Cowperthwaite

Sorting from largest to smallest is an easy way to arrange objects; a gradient sort is efficient and boring. More interesting is a pyramid sort; for a mountains comparative view, the shape of the sorted objects mimics the shape of the objects themselves. The shortcoming of the pyramid sort (and of the gradient sort) is in the amount of space it occupies. Overlaying smaller mountains on top of the larger ones in a pyramid fashion yields a tight, sorted set.

Heights of Mountains and Lengths of Rivers, Cowperthwaite, c1850. (Photo own work)
Heights of Mountains and Lengths of Rivers, Cowperthwaite, c1850. (Photo own work)

Finley, in 1827, published the first mountains comparative with an overlaid pyramid sort. Some ten years later, Tanner merged the mountains and rivers compound comparative style with the Finley’ mountain sort. In his work, the mountains were centered, the eye immediately drawn to the tallest, and the rivers were arranged in an inverted trough sort to compliment the mountains with the longer rivers on the edges. By 1850 at least two other cartographers, Mitchell and Cowperthwaite, published the same plate, a testament to its design elegance.

His work was not without flaws. The design pointed to the tallest peak, Dwahalagiri (Everest was ten years away from being surveyed), with the smaller peaks hidden in plain sight. Moreover, he left the middle of the mountains exhibit wide open, wasting space that could have displayed mountains from intermediate height ranges. His exhibit shows 151 mountains and volcanoes, about 25% fewer than the other mountains and rivers comparative maps of the day.

Taken together, flaws and all, this work is beautiful and elegantly uses space. An innovative arrangement for a comparative view, this chart no doubt influenced other comparative maps for decades to follow.

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© Peter Roehrich, 2016

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Oh, Hello Tree

Spring is in the air here in the Mid Atlantic, flowers are in full bloom, and trees are getting their leaves. The 1800s have been called the golden age of data visualization and during this time, statistical and thematic maps came into their own. Alexander von Humboldt’s Geography of Plants, documenting his exploration of Mount Chimborazo, gave rise to various depictions of plants and climatic data on maps. Meyer’s Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie, translating to something like Survey of Plant Geography, is just one of those thematic maps showing a tremendous amount of data on the distribution of plants.

Photo of Meyer's Plant Geography, c1850. Map showing the distribution of plant life across the planet along with distribution across altitudes of various mountains.
Meyer’s Plant Geography, c1850. Map showing the distribution of plant life across the planet along with distribution across altitudes of various mountains. (Photo: own work)

About 1850 Meyer set out to publish his hand atlas containing a cache of physical and thematic maps. Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie appears to be a copy of a piece from another atlas rather than an original work. OK at the time, many cartographers duplicated the works of others, often buying plates. In this case, Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie was first published by Berghaus sometime about 1840.

Mercator Projection
The Mercator projection in the lower center of the map is color coded according to the climate. This follows the isothermal line style map which Humboldt developed, where lines are drawn to show bands of common temperature (or more generally climate). This map shows an idea that’s a precursor to the modern concept of biomes. Biomes are areas of similar types of life and climate, but are not as specific as the groupings in this map.

That this map shows proto biomes is significant. The mid 1800s were the early days of modern biology. Darwin was making his observations of finches which would underpin On the Origin of Species and Gregor Mendel was studying genetics in pea plants. So it fits that this map describes the beginnings of ecology.

Mountains

The mountain figures at the top show the distribution of plants on mountain faces across both altitude and latitude. They show latitude, altitude (in toisen, an obsolete unit of measure akin to a fathom), prominent cities, and plant distribution. The tallest mountain shown is Dhaulagiri (Everest would not be surveyed until 1856) at 4390 toisen, the highest peak above sea level. Mount Chimborazo also makes a claim as the highest peak when measured from the center of the earth. As the map shows, Chimborazo is clearly equatorial; since Earth is slightly squished at the poles, bulging at the equator, it gets the little boost it needs to edge out Dhaulagiri.

This set of figures bears a resemblance to a comparative view but is not one because the mountains are neither shown in height order nor are they on a continuous landscape.

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© Peter Roehrich, 2016

It’s a Mountain, It’s a Graph!

Look at news on the stock market or a weather forecast and chances are good that you’ll see a column graph. We take graphs for granted; they’re ubiquitous. But such was not always the case–in the late 18th century and early 19th they were revolutionary, on the cutting edge of data communication, William Playfair having just developed them.

The heights of a column graph’s bars correspond to the values plotted. When it comes to showing heights of various objects, column graphs are ideally suited as the bars physically (schematically, at least) mimic the phenomenon depicted with bar height representing object height. Of course, this is a map blog, not a graph blog; I’m interested in the graph style comparative view, where mountain or river glyphs replace the columns of a graph, with the size of each corresponding to actual height or length.

The earliest comparative view of either the graph or vista style dates from approximately 1800.

