History involves asking a lot of questions: Who? What? When? Where? Any issue in History needs to be located in place as well as in time – why did an event or development happen then and why did it happen there? Some locations were particularly suitable for settlement: because the place offered safety and protection, or good access to wood and water, or fertile soil. Some locations were ideal for the purposes of trade: because of proximity to a river crossing, or a protected harbour, or a pass through the mountains. Some locations were ideal for the exploitation of natural resources: quarrying stone, mining coal, iron, copper or silver.
Some locations were particularly suitable for settlement, some were ideal for the purposes of trade or for the exploitation of natural resources. Locations are sometimes significant for special, short-lived boom-and-bust reasons, others are influenced by long-lasting factors. For example, for centuries, the strategic location of Cyprus has made the island a key crossroads of trade and international rivalries in the Mediterranean; ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution, its resources and geographical position have made the Ruhrgebiet a powerhouse of the European economy. The geopolitical location of Poland, caught between the power-systems of Germany and Russia and possessing few natural defences, has led to repeated periods of foreign domination.
Some locations are prominent in History because of special religious or cultural associations that mean the past hangs over the present – examples include Rome, Mecca, Jerusalem and many others. Some locations are linked together by economic or political connections but such ties often fluctuate according to circumstances. For example, firm rule under the Mongol Empire made the Silk Road across Central Asia a secure route in the 13th and 14th centuries but then it became closed to trade because banditry and local disorder made it unsafe. Oceanic exploration and trade outwards from Europe was opened up in the 15th and 16th centuries by new technological developments and economic expansion. So, location in history is always important and always reflects ever-changing circumstances. Just as History shapes locations, so locations can shape History.
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