A tribute to Colin McEvedy, author of great history atlases

Every now and then we at Timemaps are asked about what sources we use for our Timemap of World History. I am now therefore creating a list of sources which we will shortly post up on the website. As always this is a much larger task than I had anticipated – stupidly I thought it would take a couple of hours; now, two days later, it’s still not complete.

It’s actually an interesting task, because it re-acquaints me with books that had sat on my shelves, almost forgotten. Several authors appear on my sleeves more than once, and of these is Colin McEvedy.

Colin McEvedy created a lovely series of historical atlases which consisted of simple, clear black and white line-drawn maps. The maps were accompanied by very accessible, almost chatty, text, describing what was going on in each map.

Most of his work is to do with the history of West (Europe and the Middle East), ancient and modern; however, he clearly had an interest in wider world history, as he also authored history atlases on the Africa, North America and the Pacific. 

I looked up Colin McEvedy on Google, and I was sad to learn that he died in 2005, at the age of 75. I also learnt that he was not a professional historian at all; he was in fact a distinguished psychiatrist. This came as a wonderful surprise: it is great that someone who was not an academic should have made such a contribution in communicating history. 

Looking at his maps today makes me wonder whether he did not spark the concept for the Timemap of World History. His books consist of a series of maps of exactly the same region, to the same scale, at different dates. This is the same approach taken by our website.  It allows readers to see very clearly the changes taking place in a region over time – as hopefully you can see for yourselves in our maps on Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and South Asia, China and East Asia, South East Asia and North and South America (we’ve also done Australia and the Pacific region, of course, but you my feel that the nature of its history makes this slightly less successful as a visual treatment).

The fact that we are operating in the digital realm means that users can easily relate these regional histories to their broader context of world history, on the one hand, and to the histories of specific countries, on the other (for example France, Iraq, and Japan). 

I very much hope that Colin McEvedy would have approved (had he not beaten us to it!). For anyone interested in seeing history happen before their eyes, I thoroughly recommend his useful and charming atlases.


The New Penguin Atas of Ancient History


The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History 

By Peter Britton