The boring life of Jerod Poore, Crazymeds' Chief Citizen Medical Expert.

Alternate History Cartography

I collect antique globes, atlases and maps.  At least I used to, when I had money to spend on stuff like that.  Now I just appreciate the ones I own.  There are two mutually exclusive criteria I have, overlapping with coin, stamp and those rare currency collectors, that make a globe, atlas or map a prize find.  The first is the item became obsolete quickly due to political changes; the best being an item that shows a nation-state which existed only for a brief time.  Choicest find: a sketch-map atlas published in 1939 by Oxford University with a map showing an independent Ruthenia / Carpatho-Ukraine during one of the two brief times after the Munich Pact of September 1938 that Czechoslovakia broke into three states.  The final time, ending with the Hungarian annexation of Ruthenia, the creation of the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia, and absorption of the rest of Bohemia and Moravia by Germany in March 1939 came a full day after Ruthenia's final time as an independent state.

I wish I could remember the name of the movie loosely based upon Ruthenia's numerous changes in political status and being passed around from country to country in the first half of the 20th century.  In the Austro-Hungarian Empire sometimes they were under Austrian rule, sometimes Hungarian.  Immediately after WWI Ruthenia was independent, then part of the short-lived West Ukranian Republic and other variations of the independent Ukraine that existed during the Russian Civil War.  Then part of Hungary.  Then it was part of Romania when the Romainians weren't satisfied with Transylvania alone and they invaded Hungary during the near-constant, internecine Balkan wars (of which WWI was essentially a supersized version).  Then they were part of Czechoslovakia under the theory that big countries kludged together (Yugoslavia & Czechoslovakia  in Europe) were needed to keep dickish countries like Germany and Hungary in line.  Then within the span of a few months Ruthenia was independent, annexed by Hungary, part of a truncated Czechoslovakia, independent again and part of Hungary until the end of WWII.  After that Ruthenia was annexed by the Soviet Union and became part of the Ukraine SSR with the typically Soviet name of Transcarpathian (Zakarpattia) Oblast.  It stayed with post-Soviet Ukraine and kept the name.

So finding an atlas with Ruthenia as a nation, and a National Geographic map showing it as part of Hungary but of questionable status, were pretty geektastic.

Now there's a  Ruthenian independence movement, but it's probably Russian-sponsored shit-stirring.

I also have a globe with an independent East Timor.  From the first time they were independent, between November 1975 and July 1976.

Those are my favorite examples of quickly obsolete items.  The other is the title of this entry.  Any map can be wrong, but there's a special kind of wrong that I really appreciate: mixing borders, existence of nation-states, etc. from wildly different times and the cartographer's imagination.  The sort of thing you might see in an alternate history book, except it wasn't supposed to be a fictional map.

Or: the map collector's version of an upside down plane on a stamp.

I bring this up because of a recent post on Catholic Gauze.  Apparently someone at USA Today's weather department is living in a parallel universe, as their version of the Middle East and surrounding area is nothing like it is today, or any time since forever.  Some of the same quirks also exist on their map of Africa.  They're just including or ignoring all sorts of events that happened in 1990s.  All those post-Soviet -stans came into existence in 1991-1992.  Eritrea became independent in 1993.  North and South Yemen united in 1990.  The territorial dispute between Chad and Libya ended in 1994.  The "neutral zones" between Saudi Arabia and Iraqi and Kuwait went away in 1991, and on and on.   Plus Uzebekistan reaches the Caspian Sea, but I'll give them some slack on that one since the Aral Sea, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists (shrinkage 1973 - 2000 shrinkage 2000 - 2009)and the Garabogazköl Gulf/Bay/Basin along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea was dammed in 1980 and evaporated into a toxic plain of salt, so it didn't exist between 1984 and 1992, but has been there since.  Those sorts of changes to major physical features can really mess with the cartography of adjoining areas.  On USA Today's weather map of Asia Uzebekistan's border is correct.

