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Articles in Historical Geography

Fantastic Geo-Historical Visualization of California’s Inland Delta

By Martin W. Lewis | June 12, 2012 |

A new interactive website on the changing conditions in California’s inland delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers provides one of the best visualizations in historical geography that I have every seen. Produced as a collaborative project of called QUEST, KQED’s science and environment program, the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Aquatic Science Center, and Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center …

Siberian Genetics, Native Americans, and the Altai Connection

By Martin W. Lewis | May 26, 2012 | 13 Comments

The GeoCurrents series on Siberia concludes by looking first to the future and then into the distant past: the preceding post examined the possible consequences of global warming on the region, while the present one turns to much earlier times, exploring the position of Siberia in human prehistory and especially its crucial role in the peopling of the Americas.
Mainstream anthropological …

Sakha (Yakutia) Since the Fall of the Soviet Union

By Martin W. Lewis | May 15, 2012 | 7 Comments

The past several GeoCurrents posts have examined the history of the Russian Republic of Sakha, formerly and informally referred to as Yakutia. We have focused on Sakha due both to the region’s intrinsic interest and to the fact that it is one of the most widely ignored sections of the Earth’s surface. Today’s post concludes this series within a series …

The Yakut Under Soviet Rule

By Martin W. Lewis | May 14, 2012 |

At the time of the Russia Revolution in 1917, the Yakuts (Sakha) were organizing on a national basis and pushing for autonomy and even sovereignty. Yakutia at the time was dominated by the Sakha, with Russians comprising only about ten percent of the population; even Yakutsk was a mainly Yakut town. The Sakha elite were relatively well educated and politically …

The Yakut (Sakha) Under Tsarist Rule: Subordinate Partners in Empire?

By Martin W. Lewis | May 10, 2012 | 9 Comments

As we have seen, the Sakha people—called Yakuts by outsiders—dominated the crucial country of the middle Lena Valley, dotted with islands of fertile grassland, until the 1630s. Russian empire builders, spearheaded by Cossack bands, then pushed down the Lena and built three forts in the Yakut heartland, one of which would become the city of Yakutsk. As was true in …

The Yakut (Sakha) Migration to Central Siberia

By Martin W. Lewis | May 8, 2012 | 7 Comments

As explained in the previous post, the Yakut (Sakha) people have adapted more easily to the demands of the Russian state, and of modernity more generally, than most other indigenous peoples on Siberia. The relative success of the Yakut is best understood historically. Relative newcomers from the south, the Yakut moved into central Siberia with a more advanced technology and …

Scotland’s Past and Future Mapped

By Martin W. Lewis | April 6, 2012 | 23 Comments
British Isles 400 CE Map from Talessman's Atlas

The best on-line source of maps of pre-modern world history is Thomas Lessman’s Talessman’s Atlas of World History, hands-down. Lessman’s maps are well designed, aesthetically pleasing, and comprehensive. I have posted a magnified detail of his map of the world in the year 800 CE, depicting the British Isles. I do this in part to show the level of specificity …

New Evidence on the Settlement of Madagascar

By Martin W. Lewis | March 28, 2012 | 8 Comments

A new study of the genetic background of the people of Madagascar sheds light on the settlement of the island. It has long been known that the initial movement of people to Madagascar was relatively recent (1,000 to 1,500 years ago), and that it originated not from the African mainland but rather from the islands of what is now Indonesia.

Old Maps Online: Yet Another Cartographic Treasure-Trove

By Martin W. Lewis | March 8, 2012 |

The internet search for old maps is vastly easier than it was in the past, thanks to such initiatives as the Old Maps Online Portal, a collaborative effort of The Great Britain Historical GIS Project based at The University of Portsmouth, UK and Klokan Technologies GmbH, Switzerland, with additional assistance from the Moravian Library of the Czech Republic and the David …

The Hippie Migration to Mendocino and the Establishment of a Cannabis-Based Economy

By Martin W. Lewis | March 2, 2012 |

Although the hippie movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s may seem like a historical curiosity, its consequences were profound. It continues, moreover, to be a contentious topic, often used to score points in political debates. The New Republic, for example, is currently running a slideshow entitled “The Weekly Standard’s Obsession with Hippies Continues,” which pillories the conservative magazine …

The 1970s Transformation of California’s North Coast

By Martin W. Lewis | February 29, 2012 | 2 Comments

The previous GeoCurrents post noted that Mendocino County remained in the Democratic-voting camp after California’s geopolitical transformation largely because it experienced a demographic transformation of its own during the same period. The first glimmerings of this sea change can be dated to 1957, when artist Bill Zacha settled in the coastal village of Mendocino and established an art center. According …

The Centrality of the Caucasus

By Martin W. Lewis | February 7, 2012 | 5 Comments
London to Mumbai Great Circle Route, Passing Through the Caucasus

For the past month, GeoCurrents has focused on the Caucasus, exploring the region’s history, languages, cuisines, and more. Two additional posts will conclude the series. We will subsequently pause to introduce some new features of the blog, and then we will move on to examine a different part of the world.
The current series began by asking a seemingly banal question, …

The Many Armenian Diasporas, Then and Now

By Martin W. Lewis | February 6, 2012 | 2 Comments
Wikipedia map of the recent Armenian Diaspora

Armenians have long been scattered over many countries, whether as permanent migrants or temporary sojourners. Today, only about a third of their population lives in Armenia, with the rest spread over a wide area, as can be seen on the map posted here. This pattern largely reflects the movements caused by deadly mass expulsions of the early 20th century that …

The Circassian Mystique and Its Historical Roots

By Martin W. Lewis | January 30, 2012 | 17 Comments

Although little known today, the Circassians were once a famous people, celebrated for their military élan, physical mien, and resistance to Russian expansion. In the nineteenth century, “Circassophilia” spread from Europe to North America, where numerous writers expressed deep admiration for the mountaineers of the eastern Black Sea. Prominent physical anthropologists deemed Circassian bodies the apogee of the human form. …

The Politics of Genocide Claims and the Circassian Diaspora

By Martin W. Lewis | January 24, 2012 | 47 Comments
Map of the Caucasian Language Families

Allegations of genocide are often politically charged. On January 23, 2012, the French parliament voted to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. In Turkey, by contrast, it is illegal to assert that the same acts were genocidal. The Turkish government remains adamant, threatening to impose unspecified sanctions on …

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