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


Bertuch’s Old and New World Heights

In a previous post I credited Thompson and Lizars with creating the first comparative, and theirs was the first to appear in an atlas. My research has since turned up another mountains chart, Die Höhen der alten und neuen Welt (translated as: The Heights of the Old and New World) c1810 by Bertuch, predating Thompson and Lizars by a handful of years.

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)

With one foot firmly in art, it’s whimsical in its depictions of climbers on Chimborazo and Mont Blanc, and a crocodile in the water at the bottom of the chart (making it suitable for children and indeed it appeared in a children’s book). Further, its old color, still vivid makes it all the more charming. Its other foot is firmly in the world of early comparatives; heights appear on the sides of the chart, towns appear amid the mountains, and faint horizontal lines show snow lines.

Humboldt seeded the comparative genre by publishing Geography of Plants which illustrated a mountain in profile annotated with information describing points along the slope. The next step in the progression is a bit murky. There was a nexus between Humboldt (scientist and explorer), Goethe (scientist, among other things), and Bertuch (publisher) all working in early 19th century Germany. After reading Humboldt’s writings, Goethe prepared a manuscript with an exhibit inspired by Humboldt’s work comparing the vegetation at altitudes of the old and new world mountains. Goethe sent his manuscript to Humboldt, who apparently snubbing him, did not respond. Subsequently, whether Goethe sent his manuscript or Bertuch learned of it through other channels, Bertuch became aware of Goethe’s illustration and chose to include it in his Bilderbuch, a children’s book. Interestingly, for unknown reasons, Bertuch did not receive the illustration itself and was compelled to recreate it based on text descriptions.

That this comparative appeared in a children’s book, but subsequent comparatives appeared in atlases is remarkable and hints at one of the exquisite qualities of these pieces. To be sure, this view is a simple, fictionalized landscape, making it suitable for a children’s book but, it is also packs a mighty data punch. While the elevation annotations on the sides of the view may have been of little interest to the children looking at the book, it was an excellent way to bring to life what could otherwise be dry statistics, and make them approachable to the emerging middle class atlas buyers (who may have been of lower reading levels). This powerful combination gave the atlas publishers cause to include them in their works.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Flipping Over the Great Lakes

I am pleased to add Mitchell’s 1860 The World in Hemispheres with Other Projections to my collection. This is principally a globular projection but instead of the vignettes that would have adorned a 18th century map, additional views fill the corners: the upper left and right corners have comparatives of the rivers of the western and eastern hemispheres, respectively.

Mitchell's 1860 'The World in Hemispheres.' Note comparative features in the upper corners.
Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres.’ Note comparative features in the upper corners (own work).

The use of comparatives in lieu of vignettes was common among 19th century maps, and we can infer from these that comparative views were perceived as worthy cartographic endeavors rather than mere curiosities. Page space was valuable, as evidenced by cartographers’ efficient usage of it, and easily could have been filled with other insets: select countries or cities, climate zones, or vegetation and animal life by region of the globe. Perhaps it was their role in commerce that made rivers an appealing feature to include; perhaps it was because many rivers were still being charted. What ever the reasons may be, they are beyond the scope of this analysis.

Instead, I’ll draw your attention to the orientation of the rivers. All western hemisphere rivers are depicted as emptying west to some sea off the left coast–the pacific ocean. Of course this is not accurate–although characteristic of comparatives, which took a vastly reductionist approach to compare the features by a single attribute–the Mississippi drains south into the Gulf of Mexico, the Amazon northeasterly into the Atlantic, the Potomac southeasterly into the Atlantic, and the Colorado south to the Sea of Cortez. The St Lawrence, subject of this analysis, flows east to the Atlantic.

Comparative detail of Mitchell's 1860 'The World in Hemispheres' (own work).
Comparative detail of Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres’. Note the Great Lakes on the St Lawrence (own work).

Looking closely at the St Lawrence, the Great Lakes are in the reverse order; the eastern most lake, Lake Ontario, is shown as though it’s the western most, and vice versa for Lake Superior. While these are out of geographical order (geographical order is not expected in a comparative, generally speaking), this reordering keeps them in relative order vis-a-vis the mouth of the river. But the cartographers took this reordering a step further, not only did they flip the order of the lakes, they also flipped the shapes of the lakes, engraving their mirror images. Looking closely at Lake Michigan, it’s characteristic bean shape is shown curving in the opposite direction.

