A Striking Schoolgirl Map of France

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I am breaking away from comparatives in this post to examine a striking schoolgirl map. Published sometime in the 1800’s, possibly in the UK, and without doubt drawn by a child’s hand, quite likely a girl, as a study aid. Called ‘map study‘, scrutinizing and reproducing an atlas map afforded young girls the opportunity to learn geography and handwriting at a time when education for girls was limited. I hope that this early exposure to to maps and atlases inspired these girls to pursue geography as consumers of maps and atlases, as educators, and even as cartographers themselves.

Manuscript schoolgirl map of France from the 1800's.
Manuscript schoolgirl map of France from the 1800’s. (Photo: own work).

Where this map is unsigned, undated, and does not name the place it was created, we have to infer from the piece its origin. Although the subject is France, it was not likely authored in France. The markings on the map are in English, the scale in British miles, and the longitude given in degrees from the Greenwich Meridian. The map this was drawn from was likely of British origin; it stands to reason that the Paris Meridian would have been chosen as the Prime Meridian for this map were it French. Further, we can exclude the United States as the home of the underlying map for the same reason; the United States used Meridians through Washington, DC (the Capitol building, the White House, and the Naval Observatory). Provided that the underlying map is of British origin, it also stands to reason that this manuscript map was drawn in the UK.

The year in which this map was drawn is a mystery as well, but we can approximate it, or at least approximate the date the underlying map was produced. The France shown on this map is reminiscent of the post-Congress of Vienna nation. The post Napoleonic war would have no doubt triggered publication of new atlases, and to imagine an exercise in drawing these boundaries is within reason. With these in mind, this map may date to c1820.

That the map bears a trigonometric proof on verso is evidence that it was created in an educational context. From this it’s plausible that a student created it. As mentioned above, many of these manuscript maps were created by girls, and there is no immediate reason to doubt that was the case here.

Trigonometric proof on the verso of a manuscript map. This proof suggests that this map was drawn in an educational environment.
Trigonometric proof on the verso of a manuscript map. This proof suggests that this map was drawn in an educational environment. (Photo: own work.)

The evidence buried in this manuscript map tells me this is the work of a British schoolgirl about 1820. What do you think?

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

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