Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Just a nice looking map


From Bacon's Standard Map of Europe, published by the Weber Costello Compan. Full size here. Printed in 1920s - and we would welcome on speculation on when exactly - this map shows the situation in Europe immediately after World War One. For more maps from this time, check out our Cartographic Companion to World War One in the Ottoman region.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mapping Ottoman Decline

The Ottoman State's Era of Stagnation and Retreat
For quite some time now historians have been problematizing the idea of Ottoman Decline. It's an important point, but one that can only be taken so far: I'm waiting for the revisionist work that declares the Ottomans not only won the First World War but the Second as well, driving the Germans back at Stalingrad with their Janissaries only to be denied credit by a generation of Orientalist scholars.

Of course the critique of Ottoman decline is motivated by the fact that there really were generations of Orientalist scholars writing some ridiculous things. That the Ottoman Empire declined because it could no longer bear the weight of its religious fanaticism, because it was not quick enough to recognize the superiority of European civilization or because its nomadic Turkish rulers could never learn the civilized art of administration. The religious explanation of Ottoman decline has been perhaps the most enduring. Particularly when people like Paul Kennedy sought to explain "the rise and fall of great powers" the Ottoman Empire always appears as the Muslim / Middle Eastern country that almost made it, an approach which inevitably tends to cast the reason it didn't make it in a religious or civilizational light. The religious explanation of Ottoman decline also served quite nicely as a justification for Kemalist reforms, which supposedly sought to recreate the secular mentality that characterized the Empire in its golden age.

Against the simple narrative that the Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the 16th century, perhaps under Suleiman the Magnificent, then slowly declined over the next few centuries into a state of tottering sick-man obsolescence, historians have offered a number of corrections ranging from the somewhat obvious to the profound.

The most straightforward might be that even as the Ottoman Empire declined relative to its European rivals, it continued to advance technologically, militarily and economically in absolute terms. I think people generally realize this is what's implied by decline, but in case anyone doesn't let's be clear: if, through the vagaries of time travel, the 18th century Ottoman army went up against the Ottoman army that conquered Constantinople in the 15th century, the 18th century Ottomans would totally win.

[Sorry, my real goal in writing this post wasn't to just ramble about narratives of Ottoman decline, but to share a few graphics that offer interesting visualizations of the expansion and collapse of Ottoman power. This one, from a Republican Era history about the siege of Vienna, offers a two dimensional view of Ottoman power measured by kilometers of territory controlled per year.]

Some scholars have questioned the tendency to judge decline purely in terms of the ability to win wars. Which is fair up to a point, but distracts from some of the more interesting work that's been done on why the Ottomans stopped winning wars when they did. Gabor Agoston, for example, has made the case that, contrary to what many assumed, technology actually had little bearing on military power up until the 19th century, and that even in some realms where the Ottomans seemed to fall behind technologically, such as gunpowder production, their problems had more to do with economics and manufacturing than the quality of their military technology per se.

Other scholars have argued that maybe the Ottomans just didn't want to win wars, or control more territory anymore.

On the political side, scholars such as Virginia Aksan have argued that the decentralization that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century was not simply a sign of encroaching decline, but rather a conscious strategy that served to preserve Ottoman power. Perhaps. But as wise or effective as this strategy may have been at the time, it seems like there's no escaping the fact that by the 18th century it left the Ottomans at a military disadvantage in conflicts with European powers who had been able to more effectively centralize state control during this period. When faced with loss of territories like Egypt and later Bulgaria in the 19th century, the Ottoman government made a conscious effort to preserve some kind of nominal authority over breakaway regions, going to sometimes elaborate lengths to display symbolic sovereignty over the Egyptian Khedive or Eastern Rumelia. After World War One, the Turkish Republic took the opposite tactic, embracing the rhetoric of the nation state in asserting full sovereignty over all the territory within its borders and no sovereignty over any territory outside of them. Given the realities of late 19th and early 20th century statecraft, this proved to be a better approach. The result was that by the end of the 20th century, the trajectory of Ottoman/Turkish state's military and economic fortunes actually looked quite similar to that of other Mediterranean states.