I have a few mid- and late-19th century maps of Europe, published in the US, that show alternate histories, but that can be chalked up to incomplete information and/or racism.  There weren't that many people from the Balkans living here in the 1800s, and those who were for the most part lived in urban ghettos.  So as far as US schoolchildren and self-educating adults were concerned the Ottoman Turks had complete control over all of the Balkans well into the 1880s.

My favorite alternate history is from the universe of Ohio Art.  When I had the cash to collect globes I bought any Ohio Art globe I came across because they are always so freaking wrong.  And they're the only globes I've found that could be the basis for an alternate history work of fiction.  I had one as a kid and I'm so glad I had a real atlas.  I can't remember who gave the globe to me, but I do remember being told in a passive-aggressive way that pointing out all of the errors to the person who gave it to me wasn't nice.

Here are some pictures from the largest of the Ohio Art globes I have, and the only one I bought off of eBay.  WWII and the years immediately afterward weren't too kind to the Communists. Of the wackier aspects of the geo-political world of the early 1960s in the Ohio Art universe:

Post-War alt. history Europe
Wow, Germany got to keep a lot of territory, and West Germany is a lot bigger than East Germany.  Look how skinny Czechoslovakia is.  Ruthenia is part of Hungary (again) and Istria (the peninsula south of Trieste) is part of Italy.  There's plenty of bad drawing all over the place (e.g. Switzerland, France), but Luxembourg and Ireland came out rather well.  The small Ulster is a bonus for Ireland.  Unlike Viet Nam, but like Korea, Germany has a single capital.  These are details of something, but other than an anti-Communist mindset I can't figure out if it's anti-Slavic bigotry, crypto-Aryan propaganda, or if the cartographer really had some kind of alternate history scenario going on. 

Post-War alt. history USSR
More bad news for the Commies.  Either the Russo-Finnish war didn't happen, or Finland kicked their asses harder than in our timeline, because that's what Finland looked like after WWI, not WWII.  The Baltic States and an enlarged Ukraine have some kind of special autonomy.  While the US didn't recognize the Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, prior to 1991 we didn't think the Ukraine was anything special.  Even if it did have a seat in the UN General Assembly prior to 1991.  The Baltic state capitals are indicated with stars while the capitals of most African nation-states aren't.

Post-War alt. history China
And oddest of all, an independent Tannu-Tuva.  Tuva was nominally independent between 1929 and 1944, and even then was a Soviet client state.  In our world it became part of the Soviet Union in 1944.  Tuva is a kind of Temporary Autonomous Zone, a Mecca for wildly diverse groups of people, including Caucasian Buddhists, World Music hipsters, and rabid philatelists.

If you think the Soviet Union had it bad, take a look at the People's Republic of China.  It's 1919 all over again!

I can't tell if Kashmir is represented as disputed territory or independent.  The cartographer certainly liked Pakistan more than India, as West Pakistan is almost as large as India.

Canadian alt. history
Labrador: disputed territory between Quebec and Newfoundland, or autonomous region within Canada?  I know some Quebecois still haven't gotten over either Labrador being taken away or that boundary dispute.  You know, all that stuff that happened in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The Canadians really needed to bring Newfoundland into the Dominion after WWII because baby seals don't grow on maple trees, eh?

The countries of Africa and South America are just badly drawn.  Really badly drawn, but there is no instance of alternate history scenarios on either continent.

At least the planets on the globe's base are in order, unlike another globe from the same period.  That J. Chien & Co. globe has a really nice, albeit quickly obsolete, representation of the world c. 1964.  It sits on a base with the planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Jupiter and Pluto.  OK, I can understand Earth being extraneous and a nonagon would be expensive and look weird to most people while an octagon can be pulled off the shelf.  But that order is unfathomable, especially since they put the distance from the sun with each planet. Talk about an alternate universe.

The funny thing is, I don't particularly like most alternate history fiction.  Go figure.

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