The Pivot of History

Courtesy Reuters

FIFTY years ago Halford John Mackinder delivered a lecture on "The Geographical Pivot of History" before the Royal Geographical Society in London. Supported by five diagrams, it was published by the Society in April 1904,[i] together with comments by several students of geography. Probably few who read the lecture in 1904 guessed that Figure 5, bearing the caption "The Natural Seats of Power," would become one of the most famous maps of our time. It embodied one of the most thought-provoking views of the world in the twentieth century and has exercised profound influence on foreign affairs and on history.

On his Mercator-projection Mackinder had boldly shifted the conventional European center and showed the Americas on the edge of each side of Africa, Europe and Asia. In this manner he indicated that he saw the world "as a whole." Enclosing this novel picture with an earth-girdling oval, he made his message dramatic by dividing the natural seats of power into three areas --one, a "pivot" area, wholly continental; a second, an "outer crescent," wholly oceanic; and a third, an "inner crescent," partly continental, partly oceanic. Mackinder had shattered the old, comfortable picture of the relations of the continents as well as complacent notions of the relations of sea power and land power. His own countrymen paid little heed, but German strategists pondered carefully what he had disclosed, and Hitler came close to bringing sea power to destruction by capturing land bases on which it rested. Today, statesmen, generals, seamen and airmen everywhere see the round world through Mackinder's eyes. And they see the Soviet Union in control of what he described as its Heartland.


When he delivered his now famous lecture Mackinder was 43 years old. Born at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire on February 15, 1861, he was the oldest son of a country doctor, Draper Mackinder, and Fanny Hewitt of Lichfield. On a wall of the Gainsborough Grammar School was a picture which greatly attracted him--a drawing of the naval engagement in March 1862 between the ironclad

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