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JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd

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This Daily Dose from Dr. Odd combines two interesting categories today, "Looking Straight Down" and "Display of Information", and they involve food. Rather, its the placement of food, and maps of dinner tables, seen from above–directly above–and looking straight down.

The idea of representing a view straight down, of looking straight down from some height, is a relatively recent occurrence, this view being somewhat rare in the antiquarian world pre-balloon or pre-heavier-than-air flight. The pre-human-flight reason for its scarcity is understandable, but even after the first Montgolfier ascension in 1787, there’s another 120+ years of scarcity yet to come before these views would start to pop up in common (and uncommon) literature.. Now I’m not talking about cartography, which is basically a straight-down view of the world—what I’m referring to is that same view but not as a map per se, but what you would see if you were dangling out of a plane or balloon. It is an unusual and scarce perspective.

Maps--Imaginary--Map of a Wedding Table

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1941
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Slave map 1888 texas
Just yesterday in this blog I made an entry on a very striking, viciously anti-slavery Moral Map of the U.S. It is very red and was printed in 1854, just barely before the great troubles really started to begin in 1856, and it stands on its own as a fine representation of a map-with-a-message. The map below by John F. Smith ( Historical Geography) was printed in 1888, and although it was made after slavery it still carried a very strong message–perhaps not as graphic as the 1854 map, but certainly as vehement, and perhaps more-so, with a very heavy dosage of Reconstructionist retribution laced in its text. There is a sense of channels of warm blood flowing through canali of stone altars, a mass on the chest to Huitzliopochtli. It has its own sense of deep danger.

Slave map 1888
[Source: the Library of Congress. The map is very expandable.]

The map is divided North and South by two lightning-like trees, "God's Blessing, Liberty" and "God's Curse, Slavery." The limbs of the tree of Liberty read "Light, Joy, Hope, Faith, Charity, Patience, Benevolence, Philanthropy, Love of Country, Equal Rights, Obedience to Law, Peace, Honor, Truth, Virtue, Sobriety, Industry, Contentment, Free Speech, Knowledge, Free School."

The limbs of the dark, crooked tree of slavery read: "Murder, War, Rebellion, Treason, Secession, Sedition, Superstition, Ignorance, Avarice, Lust" and of course "Hades". these are hosted on the spikes of the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, Fugitive Slave Laws, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott."

"Hades" might not be that far off, at least for the heat/difficulty index, as this one seems to be located right about at the eastern boundary of the Llano Estacado, which in centuries past was a very highly difficult place to navigate.

Slave map 1888--detail 2

Slave map 1888 det 3

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1940


This incredible, indelible image is another from our collection of graphical representations of data and ideas. This map, is entitled Moral Map of North America, 1854; (the Slave States are coloued Red, the blighted influence of Slavery is also deeply felt in those parts more slightly streaked with Red)€. I can find no record of this map, printed obviously by our Brethren across the ocean–€”that and the fact that it was printed in 1854 is all the publishing data that I can find thus far.

The poem at bottom reads:

United States! Your banner wears
Two Emblem €”one of Fame;
Alas! The other it bars
Reminds us of your shame.
The white man's liberty in types
Stands blazoned by your stars;
But what's the meaning of your stripes;
They mean your Negro-scars.


Reciting this poem by Thomas Campbell before an abolitionist convention in 6 March 1851, William Wells Brown continued (as was reported in the National Anti-Slavery Standard):

"The name of the United States is becoming a hissing and bye-word in the mouths of the inhabitants of every clime. My country is indeed the land of oppression. There is not a rood of territory over which the Stars and Stripes€ fly, on which William and Ellen Craft or myself could be protected by law. Wherever the American flag is seen flying on the continent of the New World it points us out as slaves; and we enjoy to-night a degree of freedom in your town that we could not if we were in the land of our birth. I often speak of America as my country, but in point of fact I have no country. In the language of one of the noblest of the Negro's champions in the United States. €œMy country is the wide, wide world; My countrymen are all mankind."€

Brown should know: his mother was a slave and his father the plantation owner who later granted him his freedom. Brown then worked the underground railroad and much, much more, working with William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. Among his published works included the incredible Clotel, (1853), which was one of the first novels published by an African-American in the U.S., and which discusses in great detail the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave/lover/mistress Sally Hemings.