Great Lakes detail of Mitchell's 1860 'The World in Hemispheres' (own work).
Great Lakes detail of Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres’ (own work).
Reflected Great Lakes detail of Mitchell's 1860 'The World in Hemispheres' (own work).
Reflected Great Lakes detail of Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres’ (own work).

The decision to flip the lakes’ shapes offers some important clues into the Mitchell’s purpose. First off, reflecting the images around the vertical axis shows that he intended to make the image as truthful as possible. It signals to the reader that he did not make a mistake in showing the flow of the river–that a cartographer would flip the direction of the river and the orientation of the lakes–is hardly parsimonious. Moreover, the Great Lakes are perhaps the most important aspect of the St Lawrence for its economic and transportation functions. The river, thanks to some canals, and more recently a system of locks and canals, affords the outputs of the midwest industrial infrastructure, including that of Chicago, as well as western Pennsylvania and New York, cheap access to the Atlantic. To that end, the reflection of the lakes assists the reader in locating the major industrial hubs on the lakes: Chicago, Erie, Buffalo, etc. A quick flip of the image in Pixlr reveals that the lakes are mirrored correctly.

The quirky illustration of the Great Lakes underscores the ingenuity of 19th century cartographers, skill of engravers, and their efforts to make comparative views valuable and useful to their readers.

I am happy to have purchased this map from Brian DiMambro.

© Peter Roehrich, 2015.

Styles of Comparing Rivers

I am pleased to add two new comparatives to my collection: A Map of the Principal Rivers shewing their Courses, Countries, and Comparative Lengths by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK)

Principal Rivers by SDUK, 1834. Rivers shown by direction of flow emptying into central sea. (Own work)
Principal Rivers by SDUK, 1834. Rivers shown by direction of flow emptying into central sea. (Own work)

Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers Throughout the World by Fielding Lucas,

Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers of the World by Lucas, 1823. (Own work)
Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers of the World by Lucas, 1823. (Own work)

of 1834 and 1823, respectively.

Lucas’ Comparative Lengths… is a very ‘conventional’ rivers comparative, where the rivers are shown sorted by continent, then by length, all draining into a representative body of water on the left. Of note is that the longest rivers of the Americas wrap, while the longest river of Africa is shown interrupted and truncated. What is to be gleaned from this? We can surmise that this is a matter of the author’s perception, right or wrong, that the rivers on this map of primary interest to the reader were those of the Americas, specifically the US. This map was clearly intended for a US audience and was published in Baltimore, MD. The treatment of the Congo & Niger as both interrupted and truncated tells the reader to be aware that there are long rivers in Africa, that the territory is unexplored, and that in the author’s mind they are of secondary importance.

American Rivers on Lucas' 'Comparative Lenghts'. (Own work)
American Rivers on Lucas’ ‘Comparative Lenghts’. (Own work)
African Rivers on Lucas' 'Comparative Lenghts'. (Own work)
African Rivers on Lucas’ ‘Comparative Lenghts’. (Own work)

In contrast to the above, the A Map of Principal Rivers … by SDUK is abstract and even surreal, even by the standards of comparative maps. It has an unusual sort, from my analysis it is sorted by the direction it drains, then by size. Interestingly, it shows all rivers emptying into a central water body. This might reflect an effort to highlight the interconnectedness of waterways. Further evidencing this is the inclusion of inland bodies of water, like Lake Michigan pictured with the St Lawrence, which are usually not shown on rivers comparative views. Alternatively, to focus on Lake Michigan, the inclusion of such a body might simply be a reflection of SDUK’s mission to provide the working class with scientific knowledge. Where Chicago was rapidly emerging as a center of industry in the early 1800s, it no doubt would have had a large working class who would have benefited from having a local point of reference. That said, SDUK was a British organization and their consideration of or distribution to American readers is unknown to me. Note that Lake Michigan is shown as straight rather than curved, as I’ve previously discussed (same engraver).

