Do you ever look at a map and think, sh*t dude, I wonder what time frame the geopolitical status of this map represents? Probably not, but because of the lengthy amount of time on my hands I’ve discovered a surefire way to date historical maps that you can use to impress your friends, parents and future partners. That is, if you’re ever put in a situation in which your future partner and yourself are presented with a historical map. Okay, it’s quite niche but let’s get to it.
01. Trouble in the Sudan
So, when dating maps we need to look at what a recent map looks like. The newest country in the world currently is South Sudan. In the map above, Sudan and South Sudan are presented as a singular country. That means that this map is pre-2011, much like Will.i.am’s career. When looking at a map, your first port of call should be to check if Sudan is divided like it is in the next picture, that proves it’s probably pretty recent, and was definitely produced after 2011.
Sudan and South Sudan have been through a tumultuous history recently, particularly as the newest world country struggles to gain stability politically and the leftovers of a brash civil war drag on into both country’s politics.
South Sudan shown on a map
So this is what the world’s newest country looks like, although knowing my luck a strong insurgent East Anglia Independence movement will turn up over night and this post will be completely and entirely invalidated. Next time you look at a map, look for this country in Northern Africa, it has a very distinctive shape, with two “horns” protruding into it’s Northern Neighbor and former master, Sudan. It’s surrounding countries are Ethiopia to the East, Uganda and the D.R Congo to the South as well as the Central African Republic in the West.
02. Yugoslavia is a b***h to us all
If anywhere in the world has complicated borders, it’s the former Yugoslav countries. The map shown above depicts Yugoslavia in it’s final incarnation, before Montenegro chose it’s right to independence in 2006. If you see the word “Yugoslavia” on a map then you can be sure that the map was produced before 2006, when Serbia and Montenegro split and Yugoslavia was forever taken off the world stage (insert second witty comment about will.i.am here).
Yugoslavia, of course, looked very different across it’s existence. Previously a union of Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia – Yugoslavia eventually fizzled down to two member countries. If you see all of those countries united on a map then you can be sure that the map was produced after World War II, when Yugoslavia was formed. Slovenia and Macedonia left in 1991, Croatia and Bosnia in 1995, then Montenegro in 2006.
You might want to look out for whether or not Kosovo is included as a separate country to Serbia in a map, it declared independence in 2008 but hasn’t been internationally recognized.
03. The glass is half empty, East Timor
The first country of the new millennium, East Timor is a former Portuguese colony on the island of Timor. But Portugal being Portugal, only took half of the island, which created a lot of tension between the former Dutch Indonesia and Portuguese East Timor when it came to independence. If East Timor appears on your map, then it was created after 2002, when it finally gained independence after a long Civil War.
East Timor is located just above Australia on a World Map and close to the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi, Java and Bali.
04. Europe, officially the most confusing continent
Europe’s ever shifting international borders are probably the most distinctive during the Cold War.The map above is telling us a lot about when this war produced. If you see a map like this, you can tell it was produced before 1989 and after 1949.
- Probably most noticeable is the Soviet Union in full force. Nazi Germany is not present so we know this map is after World War II, the Soviets had control of most of Eastern Europe so we can tell this is during the time of the Cold War, and before the Soviet collapse in 1993.
- David Hasselhoff hasn’t used his unitive singing powers to bring down the Berlin Wall yet, as East Germany and West Germany are divided. The division occurred officially in 1949, although before that Germany was divided up between the Allied States. This shows us that this map is dated before 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and after the division in 1949.
Possibly one of the easiest ways to date a 20th Century map is to look just South of China at the Indochina Peninsula. If Vietnam is one country, then the map was produced after 1975. If Vietnam is divided between North and South then the map was produced in between 1945 and 1975.
If Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are unified as one country called French Indochina, then the map was produced before 1945, and we’ll know that the French occupation of the region was still in full force.
06. America’s Newest State, Hawaii
A very easy way to tell whether or not a map was produced after 1959 is whether or not Hawaii is included as a US State or a British Territory. This is often a very quick check as Hawaii will simply be listed as Hawaii (U.S.A) if the map shows the world after 1959.
A very short story for this one, just like the history of the United States.
07. Germany, again
Earlier we had a look at a post 1949 Germany, well now we’re going to take a look at one of the most confusing periods of German history, the interim occupations of the allied forces.
This map shows Germany after 1945 and before 1949, when the country was divided up well and good. When date checking a map, you can tell if it’s in this very short window of time by seeing if Germany is divided into the Soviet Sector, British Sector, American Sector and French Sector. This happened after the fall of Nazi Germany when the allies had no f**king idea what to do with Germany at all.
08. Europe is confusing, again.
Europe is never not confusing to be honest, but here’s another confusing period of European history.
We can tell that this map occurred after the Russian Revolution of 1918 as the Soviet Union exists. We can also tell it’s post World War I because Alsace Lorraine is a disputed area between Germany and France. This was during the time in which Germany was being made to pay for World War I, and most Western Countries had decided to try and dissolve their Empire.
We can tell this because in the bottom right corner of the map we still have the French & British Mandates of Syria and Iraq. Most of the war torn world was to be taken care of by the winning countries of World War I, so whenever we see mandates in the Middle East, we can be sure that the map is dated Post-World War I.
Austria Hungary and the Ottoman Empire are both shown to have failed completely by this point, so we know the map is after 1920.
09. The Great and Glorious British Empire
Now the sheer patriotism of this map makes me chuckle.
But whether or not a country belongs to Britain can show us a lot about the timing of a map.
- If India, Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan are considered under the British Empire, then we know the map was created before 1947.
- If South Africa is an independent country, then we know the map was created after 1910.
- If Canada is an independent country, we know the map was created after 1867.
- If Australia is an independent country, we know the map was created after 1901.
- If New Zealand is an independent country, we know the map was created after 1907.
- If the map features “Rhodesia” as a country, we can be sure the map was created between 1965 & 1979.
- If Nigeria is an independent country we know the map was created after 1960.
- Finally, if Hong Kong belongs to China rather than Britain then we know the map was created after 1998.
If your map looks like this…
Applying the method…
Now, let’s take a map I found on the internet and try and date it using my method from above.
- Straight away I see that South Sudan isn’t an independent country, so we know the map was produced before 2011.
- Next, I notice that East Timor is also not independent, so we know that it was produced before 2002 also.
- Taking a look at Yugoslavia, I can see that Serbia and Montenegro are counted as a singular country, so we know it was produced before 2006 and after 1995.
- So, we can conclude that the map was created between 1995 and 2002. And in the corner of the map we have proof that it was 1995, pretty cool eh?