Principal Lakes

In my previous post I discussed my new comparative The Principal Lakes of the Western Hemisphere from Carey & Lea’s 1832 Family Cabinet Atlas. Well lightning struck again, I was lucky enough to find the map’s Eastern Hemisphere mate. In addition to being beautifully detailed and colored, these maps are excellent examples of true lakes comparatives (see my post where I bemoan lakes quasi comparatives).

Carey & Lea lakes comparative, eastern hemisphere. Note than most lakes are European.
Carey & Lea lakes comparative, eastern hemisphere, 1832. Note that most lakes are European.

First let me address the note at the top of these maps. It states that the lakes are in their proper position. I originally interpreted this to mean that northern lakes where shown to the top of the map, despite the larger maps being shown at the top. Upon close examination I determined the note to mean that the lakes were oriented so their north-south axis runs vertically on the page. Confusing. That said, upon inspection I saw Lake Maracaibo was positioned north of several North American lakes and Great Slave Lake to the left of the Great Lakes; this observation torpedoed any nagging doubt that their positioning was by size rather than geography. This is important: I hold that a defining quality of a comparative is that the features are arranged by the trait under comparison. I discuss the essential qualities of a comparative elsewhere, so I won’t go into that here.

Carey & Lea lakes comparative, western hemisphere, 1832.
Carey & Lea lakes comparative, western hemisphere, 1832.

The trait under comparison is not made explicitly clear, but as with a rivers comparative where the river length is the implicit basis, so too here the implicit basis is lake surface area. As I’ve mentioned before, there are several ways in which the lakes may be compared, again with area the most obvious. Of course they may also be compared by width, breadth, depth, even volume. And all of that operates under the (likely) assumption that principal is used to mean the largest, but that’s not the only possibility. Principal could be used to mean, for example, the lakes associated with the most commercial activity, or supporting the largest population (however that might be measured). However Carey & Lea defined principal, its interesting that Loch Leven, at a mere 8 square miles, made the Eastern Hemisphere map. On the other hand, Lake Victoria is conspicuously missing, however it wasn’t known to Europeans for another 20 plus years. More about how principal is defined and features chosen in later posts.

These maps are remarkably Eurocentric. The vast majority of the lakes on the Eastern Hemisphere map are European. A few in Asian countries, and one in Africa. While the lakes in Europe are also identified by the countries in which they’re located, Lake Chad is simply said to be in Africa, as though the continent is a monolith. Likewise, on the Western Hemisphere comparative the lakes are simply identified as North or South American.

Like its mate, I got this comparative from Brian DiMambro’s gallery.

© Peter Roehrich 2015


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