I’m currently reading Outposts, written by Simon Winchester (of Krakatoa and The Professor and the Madman fame). The concept of the book is quite simple–one day, looking at a map, he started to wonder about all of Britain’s overseas possessions. The small islands, the landlocked relics of imperial rule, and so forth. So he decided to go on a epic global quest to visit the remains of the Empire. I haven’t finished the book yet, naturally, but I can say thus far that it’s very been very interesting. He went to Tristan de Cunha and St. Helena (I now want to live on Tristan, it sounds like an extraordinary place). He went to British Indian Ocean Territory. He went to Hong Kong (the book was written in the 1980s). It’s an interesting book. He discusses racism and other issues which run rife in Britain’s holdings–why it is, for example, that the (mostly black) residents of St. Helena are not granted full British citizenship when the (mostly white) residents of Gibralter are.
His discussions of the smaller islands, particularly Tristan, made me sort of sad. Tristan’s population is so small and insular that they are probably facing an eventual die-out due to inbreeding. New settlers are not allowed on the island, and only seven families settled it initially. That doesn’t seem like enough to create lasting genetic diversity for the island–already, congenital inherited defects are showing up in the population. I mean, I’m all for human extinction, but extinction on one small Atlantic Island isn’t going to make much of a difference in the long term. It’s just sort of sad to think about a community vanishing.
Small possessions struggle to survive. Pitcairn Island, which belongs to New Zealand, makes most of its money on crafts and stamp sales, for example. (Yes, stamp sales–for collectors. Apparently the advent of the internet is causing economic problems for several dependancies who formerly relied on stamp sales for income.) Pitcairn Island has also recently been plagued with other problems, which bear closer examination in the future.
However, Outposts got me thinking that I would sort of like to visit American dependancies overseas as well. American Samoa, Baker Island, Guam, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, the Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Wake Island all seem like they might be interesting places to visit, and to see. Some of them are uninhabited–some are military controlled, but all of them belong to the country I live in. It might be interesting to see these places, to try and comprehend why we hold onto them, to explore them. I wonder if I can convince a publisher to give me money to do it…