Inflicting a historical atlas on the world
February 19, 2008 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Physicist Howard Wiseman has a hobby, history. On his website he has three history subsites, filled with lots of information: 1) Ruin and Conquest of Britain 2) 18 Centuries of Roman Empire 3) Twenty Centuries of "British" "Empires". Especially informative are his many maps. As he says himself: "Drawing historical maps of all sorts has been a hobby of mine since my mid teens. Now I can do it digitally, and inflict it upon the world!"
posted by Kattullus (18 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
He's even published a (minor) research paper on British history.
posted by Kattullus at 7:29 PM on February 19, 2008

Now I can do it digitally, and inflict it upon the world!

Now there's a novel concept.
posted by y2karl at 7:43 PM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


reminds me of matthew white's homepage :P
posted by kliuless at 7:45 PM on February 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Matthew White is one of the saints of the internet. Pretty much any subsection of Matthew White's site could be a great FPP. I think I've linked to two of them over the years.
posted by Kattullus at 7:48 PM on February 19, 2008

I'm glad that Howard Wiseman is only a hobbyist at history.

His map shows Australia as part of the British Empire post-1945, when for all intents & purposes the country has been independent since 1901.

That's with two exceptions: the English Monarch is the titular head of state, represented by a Governor-General appointed by the Australian government, and until a decade or so ago, it was possible to appeal from the High Court of Australia to the Privy Council in England in extremely limited circumstances.

Neither of those are sufficient for Australia to be regarded as part of the empire at any date after 1901.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:53 PM on February 19, 2008

Let it be noted I was chuckling at the sentence quote, not the post, nor the site--which is a labor of love.

You can't say he leans toward washed out colors, though....
posted by y2karl at 7:57 PM on February 19, 2008

Australia was very much part of the British Empire in 1901. The creation of the Dominion of Australia gave local government greatly expanded powers, but it did so within the context of the Empire.
posted by boubelium at 8:06 PM on February 19, 2008

Well, UbuRoivas, the guy is Australian, so I feel that he has some credibility ;)

This is what Wiseman says on that subject, by the by:
It is often said that the British Empire peaked in the 1920s, following World War One (1914-19), in which it gained most of the German territories in Africa, and Ottoman provinces in the Near East. This statement would be true if the dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand), were not counted part of the British Empire after they were granted independence by the statute of Westminster in 1931. However, the British monarch remained (and still remains, except for South Africa), the monarch of these territories, and it was not until 1947-9 that the dominions established separate citizenships from the UK. And World War Two (1939-45) showed that the dominions (Ireland excluded) were indeed part of the Empire: in 1939 the Australian prime minister informed his country that Britain had declared war on Germany and that "as a result Australia is also at war", and in 1940 millions of pounds of gold were shipped to Canada in preparation for a possible relocation of the British royal family. By this reckoning, the Empire reached its greatest extent following that war, in 1945. Most of the the Italian territories in Africa were occupied by Britain, as was all of North-West Germany and parts of Austria and Berlin. Huge areas of the Middle East were occupied (or reoccupied) during the war and beyond, to secure oil supplies and seaways, or to remove regimes friendly to the Axis.
posted by Kattullus at 8:06 PM on February 19, 2008

this is interesting stuff, thanks
posted by caddis at 8:11 PM on February 19, 2008

Sorry for not spelling your name correctly UbuRoivas. Clearly, I need some thicker glasses.
posted by boubelium at 8:12 PM on February 19, 2008

the dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) [...] were granted independence by the statute of Westminster in 1931

OK, so I was 30 years off. Sorry, I'm only a hobbyist.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:16 PM on February 19, 2008

I should really let this go, but I rarely get to pontificate on the ever so thrilling Constitutional History of the British Empire.

The Statute of Westminster mentioned above did not give Australia its full independence. The SoW gave the Dominions those powers which Parliament had been reserving (primarily the ability for dominions to conduct their own foreign policy). However, London maintained a de jure control in that their consent was required for some major issues. For instance, until repatriating its Constitution in 1982, Canada could not alter its own constitution without the consent of the British Parliament. Australia might even have had more power turned over to London. I seem to recall it wasn't until the Australia act in 1986 that London gave up its rights to pass laws on Australia's behalf. So, Australian independence is sort of murky and it wouldn't be entirely correct to elevate the SoW to a declaration of independence.

Also, as an interesting tidbit: Britain declaring war on Germany raised a constitutional question regarding whether the Dominions were then at war as well. For all intents and purposes they were, but their own Parliaments legally had to pass acts of war. Interestingly, the Whitehouse wasn't even sure on this point and someone had to call Ottawa to ask them about the Dominion's statuses.
posted by boubelium at 8:25 PM on February 19, 2008

As a postcolonial myself, Ubu, I can understand how hard it is to nail down a date at which a colony became an independent state. The case for 1901 (the formation of the Commonwealth) is very strong, so is 1931. Then there's, of course, 1986, when the Australia Act was passed in both Canberra and Westminster. I think that actual independence was achieved sometime between 1931 and 1986, but it's hard to nail down an exact date.

In Iceland things are similar. Home-rule was established in 1903, sovereignty in 1918 and independence in 1944. However, Iceland became functionally independent when Denmark was taken over by the Germans in 1940 (as Eddie Izzard said, "the Nazis took Denmark in 1940 and you declared independence in 1944... what the fuck took you so long?"). However, Iceland was occupied by the British a month after the German army invaded Denmark and remained occupied during the whole of World War II (the US took over in the summer of 1941). So the exact moment of functional independence isn't quite as clearcut as saying it was June 17th 1944.
posted by Kattullus at 8:31 PM on February 19, 2008

It's actually quite a good setup, Kattullus, when nobody can pin a precise date for independence.

That way, when somebody takes you to task for getting stuck into the vodka at 9am, you just tell them you're celebrating your country's true independence day, like any good patriot would. After you explain your reasoning by knowledgeably referring to some invented event - like Churchill signing the Manchester Statement in 1942 - Your former critic, not wanting to appear ignorant or unpatriotic, will join you in toasting your country's independence.

Then you can get down to discussing the legal intricacies & milestones of the path towards freedom. Or talking about the relative merits of all the hot girls you know, whichever it is that you prefer.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:05 PM on February 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

Great site and discussion!

*hoists glass to Churchill signing the Manchester Statement*
posted by languagehat at 8:49 AM on February 20, 2008

Here's to the Manchester Statement!

Not only did it vastly diminish the reserve powers of the Governor General, especially his prerogative to remove High Court judges at his own personal discretion without having to consult with the Prime Minister & Cabinet in a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament, it also repealed the legal minimum coverage requirements of swimsuits!
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2008

Folks who like these maps will *really* like the maps in the Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, which is much richer and more clear than Wiseman's stuff. A geography professor pal who makes his living critiquing maps says the Penguin series (Ancient and Modern, too) is very good.
posted by mediareport at 9:19 PM on February 20, 2008

Now that I've woken up from the stupor following my enthusiastic celebration of the signing of the Manchester Statement, I thought some of you might be interested in a story from The Economist about the appropriation of Byzantine history by followers of Putin in Russia. Here's a reaction to the article by Daniel Larison on blog The American Scene.

Of course, Russians appropriating Byzantine history is an evergreen story that dates back approximately 555 years.
posted by Kattullus at 10:03 PM on February 20, 2008

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