Mapmaker, Mapmaker Make me a Map

475 words/2 ½ minute read

Martin’s interest in maps began in his early years. He told me that he had wanted to study geography but his teachers had told him that wasn’t a “real” study so he went on to do history. But his love of geography continued throughout his life, always carrying maps, always drawing them. On a flight back to London from India, at his window seat with his map open, he was surprised to see the pilot peering over his shoulder – he also wanted to know where they were. After asking who was flying the plane, Martin showed him that they were directly over Afghanistan.

Always curious to know where he was, or where events had taken place, Martin also used maps to understand the context of the history he was writing, not only “what” had happened but the “where” was important to him. He wanted his readers to be able to locate every place mentioned in the text on a geographically accurate map. His pioneering historical atlases developed alongside his histories, each map telling a story able to stand on its own, or as part of the continuum of history.

In Routledge, the academic publishers specialising in the social sciences and humanities, Martin found a home for his nine historical atlases among their important collections. At a talk in 2008, he described how he came to write each atlas and what it meant to him. As part of an ongoing series as we look at each atlas throughout the year, I would like to share with you his remarks. This is what he said about the Russian History Atlas I am focussing on this month:

In 1961, during my time as a graduate at Oxford and a Sovietologist, Professor Richard Pipes’ history was the basic book. It was detailed, complex and magisterial. It was my Russian history supervisor, however, who found it lacking a particular element. One day he commanded me: “Make Pipes visual”. The result, eleven years later, was the Atlas of Russian History.

 In 1957 my post-army travels had included a stay in Belgrade, where I learned about the fate of Yugoslavia in the war and after it, taught English in Sarajevo, and read my own poems on Radio Titograd, in Serbian. Travelling by train, I reached the Turkish-Soviet border at Kizilcakcak, a thousand miles east of Istanbul. This journey, and a research journey to Bulgaria in the summer of 1960, helped my understanding of the dynamics of Russian and Soviet history.

 The Atlas of Russian History, with 176 maps, is now in its fourth edition, and shows, among other topics of current concern, the growing European dependence on Russian oil and Russian gas. Those who do business with Russia, and those who try to understand the ever-changing situation in Russia and its former republics, will find this Atlas an invaluable tool.

Russian History Atlas

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