The excellent blog Strange Maps has just offered up a very interesting example of the last legacies of the recent past — meaning the past hundred years or so. This map, which superimposes the borders of Imperial Germany and Russia on a map of electoral data from the 2007 parliamentary elections in Poland.
Even a casual analysis of this image indicates the degree to which there seems to be some sort of echo of the imperial past in the electoral present in Poland. What this map doesn’t show us, of course, is whether this congruence of data and boundaries is a one time anomoly or a pattern that has emerged since the collapse of the Communist regime in Poland in 1989. Nevertheless, does raise all sorts of questions in my mind.
For my first book I spent a lot of time analyzing electoral returns in the Czech regions of the old Habsburg state and so I have lots of this sort of data stored on my computer. The Czech electoral commission has produced a number of excellent data sets on voting in the Czech Republic since 1993 and so, if I have the time over the holiday break, I may just try a comparison of voting then (i.e., 1907 and 1911) and now.
Running a comparison like that is fraught with problems — electoral districts are different, parties are different, the historical context is different. If we attempt to say something conclusive about the comparison, then we’re risking committing ecological fallacies that more than likely will skew the results of any analysis. But it is quite possible to use such surface comparisons to start asking the kinds of questions historians are actually quite good at asking about these data.
Prior to the digital age it would be possible to make two maps of electoral results and lay one on top of the other to see what comparisons might appear. Digital technology doesn’t offer new insights unavailable to us before, but it certainly does make it much easier to get to the point where insights can begin to bubble up.