Changing Europe: a Dynamic Map

I so wish I had this when I was teaching modern western civ this semester.  That course covers roughly the 16th through 20th centuries.  It’s only half the time frame of the map, but my other class starts at the beginning of time and runs up to the 16th century.  The map is only relevant for about the last six weeks of class.

Maps change.  I always encourage students to spend time looking at the maps, not that many of them listen to me.  Knowing where people are can make it so much easier to figure out what is going on, and some students have a frighteningly poor understanding of European geography.

  • OK, I get you’re not sure where the Holy Roman Empire is (although since it’s the giant thing in the middle, I would think minimal study should teach you), but I’ve had map quizzes where that giant thing in the middle was labelled “England.”
  • I’ve been asked “Is Scotland really attached to the top of England like that?” (Yup, and has been for the last 410 million years.*)

Remember, this is the continent students are most likely to be familiar with outside of North America.  Heaven forbid I ask were, say, Iraq is.

Fox News Doesn't Know where Egypt and Iraq are
Or Egypt, apparently.  Here’s a hint: it’s the country with the giant river visibly running through it. Also, it’s in *%&!ing Africa. 
Screw you, Fox News. Huffington Post

Now imagine trying to understand what is going on in 1500 CE or 1200 CE. As you’re about to see, countries sometimes end up in some pretty weird places.  (I wish the map went back to the creation of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 CE, when it started in the area we now call France, which, of course, isn’t normally part of the HRE.**

So, back to our dynamic European map.  It runs from 1000 CE to the present, and the progression appears to be uniform.  Thus, when you’re halfway through the video, you’re at about 1500 CE.  I do wish they displayed the years.  I think it would be way more useful, rather than just mostly amusing.

Some things to look for:

  • Watch France in the early years.  See the big section go from France orange to brown at about 0:12?  That’s England.  The English king, who was also a French duke, continued to marry into important French families and gained a ridiculous amount of French territory.  But the English kings have a thing about swearing fealty to the French king, even for French territories, and they fight over those territories for years.  This fight is not the Hundred Years War, either.  That comes later, when the English king decides (not unreasonably) he’s legitimately the heir of a king of France.  Good times.
  • The disaster in the middle that is the Holy Roman Empire.  Being an empire, it’s made up a various states.  Over time, those states broke down into more and more states.  At one point there were 400 of the damn things.  And then you let some of them elect the next emperor.
Holy Roman Empire Map
Holy Roman Empire, c. 1500.
German History in Documents and Images. IEG-Maps, Institute of European History, Mainz / © A. Kunz, 2007
Cartographer: Joachim Robert Moeschl

If you are somewhat familiar with the history of the area, this is why the HRE can never quite get its act together.

More things to watch for:

  • The amazing disappearing/reappearing Poland.  You may have learned about Poland being partitioned during WWII, but not existing is practically the national pastime of poor Poland.  The borders start by rapidly fluctuating around the 1 minute mark before it vanishes complete at about 2:20, then pokes its head out momentarily at 2:37.  A Polish friend greatly understated the situation thus: one way to know if you’re in a World War is to see if Poland gets to be a country.  In fact, it’s had problems well outside the chronology of the World Wars.
  • Prussia.  It’s purple and starts out in the north-east corner of the Holy Roman Empire.  This is what will turn into Germany at 2:48 (1871).  You can also watch the central yellow mass turn into Austria-Hungry, Germany’s best friend in WWI.  And then they explode into pieces at the end of the war at 2:57.
  • 3:04, the outbreak of of WWI in 1939.  There were good reasons why people envisioned Hitler ruling the world.  German.  Purple.  Everywhere.

*Source: Scottish Natural Heritage

**I generally abbreviate Holy Roman Empire to HRE, but I was curious what other amusing things I could associate with HRE.  So I found the Acronym Maker (because someone felt the Internet needed one).  Today’s non-historical HRE is “Hack Republican Enemies.”

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