I’m currently reading a book called ‘Prisoner of the Vatican’. It is about the emergence of modern Italy. Before it turned into the country we all (hopefully) know, it was a place that was home to several divided territories, or mini states. Some of them controlled by other countries, some of them supported by armies of other countries, and some of them held by the pope. Several of those states were tiny.
Now, it would seem that the rearrangement of Italy took place a long, long, long time ago. Italy to me seemed always like a nicely established country. Something that had been there forever. Not so, Italy in it’s current form exists since the 1880s, which is in the grand scheme of things not a very long time. There are trees out there older than that.
So why was I so baffled by that discovery? I think it has something to do with the way we learn geography. When we look at a map, we point out that this part is Italy, this part is the British Isles, that part is France and that part over there is Norway. (At least when you grow up in Europe you learn it this way, in the US you are more concerned about which US State is where for a long time.)
We do not learn that this is Italy in it’s current state, this is France in it’s current state and this is Spain in it’s current state and that those borders can always be subject to change.
Of course, there are some countries that do come with that caveat, because those border changes did happen in our lifetime, or the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.Among those are Germany, Poland, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegowina, and in a broader sense all countries of the former Soviet union, because their borders became visible again, even if they weren’t moved as such.
But countries who haven’t been affected by border changes in the recent past seem like they have always been like that. Of course the notion is ridiculous, but people get used to the way things are. Only if you think about borders, you realize that they are arbitrary. They are a line in the sand. They are always subject to change.
It is reasonable to expect that you will have to re-learn your maps in your lifetime. I also learned from this book to look at countries and ask how they used to be.