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The Moon from Bertuch's Bilderbuch. Note the comparative features at the bottom, showing mountains of Earth, the Moon, and Venus. (Photo: own work)

Bertuch’s Moon from his Bilderbuch, a children’s encyclopedia, with its graph style comparative at the bottom, is an enigma. No doubt influenced by Playfair’s graphs, he reports the heights of mountains (with some inaccuracies) in graphs where the “bars” are actually tiny mountain figures. In a later edition, probably about 10 years subsequent, he published a vista style comparative. Vista style comparatives, while gorgeous, are less effective in that their design doesn’t automatically instruct the reader to make comparisons.

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Hohen der Alten by Bertuch, c1810. Possibly the first comparative view of the early style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)

Why the switch? We can chalk this up to Goethe’s influence, which was in turn inspired by Humboldt. Goethe saw Humboldt’s proto comparative Geography of Plants and mimicked the format in his vista style comparative of old and new world mountains. Bertuch, Goethe’s associate, liked the idea and ran with it in his Hohen der Alten. It was this piece that gave rise to the period of vista style comparatives.

What style of comparative do you favor?

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© Peter Roehrich, 2016

On Bertuch-Time to Revise and Resubmit

Do you ever find yourself having to walk back a previous statement? I previously credited Thomson and Lizars with the first comparative map, only to discover an earlier work by Bertuch. Well, it’s happened again; I discovered that Bertuch’s works contain an even earlier comparative. But that’s how research goes and it’d be boring without surprise findings!

The Moon from Bertuch's Bilderbuch. Note the comparative features at the bottom, showing mountains of Earth, the moon, and Venus. (Photo: own work)
The Moon from Bertuch’s Bilderbuch. Note the comparative features at the bottom, showing mountains of Earth, the moon, and Venus. (Photo: own work)

In about 1810 Bertuch published his Bilderbuch, kids’ books heavily illustrated with pictures of the world, nature, geography, and so forth. He included one of the first vista style comparatives, and a gorgeous one in color at that. Even earlier he published a graph style comparative, making that both the first comparative view known and meaning that the graph style of comparative emerged decades earlier than previously thought! Why, having established the graph style, did Bertuch switch to the vista style?

The Style
The graph style of mountain comparative, that is where small mountain glyphs corresponding in size on the page to the relative height of the peak represented, took off in the 1820s. Previously thought to have been developed then, that idea is torpedoed by the discovery of this piece by Bertuch as it is c1800. The merit of the graph style is in its forcing the reader to draw comparisons between the peaks. With the vista style, where peaks are arranged in a fictional landscape, the reader can mistake it for just a lovely scene; not so with in the graph format.

Why then would Bertuch abandon this format and adopt the vista style in his subsequent comparative? It’s likely due to Goethe’s influence, who in turn was influenced by Humboldt. Humboldt had published his “proto comparative” in 1805 documenting his exploration of Mt Chimborazo, spurring Goethe to draft a vista style comparative. (Goethe showed his comparative to Humboldt, who snubbed him on it.)

The Mountains
Bertuch showed eight terrestrial mountains, and eight on both the Moon and Venus. Chimborazo, tallest mountain as measured from the center of the earth, is a good benchmark against which to evaluate the mountains of the Moon and Venus (both with tallest peaks reported to be higher than Chimborazo). The peaks protruding from the Venusian atmosphere are erroneous. Venus is fairly flat; those perceived mountains were artifacts of the observing technology of the day and they’re nonexistent had been confirmed by recent radar surveys of Venus.

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© Peter Roehrich, 2016

What’s that Croc Doing There?

Take a look at Bertuch’s comparative view Hohen der Alten; see that little surprise in the lower right corner?

Possibly the first comparative view of the early style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds.(Own work)
Hohen der Alten by Bertuch, c1810. Possibly the first comparative view of the early style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)

He tucked a tiny crocodile at the waterline, reminiscent of the sea monsters seen on earlier maps. Is this a modern sea monster? Probably not. To evaluate this, first I’d like to review the role sea monsters played on maps.

Sea Monsters

Sea monsters were a frequent feature of 16th and 17th century maps. They played several roles: aesthetic, cautionary, and even scientific.

Photo of sea monster from 1616 Bertius map of Bay of Cadiz. Monster is colored green and red.
Sea monster from Bertius 1616 Bay of Cadiz map. Note the green body and red mouth. (Photo own work)

Where engraving was a labor intensive process it was expensive. To this end, a map with a sea monster on it would be more expensive that one without. As sailors would know where dangers were, unadorned maps would suffice for their purposes. From this we can conclude that these maps were made for aristocracy.

Hinted at above, sea monsters often signified the unknown and the dangerous. Appearing on the periphery of a map may indicate the edge of charted, known territory. Moreover, they are larger than life hostile creatures which symbolize danger, real or perceived. Often overlooked, they further represent a scientific approach to understanding the unknown. Reflecting the Age of Enlightenment, they are an attempt to characterize the never before seen sea creatures in a logical, reason informed fashion rather than chalking then up as demons. Silly as they may appear now, the study of the oceans was in its infancy and much marine life was unknown.

There are some great resources on sea monster maps, including a radio interview and an excellent article.

