Rivers, Mountains, Islands, Waterfalls

Tallis Eastern hemisphere comparative view of waterfalls, islands, lakes, rivers, and mountains.
A Comparative View of the Principal Waterfalls, Islands, Lakes, Rivers, and Mountains of the Eastern Hemisphere. 1850.(Ruderman)


This stunning comparative is a shining example of the 19th century genre. Published by John Tallis in about 1850, it serves as an excellent introductory piece featuring exquisite detail in vibrant color.

This comparative contains both single and compound exhibits, all primary and in the illustrative fashion. By single exhibit I mean a panel depicting a single class of geographic feature; on this comparative, the waterfalls, islands, and lakes panels are single. On the other hand, the mountains and rivers are shown together in a compound panel. The comparatives are primary in that they are the focus of the map, they are not a small inset on another projection. This chart is illustrative to the extent that it conveys to the reader a sense of scale, but the panels on it are not suitable for determining the exact dimensions of the features.

The positioning of the geographic features within a comparative panel is important, after all, it is the organization by size that makes them comparative. This view uses a descending overlaid pyramid sort for the mountains, an ascending valley sort for the waterfalls, and an inverted ascending valley sort for the rivers.

This chart’s layout provides a snapshot of the changes in 19th century comparatives. A pastoral scene at the top is reminiscent of an earlier style, while the compound mountains and rivers panel became popular mid century. Moreover, the Eurocentricity of the waterfalls panel–all but one are in Europe, with the glaring omission of Victoria Falls (of course, Victoria Falls was observed by Livingstone in 1855, so could not have been included)–gives way to a focus on Africa and Asia in the mountains and rivers panel, sort of. The geography of the mountains and rivers panels is eastward looking for the simple inescapable reason that the tallest mountains and longest rivers are in Asia and Africa. Despite the focus on Asian & African geography, the comparative takes a western vantage point. We can find this western perspective in two fashions: inclusion of European features and inclusion of European ‘cultural’ reference points. On the one hand, the Forth, Shannon, and Thames rivers occupy the position of the 3 smallest shown maps, presumably shown to give a European viewer a sense of scale; the same might be the case with the inclusion of  several small European mountains. Conversely, the balloon flights of Green and Gay-Lussac (the tiny specs above and to the right of the mountains) show a European bias to the extent that it documents Europeans’ mastery of the natural world.

The Tallis comparatives, both this one featuring the Eastern Hemisphere and its Western Hemisphere analog, are among my favorites, particularly those in color for their aesthetics and the elegant way the engraver packaged so much detail (oh, note the eruptions from Vesuvius and Etna)–achieved such data-density–into a small graphic without the aid of a computer.

© Peter Roehrich 2015