Teacher | Student
Originally produced in: France
Also available in: en

Curricular level

4th grade curriculum of geography: «The limits of Europe». France


The geographic boundaries of Europe have been determined by history. They distinguish the territories of European peoples with more or less clarity and relevance according to places: for instance the oriental boundaries of Europe are rather fuzzy.

The internal borders of Europe, which have often changed their location in the eighteenth century, show the marks of its eventful history because border changes often accompanied significant political events, especially wars.

A close examination of the borders shows the diversity of reasons why they came into existence and the intricacy of their economic, politic, cultural and social consequences.

One can come to a conclusion that borders reveal a historic and geographic complexity; thus, one has to learn to refer to them cautiously, depending on the local context.

Conceptual Objectives

The difficulty of this subject is that it demands both the understanding of a difficult concept of continental and political boundaries, and the knowledge of their historically complex evolution (polygenic borders of Europe) and their contemporary articulation as well as the awareness of political and cultural issues sensitive to mental representations and ideological manipulation.

Furthermore, the problem of the limits of Europe is associated with issues whose acuteness has been enhanced primarily by the recent extension of the territory of the European Union in Europe and, secondly, by the intensification of intercontinental relations within the overall globalization of economic relations.

It is convenient to be able to give to the European students detailed knowledge about the definition of geographical and political concepts, raise their awareness of the essential historicity of the observed facts and draw special attention to the multiplicity of the points of view on these problems.

The awareness of the complexity should give rise to prudence and moderation of judgments in the process of continuous reconstruction of the conscious European citizenship.

There are at least three different questions implied in the expression "the borders of Europe":

  • What are the limits of the European continent? Or, in other words, can we outline incontestable "geographical", if not "natural", limits in Europe? But this opens another issue that is more political: how far can the European Union extend its borders? And then, should it be confined to Europe or what are the impassable limits?
  • What are the internal frontiers of Europe? Where do the boundaries of the European Union tend to overlap with the geographic limits of Europe_Which internal borders are doomed to disappear and what other frontiers could still persist?
  • Of what nature are the boundries of Europe today? Are the continental boundries different from national borders? What do they separate and for what purpose? This amounts to asking rather about the emergence of a new definition of borders in Europe influenced by the diversity of border situations and even by the diversification of European people’s statutes.

Therefore, our educational proposal aims to make students think about:

  1. the location of the limits of the European continent and their historical and practical significance.
  2. the recent developments of the internal borders of Europe within which the European Union has developed.
  3. the case studies whose complexity leads to refining the concept of the national border putting aside folk wisdom and oversimplification.

Methodological Objectives and Skills

First, we encourage the students, looking at a map, to consider it not so much as material to be memorized without discussion, but as an object of a debate. Considering maps as problematic will enrich the understanding of the space they represents.

Examining and questioning maps should lead to an inquiry about the details of the boundaries and a debate informed by the historical background and political issues. The exercise of comparing maps of Europe at different times will facilitate the implementation of this particular and context-sensitive framework of thinking.

Finally, a multiple examination of external and internal borders and the study of localized cases will encourage multifacetedthinking about geographic space.

Suggestion of Activities

Carrying out a thorough examination of European borders, the students are made aware of different meanings of the concept of a border and tensions within it. The aim of the first session is to make the students understand that borders do not always separate very different areas and and, in particular, realize that borders have been delineated neither with the same precision nor for the same reasons.

In the second session, the comparison of maps of different periods reinforces the idea of the historicity of borders based on the instability that one can notice during one’s lifetime or throughout a century.

The third session helps to understand, on the basis of a few examples of specific border cases, the complexity of the problems of territorial boundaries. It should reinforce the belief in the pervasive influence of the historical background on the contemporary territorial realities and in the extreme foolishness of examining these realities based on too abstract principles.

Suggestion of Evaluation

The teacher will ensure that the students:

  • can identify and read or interpretvarious documents;
  • know how to locate various documents in their historical and geographical context;
  • master specific vocabulary and concepts;
  • can write a few lines of a summary with specific reference to the examined documents and without seeking to caricature situations that we would like them to analyse in a detailed way.

Extensions and Interdisciplinarity Task

  • It seems quite logical, after this task, to supplement it with a comprehensive study of the "Schengen area" in order to deepen the understanding of the concepts mentioned at the beginning of this work and illustrate them with concrete examples in conjunction with the topical construction of the European territory. The human dimension and the "lived geography " of the European area should be placed at the center of such a study.
  • In order to complete this introduction to Europe, it would be interesting to investigate how each country and language refers to other pepole and the places they inhabit. It would be useful to do this at least in English and French as the two languages have frenchified or anglicised a lot of foreign geographical common names.