The Croc
So, why did Bertuch place a crocodile on his comparative? Bearing in mind that this was in a children’s book, it probably served two purposes. The first being too educate children about the animals inhabiting the earth, especially one not found in Germany. And the second reason being too amuse the children.

Check out my free ebook to learn more about comparative views.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Manuscript French Mountains Chart

Photograph of manuscript map of France. Mountains and rivers inset at bottom.

I’ve come across a mystery. I recently acquired a manuscript map of France with a (from what I can discern) mountains comparative panel at the bottom. Unfortunately I do not read French so I have to make some guesses about it.

Photograph of manuscript map of France. Mountains and rivers inset at bottom.
French manuscript map with mountains and rivers inset. c1853. (Photo own work)

It is on very thin paper, possibly onionskin paper, mounted on a secondary thicker page. The lines on the map are fine and well executed. It appears that drainage basins are shaded in pastels (possibly political divisions–perhaps a reader with better knowledge of France can clarify, but because the shaded areas follow mountain ranges, I suspect they are watersheds). The bottom of the map features a comparative panel of mountains similar to an anonymous Portuguese map from 1824, the orological line, along with a hydrological line; the mountains are grouped by range in a valley sort. The cartouche bears “Em Jeanmaire & C 1853”, telling us an approximate production date (approximate because this is more of a “no earlier than” date).

The thin paper suggests that all or part of the map was a tracing of another map. Residual, faint lines are visible in the border, as well as overruns, further indicating this is a manuscript piece.

Photograph showing mountains and rivers inset on French manuscript map.
Mountains and rivers inset of French manuscript map. Orological and hydrological lines present. (Photo own work)

The orological line clearly shows the heights of mountains within the range. The line both takes the shape of peaks and the corresponding heights on in the adjacent data tables are consistent with mountains. The hydrological line is vexing. I suspect it is the heights of rivers, but my attempt at translating “parlage” turned up “chatter”, which, without understanding French, doesn’t make sense to me.

If you understand French, please fill in some of the gaps for me!

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© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Mysterious Mountain Charts

A small group of mountains comparatives were made for seemingly industrial/scientific purposes, rather than for education of the general public as most of these unique antiquarian maps were. The distinction between the educational and orological (that is, pertaining to the study of mountains) styles literally being in the shape of the mountains and their target audiences.

The earliest mountains comparative views, between 1810 and the early 1820s, were fictionalized landscapes, followed by the convention adopted where mountains were depicted as fictionalized cones (I term this the educational style), this after the landscape style.

Possibly the first comparative view of the early style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds.(Own work)
Hohen der Alten by Bertuch, c1810. Possibly the first comparative view of the early landscape style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)
Five panel lithograph mountains and rivers comparative view.
Five panel educational style comparative chart of mountains and rivers by Johnson. Note the graph like style, where mountains are simple cones, c1864. (Photo: Own work)

A few orological comparative maps emerged, were the cartographer preserved the cross-section of the peak, at about the same time that the simplified cone shape became widespread.

This manuscript, by an unknown cartographer, c1824, shows mountains in Portugal in cross-section. (Photo: Own work).
This orological style manuscript map, by an unknown cartographer, c1824, shows mountains in Portugal in cross-section. Based on the work of von Eschwege. (Photo: Own work).

We can imagine the family tree of mountains comparatives branching in the 1820s with the educational and orological limbs diverging from the landscape trunk. In contemplating this split, in combination with the fact that the landscape style virtually died out, we can infer that simultaneously cartographers of different objectives learned of comparatives and incorporated the concept into pieces that met their distinct needs. The purpose of the educational style being to bring the public at large information about the heights of mountains, they gave dimension to figures previously relegated to tables, where a simple cone would suffice in illustrating the mountains. Conversely, the orological style was to document the physical properties, beyond altitude, of the peaks for use by an audience requiring more detailed information. The orological users may have required these charts for reasons related to mineral mining, among other plausible needs. The manuscript orological piece carrying von Eschwere’s data from his work in Portugal was likely prepared for mining purposes given his work.

Print of mountain ranges arranged by height.
Stieler’s orological style Known Heights Above Sea Level, c1855. Mountain ranges are shown one atop the next. (Photo: Own work).

Alternatively, it is possible that some of these orological charts were prepared for navigational purposes. Journeying across a continent on a scientific exploration, or perhaps laying a railroad, the heights of the mountains, and the locations of passes, would be of utmost importance. Evidence exists that these charts might serve such a purpose exists in their scale. The orological charts are often, if not always, of different scales horizontally versus vertically, meaning that the heights of mountains may be accurately represented, but not their widths. It stands to reason that a chart for use in planning a mine would maintain consistency between horizontal and vertical scales so as to accurately depict the mineral seam. The fact of differing scales may mean that the variation in height across the mountain may have been of utmost importance.

Orological style charts are few and far between–and this is in the context of the already obscure comparative genre. This is too bad. They are a unique application of a beautiful discipline of mapping. Moreover, they stand as testimony to the value of comparative views as more than delightful pictures, but as serious tools for documenting the surface of the for industrial purposes. But why were they drawn?

© Peter Roehrich, 2016