University of Minnesota
Center for Austrian Studies

Austrian Studies' home page.

The Changing Face of Europe

Sharon Shelerud
Teacher consultant
Burnsville School District and MAGE Steering Committee

Minnesota State High School Human Geography Standard 4
The student will explain how the regionalization of space into political units affects human behavior.

Benchmark 2: Students will provide examples of the impact of political boundaries on human behavior and economic activities.

High school students today are under the impression that Europe has had constant political borders throughout history. Most of them were born at the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. When you ask them their impressions of Europe, it is not uncommon to get a response similar to “they are just like us”.

Using the historical maps of Europe that are provided with this lesson, students will begin to see how the political boundaries of Europe have changed over time. They will also begin to explore and understand reasons for why these changes occurred. Using the idea of devolution they should be able to begin to understand the current political boundaries of Europe and hypothesize about how these boundaries may change or remain the same in the future.

Review the terms

Devolution: Process by which regions in a state demand and gain political strength and more autonomy. The power of the central government is weakened.
Spatial, Socioethnic, Economic
State: Has a defined territory, permanent population and government and is recognized by other states. (Country)
Nation: Group of people with a shared culture and history
Centrifugal forces: ideas, event, etc. that divide a group of people
Centripetal forces: ideas, events, etc. that unite a group of people

Lesson idea 1

Using the power point presentation provided on Europe’s changing political boundaries over time, project the political maps of Europe from 1000 to today. As you show these maps, ask students to write down the relative size of the political units for each year. After two or three maps, ask students to compare the sizes and shapes of the states with regard to how they stayed the same or changed. Ask students why these patterns would occur.

Have students compare more recent maps with each other in order to see how European boundaries have changed since WWI to the current boundaries.

The worksheet that is included is designed to help students see the changes and the general patterns of change over time.

Lesson idea 2

Once students have completed the map analysis exercise, introduce a map of the European Union.

Ask students to discuss how the European Union may affect future political boundaries. Do you think states will get larger as the EU continues to grow? Do you think states will become smaller and perhaps create more nation – states in Europe?

Students will need to be able to defend their opinions with facts and data.

Lesson idea 3

In this lesson students will take part in a role play exercise. Divide students into groups that represent the new countries of the former state of Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Kossovo) as well as groups that represent Austria, Greece, Bulgaria, etc. The number of groups will depend on the size of your class. Having groups of 3 for this would be best.

Each group will determine how viable their state is. They will need to research data such as natural resources, GNP, exports, imports, alliances, population data, ethnic make up, etc.

Students will also need to be able to explain their role in the EU, if they are a current member, or decide if they would they want to become a member. If so, what are the chances they would be accepted? If not, why not?
Who would their Allies would be? Why?
What states they may have conflicts with? Why?
Could this divide Europe/the EU by ethnic lines?
Could nationalism become a reason for future conflict?
If students decide their state is not viable, then they need to decide what state they would join and if this would be a partnership or if they would just become part of that state.


  • “Human Geography in Action” 4th edition. Kuby, Harner and Gober. Wiley publisher.
  • Excellent chapter on the break up of Yugoslavia entitled; Breaking up is hard to do”.
  • Google the following sites (urls change periodically)
    • CIA Worldfactbook
    • The European Union and Border Conflicts: The Impact of Integration and Association
  • The Incongruent Culture? Nationalist-Populism and Democratization of Post –Communist Central Europe. Tomas Strazay
  • National Minorities in East Central Europe and the Balkans in Historical Perspective. Richard L. Rudolph at ../assets/pdf/wp927.pdf

Comparing European Maps through Time

Comparing pre World War I Map and Post World War I Map

  1. Name the Central Power whose territory was reduced to the smallest size.
  2. Name the state with which Germany had a common border in 1914, but not in 1919.
  3. Name the new state that included the prewar state of Serbia.
  4. What Central Power did not lose territory in Europe?
  5. Which original member of the Allies lost considerable territory according to the 1919 map?
  6. A Balkan state whose boundaries were not changed by the war was:
  7. Italy gained territory from which state?
  8. Name a new state that had no access to an ocean or sea.
  9. Name a small Baltic state that was created after World War I
  10. Name a Balkan state that gained territory after World War I.
  11. Using the maps from 1919 and 1939, name the countries that became German territory in 1939.
  12. Using the 1939 map and the 1950 – 1989 map, name the new state that was created after World War II.
  13. Using the 1939 map and the 1950 – 1989 map, what states became a part of the USSR?
  14. What changes to political boundaries took place in the Balkan region from 1919 to 1989?
  15. Name the NATO states
  16. Name the Communist states
  17. What changes occurred in the Balkan region between 1950 – 1989 and 2000?
  18. What states re – appear on the 2000 map in the Baltic region?
  19. What states change in the Balkan region between 2000 and 2008?
  20. The current political map of Europe most resembles which historic map of Europe?

Short answer questions

  1. Is nationalism increasing or decreasing in Europe?
  2. How do the maps show devolution in Europe? (reference specific maps in your answer)
  3. What centrifugal forces have created the current political map of Europe?
  4. How can the European Union serve as a centripetal force in Europe?
  5. What events would explain each historic map of Europe?


Maps (PPTX)