Nile detail of Principal Rivers by SDUK. (Own work)
Nile detail of Principal Rivers by SDUK. (Own work)
Great Lakes detail of Principal Rivers by SDUK. (Own work)
Great Lakes detail of Principal Rivers by SDUK. (Own work)
Central sea detail of Principal Rivers by SDUK. (Own work)
Central sea detail of Principal Rivers by SDUK. (Own work)

These lovely comparatives, one simple and one ornate, can tell us as much about their intended readers as they can about the understanding of the world at the time.

© Peter Roehrich, 2015

And So It Began

Previously I credited Humboldt with kicking off the discipline of the comparative. This is true, but the first cartographers to run with the idea were Thomson and Lizars.

Thomson and Lizars A Comparative View. Published in 1817, is among the first of the comparatives. A lovely mountainscape. Photo credit: Ruderman
Thomson and Lizars A Comparative View. Published in 1817, is the first of the comparatives. A lovely mountainscape. Photo credit: Ruderman.

Their A Comparative View of the Heights of the Principal Mountains and Other Elevations in the World is just that: a gorgeous view of a mountain landscape. I use view in this context to mean a picturesque scene (think Hudson River School) rather than the more ‘technical‘ presentation that emerged later.

That all the features to be compared are shown in a single panel is important. Whereas these were western cartographers, the European mountain ranges are diminutive compared to those of Asia. In subsequent comparatives the mountains of each of the eastern and western hemispheres are shown in separate panels, even separate pages, and in the technical presentation; some of the later comparatives even show them in distinct panels by continent. Grouping the peaks in a single view invites intercontinental comparison that separate panels or pages discourage. Moreover, a single view prevents the cartographer from using differing scales that might ‘puff up’ the appearance of the European or New World ranges. This is again treated here, as well. In this sense, while it is completely false to show the world’s major peaks (save those, like Everest, which hadn’t been measured) within thousands of feet of each other, use of a uniform scale allows Thomson and Lizars to stake a claim to one of the most accurate comparatives.

Thomson and Lizars also establish the standard among comparatives of including man’s accomplishments as points of reference in addition to those of the natural world. The first feat of man, in the chronological order in which they occurred, to be shown in this view are cities themselves. Uruk, one of the earliest cities, was formed about 4500 BCE. The capacity to build cities being one of the defining criteria of a civilization, that these are shown is both a statement that man is different from the rest of the natural world, and that we are able to conquer the extreme elements of life at altitude.

The Great Pyramids and Paris as shown on Thomson & Lizars' A Comparative View.
The Great Pyramids and Paris as shown on Thomson & Lizars’ A Comparative View. Own work.

The Great Pyramids follow as the next landmark, in both geographic and engineering senses. They show a mastery of tools and materials, written language, burial of the dead, and religion. All traits that separate humans from other animals (or are perceived to separate us, as evidence has emerged that other species use tools and bury their dead).

Humboldt’s South American expedition is the next accomplishment featured. In 1799 he set off from Spain on a 5 year exploration of Latin America. A scientist, his travels generated much knowledge, and his presentation of his geological and biological findings in Geography of Plants set the stage for this comparative, where he is shown climbing Chimborazo, the subject of the aforementioned. Humboldt’s ascent is evidence of the recent shift to a scientific mindset during the Enlightenment. In this way, man conquered his own naivety.

Humboldt's ascent of Chimborazo as shown on Thomson & Lizars' A Comparative View. Own work.
Humboldt’s ascent of Chimborazo as shown on Thomson & Lizars’ A Comparative View. Own work.

Gay-Lussac’s historic balloon flight of 1804 is recognized at the center of the view, and as higher than the flight of the condor. I won’t say more about this, other than it’s remarkable that he pulled it off, as I will cover it in a subsequent post.

Gay-Lussac's 1804 balloon flight as shown on Thomson and Lizars' A Comparative View.
Gay-Lussac’s 1804 balloon flight as shown on Thomson and Lizars’ A Comparative View. Own work.

Thomson and Lizars’ comparative is a masterpiece both for its beauty, accuracy, and the arguments about human accomplishments it presents.

