. Let's check it out.

Europe and the Middle East first - a larger map can be viewed here.

  • Most obviously there is a united Germany, which means it must be before 1949 (or after 1990, but I'm ruling out that possibility). The presence of the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig suggests it's the post-Treaty of Versailles borders, i.e. after 1919.
  • Yugoslavia's borders suggest it's before 1941, it must also be after 1918 as Yugoslavia didn't exist before then.
  • Similarly Czechoslovakia didn't exist before 1918.
  • There's no Israel, so it must be before 1948.
  • The "Levant States" generally referred to the French Mandates of Syria and Lebanon between 1920 and 1946; similarly Transjordan existed between 1921 and 1946 (at which point it became Jordan).
Let's take a look at Asia (bigger map here):

  • French Indochina existed officially between 1887 and 1954, after which it became North and South Vietnam and Cambodia.
  • India is still occupying all the territory now occupied by Pakistan and Bangladesh, which puts it before 1947.
  • Sri Lanka is still called Ceylon; the change happened in 1972.
  • Sakhalin is still in two bits, the lower bit being the northernmost prefecture of Japan - this situation lasted from 1905 to 1945 when the whole island reverted to belonging to the Soviet Union.
This is all very interesting, but we know where the real interest is going to be: Africa. Countries change their names there as almost often as I change my underpants - i.e. once every two or three years. So we should be able to narrow it down still further. Let's have a look (bigger map here):

So, if my identification of all those dates is correct, it would seem that we can conclude that this is a map of the world that dates from the mid-1930s, specifically between 1932 and 1936.

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