181 - "Scotland - Land of Heroes and of Cakes"
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
A gallant piper, stuggling through the bogs,
\nHis wind bag broken, wearing his clay clogs;
\nYet, strong of heart, a fitting emblem makes
\nFor Scotland – land of heroes and of cakes.
1869 saw the publication in London of a peculiar sort of atlas: ‘Geographical Fun: Being Humourous Outlines of Various Countries’. The book showed 12 anthropomorphic depictions of European nations, with as many stereotypes dressed in appropriately typical garb crouching and stretching to twist their bodies into a shape with the same outline as their countries.\n
The obvious intention was humourous, but in the introduction, ‘Aleph‘ (pseudonym of William Harvey) states that “it is believed that illustrations of Geography may be rendered educational, and prove of service to young Scholars who commonly think Globes and Maps but wearisome aids to knowledge (…) If these geographical puzzles excite the mirth of children, the amusement of the moment may lead to the profitable curiosity of youthful students and imbue the mind with a healthful taste for foreign lands.”\n
Those ‘foreign lands’ are:\n
• Wales, in the form of Owen Glendowr
\n• Ireland as a peasant woman, with child
\n• France as an Empress of cooks, fashions and the dance
\n• Spain and Portugal in an ‘eternal’ union
\n• Germany as a dancing lady
\n• Prussia in the form of king Friedrich Wilhelm and chancellor Bismarck
\n• Holland and Belgium as a pair of ladies (of greatly different size and stature)
\n• Denmark as a female ice skater
\n• England as Queen Victoria
\n• Russia, of course, as a bear
\n• Scotland, shown here, is a gallant piper, struggling through the bogs.
\n• Italy as a freedom fighter, complete with Phrygian head-gear, then en vogue with revolutionaries.
An interesting anecdote concerning ‘Geographical Fun’ was related to me by Mike Pearce, who pointed out the contribution to the book by Lillian Lancaster, a stage performer in Britain and America, best remembered for singing the song ‘Lardy Dah’ on stage in New York (the origin of the still current expression ‘la-di-dah’). It turns out Lancaster (a.k.a. Eliza Jane) drew those maps at age 15, to entertain her bedridden brother. After her stage career, and having returned to Britain, Lancaster produced many more maps. A Mr Rod Barron is doing further research on Lillian Lancaster, and can be reached at his website (www.barron.co.uk).\n
Many people have directed me to the ‘Geographical Fun’ maps, 9 of which can be seen here (plus accompanying poems and with a link to the introduction of the book) at themaphouse.com, a map auction website.\n
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