Claims about British geography

by on April 10, 2017 at 12:43 am in Books, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

“The clue to many contrasts in British geography,” wrote the geographer Halford Mackinder in 1902, “is to be found in the opposition of the south-eastern and north-western — the inner and outer faces of the land.  Eastward and southward, between the islands and the continent, are the waters known to history as the Narrow Seas; northward and westward is the Ocean.”  The happy conclusion he drew from this is that Britain has the best of both: “as liberty is the native privilege of an island people, so wealth of initiative is characteristic of a divided people.”

Tradition divides Britain diagonally, demarcating the south/east from the north/west, and imputes great significance to the contrast between these regions in the composition of British identity.  For some, the tension between the two is creative, and Britain’s ingenuity benefits from facing both the Atlantic and Europe.  Celtic was the term coined in the eighteenth century for the Atlantic-facing arc of Scots, Welsh, Manx and Irish…

This is of note:

Since 1821 the population of the Celtic arc of the north and west has declined as a proportion of the population of the United Kingdom, from 46 per cent in 1831, to 20 per cent in 1911, to 16 per cent in 2014, due to famine, independence and emigration.  This is a configuration of the country which we have been losing for nearly two centuries.

That is from the rewarding Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, by Madeleine Bunting.

1 jim jones April 10, 2017 at 2:56 am

The geography of Britain determined the structure of the United States:

http://www.unz.com/jman/the-genetics-of-the-american-nations/

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2 jonfraz April 10, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Almost certainly more about culture than genes. Genetic diversity in Olde England was about as minimal as it gets.

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3 rayward April 10, 2017 at 7:09 am

Industrialization and trade also contributed to a southeastward dominance, along with improved farming techniques that allowed for greater specialization, with the production of grain centered in the southeast and sheep and cattle centered in the north and west. Given a choice between the squalor of the industrialized southeast or working in a coal mine in the north and west to supply the coal needed to produce the steam that powered the industrialized southeast or emigrating to America, I might choose America. Which state? In 1800, Virginia was the most populous state, but nearly half the population was enslaved. In the first half of the 19th century, the populations of New York and Pennsylvania soon surpassed the population of Virginia, as industrialization affected migration in America just as it affected migration in Great Britain.

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4 Josephine April 11, 2017 at 5:18 am

And don’t neglect the effects of the Highland Clearances.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Clearances

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5 dearieme April 11, 2017 at 6:15 am

Dear God that’s a bad article. It doesn’t mention the large scale of emigration that was voluntary. It gives no idea of how dismal life was for people whose subsistence farming had traditionally been supported, at least in years of dearth, by robbing their neighbours, so that introduction of Law and Order undermined their economy. And it starts with an allegation that Enclosure was a large part of the problem when no history of the Clearances that I’ve read even mentions Enclosure. Nor does the article mention it again. I take it that Enclosure is a bogey-man that must be mentioned, a pantomime villain that must be hissed.

I clicked through to the article on Enclosure. It’s rubbish too – just repeating schoolroom myths.

I’m beginning to suspect that chunks of WKPD are just like traditional journalism – quite plausible until it discusses something the reader knows about, when it’s recognised as tosh.

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6 Tom T. April 10, 2017 at 8:02 am

“due to famine, independence and emigration.”

One of these things is not like the others. Why does independence reduce the population proportion?

And does emigration in this context include in-country migration to England?

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7 Josephine April 11, 2017 at 5:13 am

Because the creation and independence of the Irish Republic removed a large slice of the Celtic population of the United Kingdom.

Still there, but no longer part.

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8 Aidan April 10, 2017 at 8:55 am

Nice argument. Living on the wind-swept shores of the Atlantic has forced the Scots and Irish to believe that the world is vast and terrifying, and that they are very much on the edge of it; while living in the sheltered shires of the South-East has led the English to believe that they are at the centre of a benevolent, tamable universe.

The British Empire is subsequently born of a marriage of Celtic explorational curiosity and conquering Saxon arrogance. Moving to the present day, the former group are content to inhabit the edge of a huge, disparate Europe, while the latter are drawn to reject a continent that is beyond their control.

Tyler, who would you say are more complacent, the Celts or the Saxons?

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9 dearieme April 10, 2017 at 11:53 am

If the only difference between the NW and SE was the briny that they faced this might be a good argument. But don’t you think that it might matter that the NW half is “highland zone” with its characteristically different elevation, soil type, flora, and so on?

There’s another interesting difference: the lowland zone of England and Wales is itself divided in two. The landscape historian Rackham calls them Ancient Countryside and Planned Countryside. I’ve never seen a persuasive explanation for this difference. Odder yet, he points out that a similar distinction can be seen in many parts of the Continent. I don’t suppose that romantic bilge about Saxon and Celt can explain it.

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10 Ghost of Christmas Past April 10, 2017 at 8:22 pm

Britain and Taiwan (Formosa) both have large urban populations on the mainland side and smaller, rather agricultural populations on the ocean side.

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11 Eric Rasmusen April 10, 2017 at 11:47 pm

Rather unfair. I bet 1830 was when northwestern England’s population share peaked. Before the Industrial Revolution, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle didn’t have so many people.

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