Monday, November 26, 2007


Everyone knows Greenland is a Danish possession, and I knew that in 1917 we purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands from Denmark, but I did not know that the Danes once had colonies in India and West Africa.

I have a calendar of old maps on my wall, and November's map is an 1897 map of the world that colors territories around the world according to their colonial power. It's pretty stunning to see how few independent countries there were outside of Europe and the Americas at the time. Liberia and Ethiopia were, at the time, the only independent states in Africa.Colonization of India is usually thought of as a British thing, but the Portuguese were first, and France, the Netherlands, and Denmark all had their outposts in South Asia.
China as a whole maintained its independence, but many different foreign countries controlled cities along the coast and had influence that stretched into the interior. Hong Kong and Macao only reverted to Chinese control in the previous decade, but earlier in the twentieth century no fewer than ten colonial powers controlled no fewer than 20 enclaves in China. It would be interesting to visit some of these places to see how much evidence remains of the former colonizer.

BONUS: The smallest country to colonize the Americas was the Duchy of Courland, a vassal state of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in present-day Latvia. The colony was on the island of Tobago but only lasted a few decades in the 17th century before being abandoned.

BONUS #2: If you're a Belgiophile and would like to visit a former Belgian colony without going to Central Africa, you can take a cruise ship to Santo Tomás de Castilla on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, a short-lived Belgian concession zone.


At Monday, November 26, 2007 at 4:14:00 AM PST, Blogger Theodore said...

I just got back from a conference in Europe this week where the topic of European concessions in China came up. The conference was in Germany, so the primary discussion was about Tsingtao, where to this day they still have a regular beer festival. (This also explains why Tsingtao beer is so tasty.) The French concession in Shanghai also came up, where apparently the boundaries of the French concession can still be identified by the way the street plan works, as well as some of the buildings from that era still surviving.

At Tuesday, November 27, 2007 at 12:01:00 PM PST, Blogger Hey said...

My sister teaches a course on this topic at her university. Her research shows that there is an assymmetry of knowledge: 'the
Empire means relatively little to the former rulers, while it changed the lives for ever for those in the former colonies, which live ever with the knowledge and memory of colonisation'.


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