Map of the world

11 02 2015

My medieval-modernity project may have fallen apart, but I’m still hoovering up books about old Europe.

And the words do work for me—I’ve said in the past that I’m a text- rather than visually-oriented person—but sometimes, mmm, sometimes you need a map to make sense.

To cite one example: I just finished John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium (great fun: I want to track down the 3-vol. series), and I kept flipping between the copy and the maps at the front of the book to figure out where, exactly, were the boundaries of the empire or the position of yet another battle. It helped, some, but the maps were few and small and I couldn’t always determine where the characters or I were.

So I happened to ask my colleague and friend Jtte. if she had any suggestions for atlases (Jtte. does historical research and has constructed a number of terrific maps for her work), and she immediately said “William Shepherd, Historical Atlas“.

Shepherd constructed his atlas in the early 20th century, so I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeological work in the intervening years might yield different maps, but oh, are these maps beautiful.

Jtte. pointed me to the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at UT-Austin, which includes a section on historical maps, and a link to a 1911 and 1923-26 edition of Shepherd’s work.

Here’s one from the 1920s edition, of Asia Minor:

asia_minor_p20

Reference Map of Asia Minor under the Greeks and Romans

Or this one, of Europe under Rome (I’m finally reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire):

european_provinces_rome

Reference Map of the European Provinces of the Roman Empire

Click to make ’em see-able & zoom-able.

These are gorgeous, and a bit of a mess, but isn’t that exactly what an historical atlas should be?

Happily, the Strand had an 8th edition (1956, with maps added to Shepherd’s final 1929 edition), so I won’t have to go online to see, say, The Growth of Russia in Europe, 1300-1796 or The Ottoman Empire, 1481-1683 or or the Growth of Frankish Power 481-814 or or or. . . .

(Of course, the zoom feature is pretty handy: lifting my glasses and sticking my nose an inch or two from the page isn’t always enough.)

Oh, I am going toss away so many hours leafing through and peering at these maps, and to no discernible productive end whatsoever.

Ain’t knowledge grand?

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Better stop sobbing now, v. tl;dr

11 02 2015

If you’re going to hold to any significant political, religious, cultural, or economic commitments, someone else is going to point out the bad shit associated with those commitments.

That’s how it is, so stop whining.





Better stop sobbing now

11 02 2015

I have no sympathy for Christians who whine that President was unfair to Christianity at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Not just because I am not a Christian, nor because I disagree more generally with these folks’ politics.

No, the reason for my “get over it” response is their unwillingness to grapple with the violence woven into the history of the belief they hold dear. It’s as if they can only hold to Christianity if Christianity without [recent] flaws.

Oh, wait, that’s pretty much exactly what they mean, even if they didn’t mean to mean it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a couple of posts on the response to Obama’s remarks, as does Jamelle Bouie, and they do a fine job of tag-teaming the No-True-Christian phalanx: here is this example and this example and this example and, oh look, another example of how Christianity was used to justify violence and oppression.

Reference to the historical record is crucial (even if the tres or quinque solas types want to claim history’s got nothin’ on them) if want wants to make or rebut historical claims—that’s kinda the whole point of historical claim-making.

But I want to focus here on the bad faith of those who seek to wash Christianity of its sins: they cannot abide criticism of their faith, not because God will punish them if they don’t savage the critics—I’d think such a position bonkers at best and murderous (see: killers acting to uphold the honor of the Prophet Mohammaed) at worst, but it has its own kind of insane integrity—but because it is “offensive” to and displays “contempt” for Christians.

And, yes, I get why these folks don’t like having the unsavory bits of Christianity against the unsavory bits of Islam—We’re good and they’re bad so how dare you!—but honest to pete, is their faith so thin that it is bruised by mere mention of imperfection?

I’m a pinko, and there has been all sorts of nasty shit—war, oppression, mass murder—done in the name of pinkoism. I can say Oh, but I’m not a Bolshevik/Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist, that’s got nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with Real Socialism, but that would properly be understood as a bullshit response.

I am an adherent to a tradition which has all too often failed miserably, murderously, to uphold its promises of liberation and the creation of a truly human society, and it would not be in any way unreasonable for you say, Uhhh, so why do you hold to ideas which have been used to justify those miserable, murderous failures?

And whether or not your motives were bad in asking this, I’d still respond, with both acknowledgement of the flaws in various incarnations of the socialist politics and a defense of the socialism itself—because I am fucking serious about my belief in socialism. As long as I think it possible to avoid or overcome the problems of previous socialist regimes, I will continue to think socialism is a program worth pursuing.

In other words, even though socialism has been flawed six ways to Sunday, I still think there’s something there worth hanging on to. I take socialism as it is, and as it has been, and what I think it could be. It ain’t perfect, but it’s all right.

Now, I understand that it’s easier to hold to imperfection in political than in religious programs, and my general sense that, well, to quote Leonard Cohen, there is a crack in everything, means that I can still see that’s how the light gets in. I don’t require perfection because I don’t think it’s necessary (which is also handy, given that I don’t think it’s possible).

Still, even you do believe that Christ were perfect, and that Christianity is the only path to salvation, it’s not clear why you can’t accept the bountiful historical evidence that that belief in something perfect has nonetheless been used to justify war, oppression, and mass murder. It’s a hard acceptance, sure, but if you want to argue on behalf of the Christian movement within history, then you have to engage that history, not wave it away or scourge those who dare to refer to it.

Again, radical sola types may not bother with history one way or another—all that matters is God, and we can’t really expect much of humans, etc.—but those who are incensed at the mere suggestion that Christian history might fairly be compared to Islam’s history clearly do believe that this history—the actions of Christians in the world—matters.

So to those who think history matters but are unwilling to look closely at it, I can only ask, Why not?

Because if you cannot accept the imperfections of Christianity in this world and still have faith in it, then I question whether you can have any faith at all.