Starting back in the early ’60s, Colin McEvedy wrote a remarkable series of historical atlases for Penguin Books. Each covered a particular era and a particular area, usually Europe. And each map was exactly alike — except the borders. And every two-page spread was set up the same way: a map on the right-hand page, and explanatory text on the left. McEvedy’s writing style was that of an avuncular Oxford dean: friendly, warm, and knowing.
Later revisions of his work have more maps, but McEvedy’s words — those wonderful words! — had been tramped down by the boot of political correctness. But used copies of the original editions aren’t too hard to find. I highly recommend them, and still read the whole series every few years.
All of this comes to mind because of the craziness in Boston today, straight outta Caucasus.
To understand why, here’s one of McEvedy’s maps from The Penguin Atlas of Recent History, with “recent history” in his estimation being everything in Europe since Napoleon:
Look closely at the right hand side of the map in Tsarist Russia. There, in the northern Caucasus in the Krasnodar-Maykop region, you’ll see a bit of “Russian” territory indicated by a dotted line. If you can’t read it at this scale, it’s labeled “Unsubdued Circassians.” The territory is within the Russia Empire, but the Tsar’s writ did not run there. “Unsubdued” was how the Russians found the area when they took it from the Turks in the 1820s. And that’s how it stayed until the Soviets really clamped the lid down a century later.
It’s no coincidence that as the Soviet Union began to fall apart in the mid-to-late ’80s, the first violence to erupt was in the Caucasus. It’s a crazy patchwork of ethnicities and religions, everybody with legitimate grievances against everybody else.
We need two more maps to really see it.