Magocsi, Paul R.
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993, 218 pages
Magocsi earned his doctorate from Princeton University in 1972, and was a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He has been a professor of history and political science at the University of Toronto since 1980 and was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1996. This atlas is a component of the History of East Central Europe series produced by the University of Washington Press.
The book follows the format of the other entries in the series, which is to say that the geographic boundaries are those lands between the German- and Italian-speaking peoples in the west and the boundaries of the former Soviet Union in the east. Magocsi expanded these boundaries by including maps that examined parts of eastern Germany (such as Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, and Prussia), Austria, Venetia, and lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian kingdom (such as Belarus and Ukraine).
The text includes historical maps dating back to 400 CE and continuing through the end of the Soviet era. Magocsi also provided a great number of maps that included Anatolia, and the atlas does not fall into the trap of some Western-oriented works that overlook the important role of the Seljuk Turks and the Ottoman Empire in European history.
The text follows a chronological format, and alternates between sections covering wider areas of east central Europe and narrow foci on individual states. In addition to the typical political boundary maps, the author included maps covering demography, ethnicity, economies, military concerns, education, and ecclesiastical structures. In order to achieve consistency within the text (and thus addressing the problem of historical naming), Magocsi used the official language in the present-day state as the basis for choosing place names.
However, the author used Webster’s dictionary as the final arbiter, choosing the first listed name in cases of multiple accepted spellings; the author noted that every naming decision is likely to produce a charge of linguistic bias from some readers, and opted for an English-language orientation given his assumed readership. Thus, Kraków is rendered Cracow in the maps of the atlas, and readers will find Gdańsk in place of the Germanic Danzig. In cases where a strong argument might be made for several variations of the same name, the author placed the first name above the parenthetical second, as in the example of Posen and Poznań and Ragusa and Dubrovnik.
Left: Europe about 1560 (click to enlarge)
In addition to composing the text Magocsi created the first drafts of the maps used in the text. The initial color drawings were delivered to the Office of Cartography at the University of Toronto, and a team of cartographers produced the camera-ready artwork that appeared in the final version of the book. Despite the input of many hands in the project, there is an aesthetic continuity throughout the atlas, which is helpful for readers who like to flip back and forth between different maps, and Magocsi credited Geoffrey J. Matthews for the overall visual appeal of the artwork.
Perhaps following in the footsteps of Fernand Braudel, Magocsi opened the text with an examination of the geographic and geologic features of east central Europe. The non-specialist will be struck, for example, by the relative isolation of the Hungarian Plain, surrounded as it is by the Alpine, Carpathian, and Dinaric ranges; the historical continuity of Hungarian language and culture make more sense in this geographical context. Comparing the maps of “Average annual rainfall” and “Vegetation and land use” helps readers understand the climactic role in the development of particular agricultural products in east central Europe.
Interestingly, the Danube River has traditionally been seen as the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, but by glancing at the rainfall map readers will note the presence of a frost-line (0° C in January) that also mirrors much of the northern boundary of the Romans. One might make a convincing argument that the imperial ambitions of the Romans were influenced in part by the regular presence of frost in the Hungarian Plain and the Bohemian Basin.
The industrial history of east central Europe can also be better understood through the use of maps provided in this atlas.
The map that examines the history of canal and railway development is particularly intriguing, as the vast majority of railway construction prior to 1850 occurred in German and Austrian territories. Also noteworthy are the maps of east central Europe that depict population density in 1870 and 1910; the confluence of a lack of railways and low population density put many of the Slavic regions at a distinct economic disadvantage with Western Europe in the race to industrialize.
The atlas contains an extensive bibliography, broken up into historical atlases, geographic atlases, thematic atlases, and historical texts that provided additional source material. The cross-referenced entries in the index begin with the main forms, and are followed by linguistic variants (helpful language abbreviations are also included). Magocsi also included a section that listed the original sources for the maps that he consulted for each map in the text. Throughout the text there are also a significant number of informational tables; readers, for example, desirous to know the ethnolinguistic-national composition of Yugoslavia or the Orthodox population of east central Europe will find such information compiled in a tabular format.
Left: Austro-Hungarian empire in 1911 (click to enlarge)
Unlike many historical atlases, in which narrative text plays a small role, Magocsi’s work can be read in the manner that one might read a textbook. A reader might, for example, follow the maps on “East Central Europe in 1648,” “Partitions of Poland,” “Campaigns of Napoleon,” and “East Central Europe in 1815” for a narrative and cartographic overview of the political changes that occurred in the region between the Peace of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna. Similarly, the series of maps that begin with the “Austro-Hungarian Empire” through “Conflicting claims to Macedonia” and “The Balkan Peninsula 1912-13” gives a reader greater understanding of the wide variety of ethnolinguistic and political groups in east central Europe prior to World War I. In comparing such maps one is struck not so much by the ability of the Habsburgs to rule over multiethnic empire but rather by the fact that such an unwieldy amalgamation could have been held together so long.
A Historical Atlas of East Central Europe should be considered the definitive historical atlas for the region, and is a must for every student and specialist of the history of east central Europe. Moreover, general readers with an interest in east central European history would benefit from the use of this book; one could envision that genealogists in particular would find this text to be of immense value. Magocsi has produced a work that will continue to be an important reference tool for decades.