A history lesson, part I

A few years back, I bought the book ‘Europe: A History‘ by Norman Davies. I didn’t actually buy it for myself, rather, I bought it for my little brother for his birthday, but I liked it so much that I took it back and just showered him with lots of love and affection instead.

Since I’ve actually been living in Europe, I’ve pulled out the book from time to time to have a read. The perspective I get about Europe, living in the Eastern part of the continent, has helped me appreciate and understand the book better too.

My most recent foolish quest is to read the book from cover to cover (1300+ BIG pages). Already, I’ve skipped the Introduction, but hey, that doesn’t really count. But imagine my surprise when I saw, on page 53 in the ‘Environment and Prehistory’ chapter, an entire page and a half break-out box about ‘Ukraina’.

I’ve decided to reproduce some parts of it, as it’s really interesting and shows that Ukraine has been a historically important country for centuries. So here you go…

“Ukraine is the land through which the greatest number of European people approached their eventual homeland. In ancient times it was variously known as Scythia or Sarmatia, after the peoples who dominated the Pontic steppes long beofre the arrival of the Slavs. It occupies the largest sector of the southern European plain, between the Volga crossing and the Carpathian narrows; and it carries the principal overland pathway between Asia and Europe. Its modern, Slavonic name means ‘On the Edge’, a close counterpart to the American concept of ‘the Frontier’. Its focal point at the rapids of the Dniepr, where the steppe pathway crosses the river trade-route, was fiercely contested by all comers, for it provided the point of transition between the settled lands of the West and the open steppes to the East. Ukraine is rich in mineral resources – such as coal of the the ‘Donbass’ and the iron of Krivoi Roh. The loess of its famous ‘black earth’ underlies Europe’s richest agricultural lands, which in the years prior to 1914 were to become the Continent’s leading exporter of grain.”



19 thoughts on “A history lesson, part I

  1. Dear chrisb. Yeah, information you couldn’t live without 😉 nothing like a bit of history to stretch the brain each day.

    Dear soz to intrude. Yeah the book is alright, I have only ever read bits and pieces. Very easy to read though. Did he write one on London?

    Dear Karmyn R. Probably no colder than where you live, especially as we’ve had two ‘mild’ winters (avg around -5/-6) – luckily, the two winters I’ve been here!

  2. That book’s really hard to read in bed. It’s too heavy, even though it’s a paperback. I was given a book stand for my birthday just to cope with it. And then you have to keep your fingers in the bit you are reading and the boxes and the end notes. It’s hard work.
    But the best bit is the map at the beginning with Europe as you would see it from Ukraine with Britain in the distance rather than in the centre.

  3. This was really interesting for me…My in-laws come from Carparho-Ukraine, close to the border with Czekoslovakia…..
    Something unrelated—my F-I-L recently showed me an article which states that real estate costs more in Kiev than in Paris…is it true? And if so, why?

  4. First of all, I was thrilled to see you visited at my place today. I’m not doing much flying around these days, but wanted to pop over here to say hi. As usual, an interesting read. When I return home I hope to have more time to blog.

  5. so good to see you back (and i’m returning the visit, quite a few days later)…
    big books scare me. i have the complete works of jane austen from the library and it’s just SO huge…
    but all that history….
    my uncle is from the ukraine, he left many MANY years ago (escaped would be the word he’d use)…

  6. Finally, you’re there. I wondered what you’ve been up to…

    Funny about good history books. They’re all large, but so readable in short bursts. My fave is History of Venice by John Julius Norwich…but I’ve never lived there. Took me nearly two years to read it, which is surprising given that I was living in the UK at the time and there were plenty of cold rain weekends to encourage curling up with a good read.

  7. I can’t think of a clever response to such an educational post apart from “hmmm, interesting”
    Like Chris my brain struggles to retain info for more than a few minutes. The history boffin in our house is Kev. He’s often reading snippets of interesting stuff to me from one of his vast collection of books, which I do find interesting but sadly never remember……

  8. Україна (Oukra-yina) does not necessarily mean окраина (okra-ina), that is, “the edge,” as many Russo-centric historiographers still argue.

    Because Norman Davies clearly relies on a Russian-based transliteration of Ukrainian geographic names, let me set the record straight.

    If you read “Ukraine: A History” by Orest Subtelny, you will learn an alternative interpretation of the name Ukraine.

    Україна may very well owe its name to the word країна (krayina), or край (kray), which means “the country,” or “the region,” respectively.

    Furthermore, we shouldn’t confuse Kyivan Rus with Russia.

    Россия (Rossiya), known in English as Russia, is simply a derivative of the Greek word Ρωσία, meaning Русь (Rus), a branding strategy adopted by the Grand Duchy of Moscow in a self-glorification bid.

    In the Russian language, one can find traces of this strategy in two distinct words: русский (russky), pertaining to ethnicity, and российский (rossiysky), pertaining to the nation-state. In English, however, they both go under the name of “Russian.”

    Naturally, these highly important historical subtleties received scant coverage during Ukraine’s centuries-long existence on “the edge” of the Russian empire.

    But with Ukraine now an independent country, Western perspectives on Ukraine need a little refreshing to supply readers with accurate and balanced information.

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