Bordering on

Maps present a unique medium of communication yet an approach to historical cartography has, at times, prevented the utilisation of maps to their full advantage. Historians, barring a few such as Martin Gilbert, have tended to give the impression that they were less than fully comfortable with visual as opposed to textual exposition. The result is the reduction of maps to the level of auxiliaries, even in historical atlases. It follows that attention paid to maps is insufficient - which led to superficiality and inaccuracies. Many weaknesses of the Cramptons's atlas can be seen to spring from this tradition.
The authors's aim is to be comprehensive, yet the atlas is a wasted opportunity. The structure is somewhat unimaginative: it is essentially chronological and the chapters of the consecutive periods are broken down chiefly on a country by country basis. This mechanical approach is not in itself a significant disadvantage, although a more issue orientated structure would have focused the mind better. The central question is the neglect of the cartographic content. The problem here is not a lack of perfection; it is an apparent lack of care. The subject area alone should have invited more than usual attention to the details of mapping, given the frequent and large-scale frontier changes and ethnic conflicts. The factual unreliability is compounded by an atlas purporting to aim at the academic market.
The errors are frequently severe. On p.6, Administrative boundaries in Austria-Hungary, three redundant frontier lines feature. The inclusion of the one between Transylvania and Hungary - which was in fact obsolete from 1867 - may result in undesirable implications concerning the Hungarian-Romanian controversy. A few administrative entities featured there are no less anachronistic: some became dysfunctional for the period (Banat, Transylvania), others were yet unknown quantities (Slovakia, Ruthenia).
Another map of Territorial changes after the Balkan Wars (1912-13) erroneously indicates the area between the Enos-Midia and the Chatalja lines as a gain by Bulgaria. The Chatalja line, although reached by Bulgarian troops, has not functioned even briefly as a political frontier. There are instances, as indeed the correct description of the

András Bereznay fails to lose himself in a chronicle of Europe made in maps


By Richard and Ben Crampton

Routledge, £55
ISBN 0-415-06689-1

Enos-Midia line as a frontier on page 21, when the text contradicts the map it is to explain. Chelm is described correctly on page 33 as assigned to Ukraine under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918, yet it appears in Poland on the related map on page 32, where other frontiers are also extremely unreliable. There are more mistakes not listed here.
Inconsistencies, such as maps that contradict each other, are not rare. This is particularly conspicuous in the case of maps showing ethnic and religious boundaries, which are usually deeply unreliable, displaying data bordering, at times, on the bizarre. Inherent contradictions, however, are not there alone. The area regained by Hungary from Romania in 1940 is featured correctly on page 80, wrongly on page 120. Towns and area names appear at times peculiarly ill-located, with the oddest spellings - only to appear spelt correctly in the good glossary.

Diagrams and graphs are useful additions, but one of them, on page 139, is impossible to interpret. Keys are on occasion incorrect. Some curious things occur. Each map is allocated with grid markings, superfluously so as no corresponding data of grid reference is provided in the index. Maps that show the comparative overview of frontiers which would be relevant at either end of the book, are dropped incongruously on pages 144-150, with no reference to their existence in the contents.
These problems alone could undermine the credibility of any reference book, yet this atlas has more. Consistency of cartographic quality of all maps featured is a sine qua non of any atlas publication. This is lacking here. Most maps are sketchy; the cartographic methods employed are frequently substandard, after which the maps of the last two sections, of greatly superior quality, come as a surprise. Sadly, most of these are largely devoid of information more specific than found in ordinary geographical atlases.
The text accompanying the maps is the best part, although not free from errors. It is mistakenly stated that the Greeks were not required to cede territory in 1897 after their war with the Turks, and it is odd to read about tension in 1815-48 between Vienna and "Budapest". Not only was "Budapest" created later - in 1873 -, but also the seat of the Hungarian Parliament was Pozsony until 1848. On occasion the colourful gains ground at the expense of the important. Space is found to tell of a Romanian's fainting on hearing the terms of the 2nd Vienna Award in 1940 when Northern Transylvania was returned to Hungary, while in describing the Bucharest Treaty of 1918, the crucial fact that Romania annexed Bessarabia remains unmentioned.
Despite these problems, the text is essentially useful and informative. Its quality is certainly far superior to that of the maps, raising the question whether the authors would not have served their readers better if they had remained entirely with the means of communication in which they are so clearly more at home.

András Bereznay conceived and compiled the maps of The Times Atlas of European History (Times Books, £25), and contributed to The Times Atlas of the 20th Century (Times Books, £25)