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Who ever said the Victorians didn’t have a sense of humor? These colorful depictions of European powers from the 19th century show that even then artists were having fun with cartography and poking fun at national stereotypes.  The Englishman William Harvey published these maps, among many others, under the pseudonym “Aleph” in 1868.  His purpose behind creating the atlas, titled “Geographical Fun: Being Humourous Outlines of Various Countries”, was to excite the minds of children who would otherwise be bored by geography, perhaps inciting an interest in foreign lands.  Now the atlas has been digitized by the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, and you can view them on flickr here.  A few of my favorites are below:

Italy: “Thou model chieftain – born in modern days – Well may thy gallant acts claim classic praise.”  Italy is dressed a revolutionary figure, as this map was drawn right after the Third War of Independence and right before the final unification of the peninsula.


Germany: “Lo! studious Germany, in her delight, At coming glories, shown by second sight…”  Germany is an unfamiliar shape here, because Prussia occupied a great deal of land that would eventually become part of Germany. As such, Germany looks squeezed at the middle, much like a woman in Victorian dress squeezed at the waist by a corset.


Russia: “Peter, and Catherine, and Alexander, Mad Paul, and Nicholas, poor shadows wander out in the cold; while Emperor A. the Second in Eagles, Priests, and Bears supreme is reckoned.”  It looks like the czar and the classic Russian symbol of the bear are tied together. But what about all of Russia’s land in Asia?  Surely there’s more room to stretch out?


England: “Beautiful England, – on her Island throne, – grandly she rules, – with half the world her own…”  England, in the visage of Queen Victoria, appears stoic and assured.  After all, the sun never set on the British Empire at the time.


Scotland: “A gallant piper, struggling through the bogs. His wind bag broken, wearing his clay clogs. Yet, strong of heart, a fitting emblem makes for Scotland – land of heroes and of cakes.” Dressed in the traditional kilt, Scotland looks cold and anxious.  Maybe he’s planning to seek his independence?


For more of these maps, check out the flickr page here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/normanbleventhalmapcenter/sets/72157632187636362, and for more on the atlas, go here: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/geofun.html.

Happy mapping!