A superimposed boundary is a boundary that was created with disregard for the inhabitants that lived there before the boundary was constructed.
These boundaries ignore the political, cultural, and social lives of the locals. They often split families and friends and create political jurisdictions that force groups into political unions that are undesirable. In this sense, they’re the exact opposite of consequent boundaries, which are put in place to separate two pre-existing feuding groups.
As a result, superimposed boundaries tend to cause social division and conflict. Many current-day superimposed boundaries are a hangover from colonial imperialism.
Definition of Superimposed Boundaries
Superimposed boundaries can be defined as boundaries that have been imposed upon a cultural landscape without consideration of the political circumstance of the land’s inhabitants.
They can be both physical and political. For example, the physical wall and fence line separating much of the United States from Mexico cuts through the tribal lands of the Tohono O’odham people. 32,000 members of the tribe live on one side, in Arizona, and 2,000 live on the other side, in Sonora Mexico.
Examples of Superimposed Boundaries
1. The 49th Parallel US-Canada Border
The border between the USA and Canada runs along the 49th parallel. It is the world’s longest non-militarized border and is mostly a straight line (aka a geometric boundary) cutting through the middle of North America.
The border was drawn as a political agreement between the British Empire and United States of America in order to prevent conflict. However, it totally ignored the fact many Native American tribes lived on both sides of the border and crossed it regularly.
2. The Green Line separating Israel and the Palestinian Territories
The Green Line is the border that separates Israel from the Palestinian Territories. It was created in 1949 after the Arab-Israeli War as part of the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The Green Line was based on the ceasefire lines drawn by UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, who proposed a partition of Palestine that gave the majority of the land to the Arabs. However, Israel rejected his proposal and created its own borders.
Today, this border remains contested, with Israel consistently colonizing land on the Palestinian side of the border, especially around the Golan Heights, and Hamas rejection of the existence of the border that cuts through Palestinian communities.
3. The Division of Kurdistan
Kurdistan is not a country, although many people believe it should be. It is a region that straddles the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
In the 1920s, Western colonialists created the modern-day borders of the Middle East without consideration for the fact that Kurds lived in all four countries. This led to the division of Kurdistan, with each country claiming a piece of it.
It also left an enormous ethnic group, the Kurds, disempowered and without a nation of their own. They became a persecuted minority in each nation they occupied.
In response, the Kurds have attempted to carve out their own land using both militant and political powers. In some regions, they now have autonomous zones, but their aspirations for their own sovereign and democratic nation remain unrealized.
4. Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122 CE by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It stretches across 73 miles of Northern England and was meant to keep the “barbarians” at bay.
The wall completely ignored the fact that there were people living in Northern England before the Romans arrived. In fact, the wall was built on top of an ancient British road, which caused tremendous social upheaval as the wall disrupted trade and travel.
The wall was abandoned and re-fortified several times, but when the Roman Empire eventually withdrew from Britain altogether, it fell into disrepair. Today, it is considered a relic boundary and preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts thousands of tourists each year.
5. The Berlin Wall
After World War II, Germany was split between the communist east and the capitalist west. Berlin was also split in half with the communists on one side and capitalists on the other.
The Berlin Wall was the physical and ideological barrier that divided Berlin. It existed from 1961-1989 and constructed by the East German government to keep their citizens from fleeing to the West.
Over the years, the Berlin Wall became a powerful symbol of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. It was also a potent reminder of the division of Germany and Europe as a whole.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall was pulled down and Germans were able to reunite. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and serves as a reminder of the damaging effects of superimposed boundaries.
6. The Durand Line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan
The Durand Line is a 2,640 km (1,640 mi) long international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was created in 1893 by British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand.
The original agreement stated that the Durand Line would be a temporary measure, but it remains to this day. It has been repeatedly disputed by Afghanistan ever since its creation.
The Afghan government argues that the Durand Line is an illegal occupation of Afghan territory and has never recognized it as an official border.
7. The McMahon Line separating India and Tibet/China
The McMahon line was drawn in 1914 by British diplomat Henry McMahon. It is the border that separates India from Tibet and China.
The line was drawn as part of the Simla Accord, a treaty between Great Britain and Tibet. However, China never recognized the agreement and has continuously claimed sovereignty over Tibet.
8. The Sykes-Picot Agreement dividing the Middle East
The Sykes-Picot Agreement was a secret agreement made between the British and French governments during World War I to divide the Middle East into spheres of influence.
The agreement was made without input from any other parties, such as the Arabs who lived in the region. It created many of the current-day borders in the Middle East, including the border between Iraq and Syria.
It was later revealed that the agreement was incredibly unfair to the Arabs, who were promised independence but instead were divided among various European powers.
9. The Bantustans in South Africa
The Bantustans were a series of 10 black “homelands” in South Africa that were designated for black people by the white-minority apartheid government.
The homelands were created in an attempt to ethnically cleanse South Africa of black people and consolidate them into isolated areas. The Bantustans were incredibly impoverished and lacked basic services such as healthcare and education.
The Bantustans were eventually abolished in 1991 after the end of apartheid, but their legacy still affects black South Africans today.
10. The Korean Demilitarized Zone
The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a 250 km (155 mi) long and 4 km (2.5 mi) wide border that separates communist North and capitalist South Korea.
The DMZ was created in 1953 as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement. Sadly, it separated an entire culture and many individual families who have now been apart for over 70 years.
It is the most heavily militarized border in the world, with both North and South Korea having large numbers of troops stationed along the DMZ.
11. The Creation of African Colonies
The creation of African colonies was a process that began in the late 19th century and lasted until the mid-20th century.
European powers, such as France, Belgium, and Great Britain, began to colonize Africa in an attempt to gain control over its natural resources. They also wanted to establish a presence in Africa in order to compete with other European powers.
The African colonies were ruled by white-minority governments who discriminated against the native Africans.
The African independence movement began in the 1950s and eventually led to the liberation of most African countries from European rule. However, many of the borders created during the colonial era remain in place today, separating cultural groups such as the Berbers who live in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.
12. The Northern Ireland Border
The Northern Ireland border is the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent republic.
The border was created in 1921, as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which partitioned Ireland into two separate states.
While the border was drawn based on democratic referenda in the various counties on the island of Ireland, it nevertheless ignored the wishes of minority Catholics in the north to remain united with the majority Catholic south.
As a result, a period known as The Troubles began. During this period, the border was a hotspot for violence and terrorism as the Catholics of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) sought to unite Ireland by force.
13. The US-Mexico Border
The US-Mexico border is a border established between the United States and Mexico. It was created in 1848, as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican-American War.
The border has been a source of tension between the United States and Mexico for centuries. The main issue has been the large number of undocumented Mexican immigrants who have crossed the border in search of better opportunities.
But these disputes ignore the fact that there are several native American tribes whose land was on both sides of the border before colonization imposed a border through their land. Two such tribes are the Pascua Yaqui Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation.
While this is a superimposed boundary, it’s also (ironically) considered an antecedent boundary because it was negotiated before European settles moved westward across the continent.
See Also: Examples of Subsequent Boundaries
There are many disputed and controversial borders around the world which have caused violence and tension for centuries. Many of these were superimposed, which is a type of political boundary that was forced upon the locals with disregard for their cultural, ethnic, political and social territories that existed prior to the imposition of colonialism.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.