Keeping Up With World Leaders

By: Charles Bowen

Even most journalists, who make their living watching history unfold, would not do so well on a test of naming world leaders.

In fact, most of us probably wouldn’t be able to name more than half of the 43 U.S. presidents, much less the leaders over the years in Mexico, France, India, Germany, Japan and elsewhere in the world.

Furthermore, traditional encyclopedias usually don’t help if your story requires you to find out, say, who ruled China in 1985 or in what year Sir George Beckwith began governing Barbados. And do you think those printed resources would help at all if you need the spelling of the name “Megawati Sukarnoputri,” the new president of Indonesia? Probably not, since she has been in office since only last July.

Fortunately for the working press — not to mention for students and for international workers of all kinds — an amazingly detailed and frequently updated Web site can help.

Rulers.org rules when it comes to rulers, listing heads of state and heads of government throughout the world. In addition, it also names any national officials not falling into those formal positions, such as religious leaders and heads of important international organizations like OPEC and NATO, the World Bank and the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

The site’s lists go back as far as 1700 in many cases and also account for now-nonexistent countries, older territories, and recent additions to the international community.

To explore this resource, visit the site at http://rulers.org, where a simple introductory page belies the richness of data available. Midway down the top page is a collection of alphabetized links that let you jump into the middle of the site’s extensive collection of files.

Suppose you are looking up the history of rulers in Cuba. You first could click the “Cr-Cz” link on the introductory page, then scroll the resulting page. Or, to save time, you could click one of the shortcuts at the top of that resulting screen in the box labeled, “Contents of this page.” In this example, the box contains links to Croatia, Cuba, Cypress, and Czech Republic. Clicking “Cuba” takes you to the portion that details the historic leadership of that island nation.

Each section dealing with a specific country usually starts with a brief summary of that nation’s leadership history, with dates of the key developments (such as “1511, Spanish colony, 1762-63, occupied by British, 10 Oct. 1868, independence declared,” etc.).

This is followed by the main section of the report, the list of leaders grouped in types (governors, presidents, premiers, kings), presented in chronological order.

The only thing lacking in this site is a powerful search engine. But note: All the data is presented in plain-vanilla text files. This means you can use your browser’s Find option (located on the menu bar’s Edit menu on most system) to search for specific names or dates. So, in our Cuba example, if you wanted to find the first reference to Fulgencio Batista, you could click the Edit option, select “Find (on This Page)” from the drop-down menu and enter BATISTA in the resulting search box.

Other considerations for using Rulers.org in your work:

1. If you are looking for nongovernment rulers, check the center section of the introductory page, where you can click on alphabetical lists for international organizations, foreign ministers, or religious leaders.

2. The site also maintains reports on significant changes in world leadership in the past five years. Scroll the main screen to the bottom section entitled “Chronicle of relevant events since 1996” and click any of the hyperlinked months to view a file.

3. If you don’t know the name of the country you want to research but can target a region of the world, use the “Clickable Map” area of the introductory screen. This produces a world map on your screen which you can simply click for the country of interest.

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