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The map history of an unhappy place, 1829-present

In the greater Horn of Africa, the talk is of civil war, genocide, tyranny, interstate war, failed states, fragile peace. Where did this all come from?

One perspective is given from Europeans’ maps of this area. The maps below are cropped so as to cover the exact same area from the Tropic of Cancer to the Equator, from 20 degrees longitude to the tip of the horn (approx. 50 degrees longitude). The maps are from early 1800s (exact data unknown), 1829, 1885, 1906, 1924, and the Present. The place names appear early on: Darfur, Somalia, (or earlier versions of those names, like Nubia for Sudan, Abyssinia for Ethiopia), but the borders are remarkably unstable.

Among the forces at work changing the map are Europeans’ increasing knowledge of the area, the expansion of European colonial control, European border changes, and Ethiopian expansion. Somehow it led to the present mix of tragic mess, cultural richness, and potential for hope.

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One Comment

  1. MoreAltitude wrote:

    Interesting that the maps are so complex- at least, right up until the present where the borders appear fixed, defined and fairly simple (with the exception of the dotted-line between Somalia and Ethiopia). The most recent map belies the complex realities of internal political divisions within the countries themselves- the very real divide, for example, between northern and southern Sudan (do we hope in vain that the elections might make some difference here?) or the splits between Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. Not boundaries that are officially recognized in the UN GA, but which are patently evident once you set foot in either country and which have administrative and political ramifications. It’s good to see the reality of that complexity underlaid in deeper layers of historical geography. Maps are a fascinating text to interpret.

    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Map History of an Unhappy Place, 1829-present: “ Among the forces at work changing the map are Europeans’ increasing knowledge of the area, the expansion of European colonial control, European border changes, and Ethiopian expansion. Somehow it led to the present mix of tragic mess, cultural richness, and potential for hope.” [...]

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  3. [...] Easterly has maps of the greater Horn of Africa from the early 1800s to the present. They tell an interesting story, though the gap from 1924 to [...]

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erik Hersman, William Easterly, William Easterly, William Easterly, mikeminer and others. mikeminer said: I'm a sucker for maps. RT @bill_easterly Greater Horn of Africa 1829-present, a history in maps of an unhappy place http://bit.ly/cWMlx0 [...]