A brief history of borders
Most of us take it for granted that every person on earth is the citizen of a nation state, but this is a relatively recent concept.
Take Europe for example. Although there had long been empires that stretched across large tracts of land, up until the Middle Ages Europe was essentially made up of multiple city states. Indeed, the modern day passport is believed to have begun as a medieval document required to pass through the gate ("porte") of a city wall. In general, documents were not required when arriving at sea ports, which were considered open trading points.
It was not until the 15th century that the concept of a national border came into being - triggered, in part, by the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), which started as a tussle between two royal houses for the French throne and ended with both France and England embracing a newly discovered sense of nationalism.
For much of the rest of the world, national borders did not follow until after World War II, and were tied to the independence of the colonies. According to Gerald Blake of the International Boundaries Research Unit (who advises on border disputes around the world), around 40% of the land boundaries outside Europe were the creation of Britain and France, and more than half were the creation of European powers.
In short, while, in Europe, there may now be talk of a continent without borders; the countries of Africa and Asia (including the Middle-East) are currently contending with the proliferation of borders imposed on their own 'borderless world' in the last century.
This article was originally published in August 2009, and has been updated for the
July 2010 paperback release.
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