Daily Archives: May 24, 2011

Maps Come Alive

In the course of putting together my summer graduate seminar on the expansion of Europe this past weekend  I reacquainted myself with some digital map collections on the web.  Maps provide an accessible entryway into this topic, in every era of European expansion.  The shift from conceptual to more realistic cartography in the early modern era is a very evident and important trend, but early modern mapmakers retained a bit of whimsy when they produced maps in the form of plants, animals and humans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The maps contained in German theology professor Heinrich Bunting’s Travels according to the Scriptures (1581) are very popular with my students and with the blogosphere:  the known world as a clover leaf, part of Asia as the flying horse Pegasus, Europe as the classical virgin Europa.  This is still very conceptual geography; the clover leaf map is merely a new version of the medieval T-O map, in which the world is inhabited by the descendants of Noah dwelling in Asia, Africa and Europe.  Jerusalem is at the center of the world as it has always been.   Even though it is almost a century after Columbus, Heinrich’s “world” map only references the eastern hemisphere.  His Europa map was stolen from one of the most popular books of the sixteenth century:  Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia, first published in 1544 and issued in many editions by the end of the century.  This is what these new, colorful, fantastical maps are all about:  competition in the new age of print.

Another Europa:  Sebastian Munster’s version from a 1570 edition of Cosmographia:

Another lively early modern map is the “Dutch Lion” map (Leo Belgicus, Leo Hollandicus ) issued in a succession of variations from the late sixteenth century, contemporaneously with the Dutch Revolt against Spain.  The rebellious Dutch provinces are shown in the form of a lion, roaring in the face of the powerful Spanish Empire.

"Leo Hollandicus", JC Visscher, 1648

Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic maps continue on into the modern era; they seem to be quite popular in the nineteenth century as a forms of political commentary and expressions of public opinion.  These satirical maps are especially prevalent after 1870 and the unification of Germany:  French and English versions definitely contain an alarmed awareness of the potential of the new empire to dominate the Continent, as these examples( L’Europe Animale, 1882 and Angling in Dangerous Waters, 1889) from the huge collection of such maps at the University of Amsterdam illustrate:

In L’Europe Animale, Germany is a sly wolf waiting to pounce, while the Angling map personifies the nation with its militaristic ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who is looking over the horizon.  The great big Russian bear and Tsar Nicholas are pretty intimidating as well.  The end result of all this animosity was of course World War I, and BibliOdyssey has a great post on the jingoistic satirical maps of the Great War here, including the English map “Kill that (German) Eagle” from 1914.

On the lighter side:  plates from William Harvey’s Geographical Fun.  Being Humourous Outlines of Various Countries, an atlas (presumably for children but quite sophisticated in its humor) first published in 1869.  The entire text can be found at the Library of Congress, and it has also been republished.  Here, from a very British perspective, are France and Prussia (it’s just before the unification of Germany):

Finally, I can’t resist adding an elephant to this group even though he’s not quite a map:  a World Wildlife Fund advertisement by Ogilby and Mather from our own time:

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