Feb 11 201667 Kingdom of the Mahdi, Part One

In the early 1880s Sudan suffered under the heel of the Ottoman empire. Military occupation and heavy taxes led to widespread discontent that eventually led to a religiously-infused rebellion. Muhammad Ahmad styled himself as the Mahdi or “expected one,” a prophesized Islamic figure, and drawing on discontent, Ahmad led a rebellion throughout the country.

The British officer Charles George Gordon (pictured below) was put in charge of evacuating Egyptians and other foreigners from the Sudan. But, because of his poor relations with the British and the Ottoman-Egyptian governments, Gordon ended up holed up in Khartoum, under siege by the rebel forces, and eventually dead at the hands of the Sudanese. The Mahdi had successfully defeated the foreign occupiers, and a new state formed under his religiously-inspired revolutionary power.


May 21 201531 The Kingdom of North Sudan

The British Empire and other colonial powers did a lot of things wrong, and they famously ignored actual human patterns when drawing borders of Africa. In 1899, the British drew a border between Egypt and Sudan that simply ran in a straight line across the 22nd parallel, ignoring how people in the area moved and identified. A few years later, in 1902, they corrected their mistake and re-drew the boundary.

The result has led to a border dispute between Egypt and Sudan where Egypt claims the 1899 border, and Sudan the 1902 border. This dispute means that a small patch of desert, Bir Tawil, is not claimed by either nation. In 2014 a man from the United States attempted to claim the land and declare it to be the Kingdom of North Sudan. Why? So his daughter could be a princess, of course.

The image below shows Bir Tawil on Google Maps, with the pin in its location. Next to it is the Hala’ib Triangle, which both countries claim.

bir tawil


















Related Links:

Bir Tawil on Atlas Obscura.

An opinion piece about Jerimiah Heaton and his micronation over at the the Independent. The author points out, with cause, how bad it looks for a white westerner to suddenly be claiming to own a chunk of Africa.

A piece about Disney’s Princess of North Sudan on Deadline Hollywood.

The official website for the Kingdom of North Sudan.

Mar 05 201520 The Lost Empire of Scotland

In the late 1600s Scotland, in an attempt to start an international trade empire, founded a small settlement in what is now modern Panama. The venture was frustrated at every turn by the English, who did not want their northern neighbor competing on the international scene, and the Panamanian jungle proved to be an inhospitable environment. The settlers were plagued by starvation and malaria, and eventually the Scots were ousted by the Spanish.

The dramatic failure of the colony led to the end of Scottish independence, and a few years later 1707 that country would permanently join with England. Had the colony succeeded, the map of Europe and Central America could look very different today, but as it is Scottish ambitions and independence vanished hundreds of years ago in the jungles of Central America.

New Caledonia in Darien

Related Links:

The BBC on the Darien Scheme.

A look at the Darien Chest, the object that held the money and papers for the Darien Scheme.

One settler’s account of this history of Darien.


Jan 08 201512 Shortest War Ever

The Anglo-Zanzibar war comes up all the time on lists of curiosities, records, weird things, etc., as the shortest war in recorded history. It certainly is a historical curiosity, but it was still an actual, real war, with stakes and politics behind it. This week’s episode gets into a few details about the shortest war in history, and why (for Zanzibar at least) it was more than just a curiosity.

The photograph below shows a part of the Sultan’s palace complex after the war which, depending on which source you read, lasted either 38, 40, or 45 minutes.



Related Links:

The Anglo-Zanzibar War is a favorite for factoid sites like Neatorama and Mental Floss.

Reporting on the war from the AP in 1896 (requires login).

National Geographic on the SE African coast.

Nov 20 201405 The Puppet Kingdom

Before and during World War II Japan (just like Britain, France, and the United States) had a considerable empire. The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere encompassed the Korean peninsula, several Pacific Islands, and holdings in China. Probably the strangest part of the Japan’s empire was Manchukuo, an artificial country in northern China that Japan made by (among other things) bombing a train and kidnapping the former Chinese emperor.

Manchukuo map 1939

Related Links:

This 1937 pro-Japanese propaganda film presents a laughably glowing vision of Manchuria under Japanese control.

Listen to Manchukuo’s national anthem! It sounds like lots of other national anthems.

The New Imperialism and Post Colonial Development State: Manchukuo in Comparative Perspective is one of the better scholarly essays I read about this topic in preparation for this episode.