We are currently into the swing of the new academic year with October fast approaching. I’ve met the new classes and have settled into the timetable, attempting to establish a new rhythm that will sustain me through to the summer of 2020. Whilst preparing materials for the new year I came across a map that I used back in the autumn of 2019, which managed to raise a smile.

The map itself was one that I used to help explain the geographical boundaries of European states back in the Tudor period (14th-15th centuries). The main focus was to get across the idea that the map of the period was very much different to the one in the 21st Century, particularly with the larger empires (notably that of the Holy Roman Empire). Western Europe is roughly the same, however, central and eastern Europe is vastly different.

I thought that the map did the job that was needed, however, one student raised attention to the city of Riga. This student was Latvian and studying in the UK for a year (aiming to complete the AS exams), and clearly she spotted something wrong with the positioning of the Latvian capital city of Latvia. Quite simply, it had moved hundreds of miles in a south-westerly direction!

Wrong Riga
The Wrong Riga!

Of course, I failed to provide ample consideration of the eastern part of the map (an area which doesn’t figure highly in the module specification), but the fact that I peddled this map that I found online in my lesson caused me to reflect. This led me to come to a couple of conclusions:

  1. I shouldn’t simply trust anything that I find on the internet: this is a rule that we try to teach students and I fell for it like an utter sucker!

  2. I approach history from too much of a western approach: would I have made the same mistake if Paris was placed in northern Italy, or in Denmark? Probably not.

So, the new year has led to a map correction and a firmer consideration of the material that I have found online. What is scary is that without the Latvian student I would have continued using the map without knowing any better. Which is, I guess, a great example of students enlightening the teacher.

Dubious maps are growing in circulation. As a recent convert to the world of Reddit, I can see how this has happened. One forum (sub-reddit) is devoted to the cause of ‘imaginary maps’, with many re-imagining past empires and periods. Although I’m quite fond of this enterprise, it does mean that thousands of essentially useless maps are now available to view on the internet. Perhaps future unsuspecting teachers will utilise them in their lessons.

the real riga
The Real Riga

As for the real Riga, yes, it does exist and it has not moved from its original location! As the map above shows, it is firmly rooted. Firm apologies Latvians – I will do my best to avoid making this mistake in the future.