Occasional exceptions notwithstanding, this blog steers clear of maps from the twin realms [1] of fantasy and alternate history. This might seem odd, as both genres rely heavily on maps to flesh out the world they describe. Consequently,  both fantasy and alternate history teem with non-standard cartography that might be considered suitable material for Strange Maps [2]

But that plenitude of maps is exactly the problem. In a cartographic variation on the Many-Worlds theory [3], there is a map for every imagined universe. Most of those maps will differ only slightly from each other, or from 'standard' reality. As a result, these maps risk committing the greatest sin imaginable to cartophiles: to be boring.

One need only consider how the maps of Middle-Earth [4] in the end papers of Lord of the Rings continues to spawn a legion of lookalikes - yes, we're talking about you here, Game of Thrones. Or how alternate history always seems to gravitate to the same two tropes, one dominant on each side of the Atlantic: What if the South had won the Civil War, and What if the Nazis had won the Second World War [5]?

I'd say narrative logic dictates that a map is only 'strange' if it is alluring, and alluring only if it tells a good story, one grounded in a reality we all have a stake in - not the one only existing inside its creator's head, or in one of the countless other universes.

Yet here is a map that is both allohistorical and at home in our world. The map shows a patchwork of territories in a constellation vaguely recognisable as interbellum Poland [6], but with added padding. These extra territories allow the respondents to decide which ones should or shouldn't become (or remain) Polish. For this map is the result of a survey among the mapmaker's peer group of allohistory buffs, and some real-world statistical analysis.


The question of the Optimal Borders Map Survey was: Which territories depicted here do you consider essential components of a Polish state? 

Although most (if not all) of the territories shown here at some point in history were under Polish control, it should be remembered that borders in this part of the world have been extremely volatile, and during the period after World War One exceptionally so [7]. Contributing to the post-war chaos was the fact that the rising tide of nationalism proved divisive in a region that was ethnically much less homogenous than it is now: large numbers of Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ruthenians and other nationalities shared these lands with the Poles, who were a majority in most, but not all of the territories shown here.  

So: what would an ideal Poland have looked like? That depends on your definition of ideal, of course: the best borders from a military/strategic point of view? From an economic/industrial standpoint? Or should one opt for the most ethnically homogenous territory? Or perhaps choose borders grounded in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth? 

The end result looks like a heat map of Poland, with the cool dark greens of the central area denoting 'most optimal' Polish territories, the warmer yellows towards the periphery being 'less optimal' and the fiery reds along the edges 'least optimal'. The number in each territory is the composite score out of 10, with 0 reflecting a total rejection by all respondents, and 10 unanimous inclusion in an 'optimal Polish state'. 

Arrows and a few symbols towards the edges of the map provide a few other options, all of which receive scant support [8], except one: Access to the sea (9.6).

The 'most optimal' territory is a large, central swathe of Poland (10.0), the 'least optimal' one is Subcarpathian Ruthenia (0.1), which has the distinction of being the tail that fell off Czechoslovakia to become an independent state for no longer than one day [9].

The biggest discrepancy between the outer borders of 'potential Poland' and the resultant 'optimal Poland' is towards the north, where northern East Prussia, Memel and most of Lithuania are coloured red, and towards the east, now part of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia respectively. What shines through, are the northern and eastern borders of interbellum Poland - give or take a plebiscited area or two [10].

 There is less trepidation about including the lands to the west, in the balance between the Polish core and Germany - including the industrialised region of Upper Silesia. Towards the south, only Spisz and Orawa constitute two tiny flecks or red, rather seen outside than inside Polish borders.  

The Optimal Borders Map Survey produces a fascinating result, a crowd-sourced composite picture of Polish borders. That picture is not a the result of a consensus, but an average of a range of opinions, some widely differing. The intricacies of those opinions are discussed, and more maps shown, at the relevant forum page at www.alternatehistory.com.


This map found here on its creator Magnificate's page on Deviantart. The survey sheet, with the territories numbered and named, found here.



[1] In the words of SF author Robert J. Sawyer: "Science fiction deals with things that might possibly happen (or, in the case of the subgenre of science fiction known as alternate history, things that possibly could have happened); fantasy deals with things that never could happen." Unless, that is, you do believe in elves.  

[2] One could fill an entire book with them. In fact, someone has: J.B. Post's Atlas of  Fantasy is a remarkable collection of maps from the former of both realms. 

[3] The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of Quantum Mechanics, to be exact. In short, it goes something like this: Rather than proceed like an arrow, time is forever branching into other realities, one for each different possible outcome of everything. So there is one universe exactly the same to ours, in which Ford's Model T's were green instead of black, and another one in which Germany won… the 1966 World Cup, and another one where you are instead called Trevor (unless you are already called Trevor, in which case we're truly sorry). All conceivable outcomes exist in separate universes, that together constitute the aforementioned Many Worlds. The MWI was first developed by quantum physicist Hugh Everett, who in this universe also happened to be the father of Mark Oliver Everett (a.k.a. ‘E’), the frontman of the rock band Eels. In the BBC documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, the latter explores the life and work of the former (See the first part here). 

[4] The famous Middle-Earth map itself was never posted on this blog, but we did discuss a map establishing a correspondence of locations in Middle-Earth with those in Europe (see #121).  

[5] One variation on this theme was surprising enough to warrant discussion on Strange Maps. Its thesis: What if Italy had won the war? (see #325). And we did say: Occasional exceptions notwithstanding. Another post did show a striking map of Europe if the Nazis had won (see #186).  

[6] Between the wars, as in: First and Second World War. In Poland's case, 1919-1939. 

[7] See also a post-war snapshot of an alternative Balticum at #576

[8] Least popular option: Further Expansion into Russia (0.1), most popular: Further Expansion into Germany (1,7), most surprising option: Colonial Expansion (0.4). 

[9] A.k.a. Carpatho-Ukraine. See #57

[10] The southern half of East Prussia is included in Poland. The area voted in a plebiscite in 1920 to remain in Germany, a result contested by Polish nationalists.