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Articles in Historical Geography

Apologies for Cannibalism on Fiji

By Martin W. Lewis | July 2, 2010 | One Comment

As mentioned the other day, Melanesia has long had a negative reputation in the Western cultural imagination, quite in contrast to its neighboring Pacific region of Polynesia. In the 1800s and early 1900s, disparagement of Melanesia typically focused on cultural practices deemed savage, especially cannibalism. Cannibalism was noted in some parts of Polynesia, particularly Samoa

The China-South Korea History War

By Martin W. Lewis | June 11, 2010 |

In the late 1990s, South Korea emerged as a massive exporter of cultural products, from popular music to films and television shows. The dramas that it exports are not all sentimental, and the surge is by no means limited to Asia. Russia, Latin America, and eastern and northern Europe have also been highly receptive. China provided an early and especially enthusiastic mass market, where the phenomenon was dubbed hallyu, or the “Korean Wave.”

The Korea-Uzbekistan Connection

By Martin W. Lewis | June 7, 2010 | 2 Comments

Both North and South Korea are among the most ethnically homogenous and strongly nationalist countries in the world, but that does not mean that they are nation-states, in the strict definition of the term. In an ideal nation-state, the state and the nation cover the same territory, but the land of the Korean nation is

South Korea is Divided Into Three Parts

By Martin W. Lewis | June 1, 2010 |

Nationalism and regionalism often seem to be contrary phenomena. Countries with strong regional identities and stark regional disparities tend to have weak national foundations. But nation and region do not always counteract each other. South Korea in particular is characterized by both deeply rooted regionalism and intense nationalism.

Sexual Scandals and Paraguayan Wars

By Martin W. Lewis | May 25, 2010 |

In 2009, Paraguay’s recently elected president Fernando Lugo found himself embroiled in sexual scandal. A former Roman Catholic bishop not released from his chastity vow until 2008, Lugo was accused by three women of fathering their children. In April, lawyers representing Viviana Carrillo announced that they would file a paternity suit; five days later

Richard Francis Burton, Harar, and Hyenas

By Martin W. Lewis | May 20, 2010 |

In 1854, having recently gained fame from his pilgrimage to Mecca, Richard Francis Burton first entered the territory of what is now Somaliland. Burton’s destination was the city of Harar, located in what is now Ethiopia, but then an independent emirate. Harar was a challenge that Burton could not

Richard Francis Burton and the Somaliland Shilling

By Martin W. Lewis | May 19, 2010 |

As a de facto sovereign state, Somaliland has its own currency, the Somaliland shilling. As is true elsewhere, the images on its coins and banknotes convey symbolic messages about the country. Somaliland’s bills, for example, depict both its sovereignty (showing its supreme court and central bank) and its pastoral heritage (with figures of sheep, goats

Puntland: Not in the Land of Punt

By Martin W. Lewis | May 17, 2010 | 9 Comments

By naming their state “Puntland,” the leaders of autonomous northeastern Somalia evoke a storied history. The Land of Punt was a key trading partner of ancient Egypt from roughly 2,500 BCE to 1000 BCE. Punt provided rare goods for the Egyptian elite, including aromatic gums (especially myrrh and frankincense), gold, ivory, and wild animals.

Why Iran’s Azeris Are Iranian

By Martin W. Lewis | May 10, 2010 | 2 Comments

The weakness of Azeri nationalism in Iran (discussed last week) seems surprising at first glance. Iranian Azeris form a large, distinctive, and relatively cohesive ethnic group that has been deprived of basic educational rights in its own language. Similar situations in neighboring countries have resulted in serious unrest if not prolonged insurgency – think of

Language, Regionalism, and Political Protest in Thailand

By Martin W. Lewis | April 28, 2010 | One Comment

The massive protests currently threatening the government of Thailand are generally described in the U.S. press in terms of class dynamics. The red-shirt demonstrators, followers of the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, are said to represent Thailand’s peasantry. Poor and politically marginalized farmers had benefitted from the

The Tragedy of Karakalpakstan and the Fall of Khwarezm

By Martin W. Lewis | April 23, 2010 | One Comment

The destruction of the Aral Sea has disproportionally hit one ethnic group, the Karakalpak, a people roughly half a million strong whose name means “black hats.” The Karakalpak homeland is the region where the Amu Darya River once flowed into the Aral Sea. The Karakalpak traditionally farmed the fertile delta soils, fished in the river

Ancient Gandhara and Modern Pakistani Politics

By Martin W. Lewis | April 15, 2010 |

As we saw yesterday, a group of people seeking to develop the language and culture of the Hindkowan people of northern Pakistan call their organization the Gandharan Hindko Board. Although Gandhara disappeared as a kingdom and a culture over a thousand years ago, the term is widely used in the region by such groups as

Mongolia and Taiwan: Geopolitical Ambiguity Squared

By Martin W. Lewis | March 17, 2010 | 2 Comments

As noted yesterday, Taiwan is recognized as the legitimate government of “China” by some two dozen countries. Most are small states in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Central America. Taiwan has had no success in securing or maintaining recognition by other Asian countries. Most Asian states are too large to be swayed by aid

Misleading Historical Maps

By Martin W. Lewis | March 12, 2010 | 4 Comments

Many maps are misleading, but few are as consistently deceptive as the basic historical-political maps that fill the pages of most historical atlases. Such maps usually portray the polities of past, whether smallish kingdoms or vast empires, as if they were clearly bounded entities that exercised full control over their territorial domains. In actuality, most

Kaliningrad, Russia’s Restive Exclave

By Martin W. Lewis | February 8, 2010 | 9 Comments

In the last weekend of January, 2010, massive protests erupted in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, unnerving the country’s political establishment. Despite bitter weather, an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets to denounce both the local governor and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, ostensibly for raising utility prices and transport taxes during a time of

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