Another neat visualization of the Ottoman Empire's territorial rise and fall showing geographic conquests schematically as width per year. This map comes from a book in the ARIT library whose title proved a victim of my shoddy note-taking.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Make Your Own Middle East: The King-Crane PickaPath


Check out Make Your Own Middle East, the King-Crane PickaPath adventure that everyone is talking about. Play as King or play as Crane in the game of state-building, border-drawing fun that has already been hailed as a groundbreaking fusion of Digital History and Edutainment!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

King-Crane Commission



King-Crane Commission Interactive Map: Historians' Cut

Karl Sturm put together this fantastic map for an article about the King-Crane Commission on the Atlantic website. Then I added some extended quotes from the Commission report to make the map interactive. The Atlantic editors wisely suggested that these were excessive and unwieldy, so we prepared condensed summaries for the final version. But for historians, King-Crane enthusiasts and primary source document aficionados, I couldn't resist posting this version with all the long, thoroughly unwieldy quotes intact. Now you too can savor the report's archaic and convoluted prose in digital form. It's a blend of tradition and modernity that should make any orientalist happy.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Uncharted New Guinea


One of my favorite maps ever, showing New Guinea at the turn of the century, complete with Cannibal Point, Alligator Point, Attack Island, Pandora Passage and Deception Bay. Read more, and see more maps, in our article on Slate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Free Syria


Two images from a pamphlet titled Dhikrá istiqlāl Sūriyā also sent along to us by Zach Foster. The first shows Faisal, best known as king of Iraq, and the second shows the territory he claimed in 1920 as part of his short-lived Arab Kingdom based in Damascus. Faysal ruled Damascus beginning in October 1918 and ending in July 1920, though he only declared himself King four months before the end. The French army refused to allow the creation of Faisal's Syrian kingdom, defeating a small contingent of Faisal's forces at the battle of Mysalun. Faisal was given Iraq as a consolation prize by the British, which his successors ruled until 1958 when they were ousted by a coup. Had Faisal's dream of a free Arab kingdom become reality, the Middle East might have been spared many of the conflicts it endured over the past century. Or maybe it still would have seen conflicts between the Arab Kingdom and its Christian minority, Kurdish minority and Zionist minority. Or between the Arab Kingdom and the Republic of Turkey. Or Iraq. Or Egypt. As Zach points out, even during his glorious short lived period of rule he struggled to convince others outside of damascus to subject themselves to his rule. James Gelvin's Divided Loyalties (p. 30) even reports that delegation of Aleppan notables used the occasion of Faisal's coronation to demand independence for their region. Suffice it to say this did not bode well for his future prospects of ruling all of Syria, let alone Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

Related topics on Afternoon Map include:
14 Maps of Syria's History
An Ottoman Ethnographic Map of the Middle East from 1915
French Visions of Greater Syria
A French Ethnographic Map of the Levant
A Hijaz Railway Ticket
The Turkish Annexation of Hatay
An Even More Implausible Assyrian Plan for a Post-War Middle East
And Cartoon Arabs in the Turkish Press.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Arab Maps of Palestine during the "lost years," 1948-1964

Another in our series of series of guest posts on Palestine from Zach Foster

A generation ago, historians considered the decade and a half between the 1948 War and the establishment of the PLO in 1964 the “lost years.”


These maps tell a different story. Mahmud Muhammad Sadiq printed this first map on the front cover of his 1948 Liberating the Homeland, with Blood (bi-al-Dima’ Taharrur al-Awtan), before the guns had even fallen silent in Palestine.

Sadiq, born and raised in Cairo, received a traditional Islamic education and reportedly memorized the Qur’an at an early age. He was also an accomplished poet and involved in the Egyptian Caliphate Committees in the 1920s which sought to determine who was fit to succeed Abdülmecid II as Caliph, after the Turkish National Assembly abolished the position in 1923.  His interest in the broader Arab and Muslim worlds may help explain why he published this tract on the liberation of Palestine, even though he was Egyptian, and why the front cover of his book depicts the entire Arab world acting in unison and harmony to liberate Palestine, even though that doesn't quite reflect how things happened on the ground.