©Peter Roehrich, 2015

A Lovely Waterfall Landscape

Comparative Waterfalls
A Comparative Picture of the Principal Waterfalls in the World by C. Smith & Son. (Rumsey) Shows waterfalls in the Eastern and Western Hemisphere. Gavarny is the tallest and the last of the Nile is the lowest. 1836.

This gorgeous comparative is representative of the illustrative, landscape style common in the the genre in the early 19th century (1836 in this case). Making it all the more stunning, it’s far larger than many comparatives, measuring over 1 foot by nearly 2 feet.

Although more of a “picture” than the graph-like format of later comparative views, it has all the characteristics of a comparative. The most simplistic of the criteria is that it has multiple of the same type of physical feature, repeated side by side for sake of comparison of a particular trait: waterfalls compared by height. Further, the waterfalls are grouped by hemisphere, but more or less are arranged in an overlaid valley sort. That the waterfalls are arranged by height rather than their geographic position (i.e.: east to west) is critical to a comparative as it allows easy determination of the relative rank of a subject as well as approximation of its size. The pastoral scene style of this comparative automatically conveys upon it the next characteristics–simplification and continuity between the subjects. Distinct images of features positioned adjacently on a page do not add up to a comparative. Moreover, the depictions of the features are to present a reductionist image as a detailed picture would competing with the comparative aspect. (I describe the characteristics of comparatives here, too.)

The final characteristic is one often not associated with a landscape: accuracy of scale. This image is scaled correctly, although it doesn’t look it at first glance. The surface of the waters into which the waterfalls flow is hidden for the waterfalls in the background (the taller ones!), causing it to appear as though the bottom of a waterfall in the back is the top of a waterfall in the foreground, making the scale ambiguous. Add to that the sense of depth of the image, causing the eye to interpret the rearmost waterfalls as appearing smaller due to perspective. However, if the waterfalls are measured from the base of the first one to their tops, they scale correctly.

Scale Analysis - Comparative Picture of the Principal Waterfalls
Analysis of the scaling of features on the Comparative Picture of the Principal Waterfalls of the World. (Own work)

To evaluate this, I performed a scale analysis. I downloaded a high resolution image from David Rumsey. After opening the image in GIMP, I measured the distance from the bottom of the first waterfall to its top, then repeated for several additional smaller waterfalls behind it, always starting my measure from the bottom of the foremost waterfall. I plotted the measurements against the stated heights of the waterfalls and found that they fell in virtually a perfect line–the comparative is scaled linearly. (Check out David Rumsey’s record for this map: http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/s/w6o7zx.)

Taken together, between its beauty and accuracy, this is one of the most well executed of the early comparatives.

© Peter Roehrich 2015

Humboldt’s Map

Humboldt's 1805 map of plants encountered on Chimborazo in the Andes. (Buttimer)
Humboldt’s 1805 map of plants encountered on Chimborazo in the Andes. (Buttimer)

Humboldt, an early 19th century biologist (near and dear to my heart), is credited with sparking the discipline of comparative mapping. His map of the distribution of the flora on a South American mountain is handsome, and may have inspired the early comparative publishers, but it is not a comparative, rather it is a profile or elevation.

Whereas a map is, broadly speaking, a simplification of physical features to promote understanding, it no doubt qualifies as a map; it shows the distribution of plant life across the face of the mountain. Insofar as a comparative map is the rearrangement of physical features by some trait, usually size, to further promote understanding of geography, it is not a comparative.

This map is certainly an great example of early thematic mapping. Thematic mapping is the plotting of non-topographical features on a map and differs from general mapping which shows terrain, boundaries, etc. Moreover, it is an innovation in thematic mapping, being the first to my knowledge to apply thematic principles to a profile, plotting plant life as the occur on the mountain side.

The features on this map, a single mountain and the plants on it are arranged as they are actually encountered on the earth, violating the first criterion for comparative mapping; the features on a comparative map must be arranged so as to highlight the differences in a particular trait, usually size. On the other hand, this map hints at the importance of comparisons, and may well have encouraged subsequent development in the genre by showing the heights of other mountains in the margins. To be sure, the heights of other mountains are not shown pictorially, again violating a tenant of comparative mapping, but the idea is there.

Importantly, his map made waves beyond mapping styles. It changed the way scientific data was displayed.

© Peter Roehrich 2015

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