Now to the flags, most of which have long been retired by the revolutionary 'republics' that came to replace them: From top left to right:

(1) Syrian Republic (1932-1958).  It was first a puppet state of the French Mandatory government and obtained independence in 1946.  In 1958, president Shukri al-Quwatli merged Syria with Egypt, creating the United Arab Republic.

(2) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1938-1973) This is the green flag with a sword.  In case you have bad eyesight, it reads: there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.

(3) Monarch of Egypt (1922-1952).  This is the Green flag with the moon and three stars.  The government was nominally independent, ruled by the British puppet King Farouk's (hated) government, overthrown in the 1952 Free Officers Revolution or Coup that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, the charismatic if autocratic Egyptian President and Arab nationalist leader who ruled his country until his death in 1970.

(4) The Monarchy of Iraq (1924-1958).  This is the flag with two stars in the red. Hashemite rule in Iraq, along with this flag, came to a bloody end in a coup d'état, led by army officer Abd al-Karim Qasim.

(5) Lebanon.  This is the red and white flag with a green cedar tree in the middle.  Despite many years of civil war and internal strife, the country has managed to hang on to the same flag today!

(6) Jordan was the most artificial Middle Eastern state born after the First World War, and yet, remarkably, its most stable. The country had few natural resources, a tiny population, most of whom were illiterate nomadic pastoralists.  Jordan even managed to weather the storms that the Palestine conflict brought to its borders, albeit with a good deal of gruesome violence against its Palestinian subjects, most notably in Black September in 1970-1.  But the flag has remained unchanged! (bottom right)

(6) The Kingdom of Yemen (1918-1962), This is the red flag with five stars and a sword.  It was founded in the wake of World War I by the Zeidi religious leader, Immam Yahya Muhammad, and ruled in the north of the country until 1962,  when Zeidi rule was overthrown by the Egyptian-backed Abdullah al-Sallal, the first President of the Yemen Arab Republic.

Many thanks to wikipedia's anonymous contributors for helping us identify these flags!

What were all these flags doing on a 1948 map of Palestine?  After the British withdrew from Palestine in May 1948, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq sent troops to Palestine.  But Muslims also flocked to Palestine from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bosnia (apparently unknown to Mahmud Sadiq, who forgot to include a Yugoslav flag).  This was one of the first global religious wars of the modern period.  Not only did Muslims come from far and wide to fight the Jews, but Jews came from as far away as South Africa and the United States to fight the Arabs.



This second map, title “Occupied Palestine,” appeared on the back cover of the 1952 anonymous book titled, Occupied Palestine (Filastin al-Muhtalla). The cartographer depicted the State of Israel as an octopus, extending its arms to all four corners of Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza are shaded white.

The third map, titled "We Are Returning" (Innana 'Ai'dun), appeared on the back cover of Muhammad ‘Izzat Darwazah's 1959 The Tragedy of Palestine: A Brief Summary of the Palestine Issue, its History, Development, Present and Future (Ma’sat Filastin- Ard Mujaz li-Qadiyyat Filastin wa-Tarikhuha wa-Tatawwaruha wa Hadir Filastin wa-Mustaqbaluha), published in Damascus.




Izzat Darwaza was one of the more active politicians during the Mandate period, and interested readers should turn to his anonymous biographers over at Wikipedia to learn about him and his life works.  Suffice it to say that this work was one among many dozens of polemical histories written about the conflict beginning in the mid-late 1930s, covering the history of the conflict from the aftermath of the First World War, and explaining the righteousness of the Arab case for Palestine, and the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish case. Although Darwaza was little interested in Islam, which plays almost no role whatsoever in the narrative of the conflict, he does quote the Qur'an at the very end of his book, predicting that the Jews will eventually get what they deserve, and the Palestinians will return to their land. 

He quoted the following verse to end his book:  "It is he who expelled the ones who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture from their homes at the first gathering. You did not think they would leave, and they thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah ; but [the decree of] Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts [so] they destroyed their houses by their [own] hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision" (Qur'an, 59:2).