The map is definitely a tale of morality, showing a definite margin of slavery but also depicting slavery leeching its way through the border states. It is interesting to note that Washington D.C. is represented in red as it was indeed a slave-holding district, with a slave pen right on the Mall in the 1830's.

The most striking feature to me of course is the slave who is lashed hand-and-foot to the flagpole on which the American flag is flying, as €”this is the only time that I have seen the slave and the flag portrayed as a unit, together, the slave being tortured by the standard of our country.

(Here's another contemporary map depicting the expansion/limitation of slavery from a blog post on the Kansas-Nebraska act on the excellent antiqueprintsblog site, described here):

1856 John Jay Freedon and Slavery
And this famous map of the United States slave holding region depicting slave ownership by density and by county, which is described in detail (along with pull-outs and expansions at the New York Times website:

"(Francis Bicknell) Carpenter spent the first six months of 1864 in the White House
preparing the portrait (of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet), and on more than one occasion found Lincoln
poring over the map. Though the president had abundant maps at his
disposal, only this one allowed him to focus on the Confederacy’s
greatest asset: its labor system. After January 1, 1863—when the
Emancipation Proclamation became law—the president could use the map to
follow Union troops as they liberated slaves and destabilized the
rebellion." Quote pull from the NYT via Flowing Data.

Map slavery US 1864
The Carpenter painting (described in another New York Times piece here, with the map clearly visible at the lower right):

Lincoln emancipation proc
Another fine example of a slavery map showing the details of the institution was made by Adolph von Steinwehr (a cartographer and geographer who would serve as a brigadier general in the Union Army) in 1861:

Map slave 1861 Steinwehr
The data given in the three maps above is great and indispensable, but the first map still perhaps makes the most indelible impression.

JF Ptak Science Books Extending Post 1470
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A while ago I wrote a post on Herman Soergel's plan for extending the landmass of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea by damming the straits of Gibraltar, lowering the sea and irrigating the Sahara–an original, interesting but not very good idea, filled with briney cultivation and racial politics. In the past on this blog I've written about other city plans–and in particular, for New York City–that have involved floating Manhattan into the harbor, or filling up large chunks of the Narrows, or floating the city on an enormous anti-gravity platform, and so on. Some of those plans were real, some science fiction, and some were plainly beyond both. The plan presented above is another monster, but at least this one could work, if not for the doing of it, and the expense. And the will.

NYC Really Big
But the bottom line, according to the engineer doing the thinking on this project, Kennard Thomson, would supposedly net the city a cool billion dollars after everything was said and done, and that would be 1916 dollars–that was equal to about 5% of the American GDP (!) in 1916, which would be about $400 billion in terms of 2010 GDP. I'm not sure how Thomson came up with this very big/very round number, though it must have been done for effect–I can just imagine him standing before a smokey room filled with civil engineers talking about his massive plan for enlarging NYC and throwing out the billion-dollar figure, watching the cigars glow red in exhaled disbelief.

NYC really big
[Source: Popular Science, 1916.]

Thomson did know what he was talking about–he was a busy (and "leading" according to the NYT) Manhattan civil engineer of stature, working on the Canal Barge and being the principal engineer for the Municipal and Singer buildings, for example–and his project seems to be well within the scope of possibility. Their sensical aspects however are, well, questionable.

Here's the story–around 1911, while examining proposals to repair and extend New York's wharves, Thomson came upon the idea–a magnificent, fabulous idea–of adding new wharves by adding new lands to the city. In short, the overall plan was to fill in the East River (!!) and reclaim the new land for city living, dam Hell Gate, construct a New East River (from Flushing to Jamaica Bay), extend the tip of Manhattan Island from the Battery to within a quarter-mile of Staten Island (!), create a new 40-square-mile island between Sandy Hook and Staten Island, extend the Jersey shoreline, add two new Manhattan-sized appendages to the east shore of Staten Island, and more. All of this would be connected by various new bridges and roads and tunnels, as well as a 6-track elevated railway that would circumnavigate the city. The purpose of all of this would be to add 100 miles of new docks, an enormous amount ("50 square miles of reclaimed land") of new land and the capacity for NYC to house 20+ million people, all of which would be worth a billion dollars.

Thomson really meant "really" in the title for the proposal. There have been reclamation projects undertaken in New York Bay since then of course, and I think that virtually all of what Thomson talked about could be done. I think it would be a very interesting project for a class of some sort to undertake an estimation of what such a thing would cost today (and I would guess to duplicate the idea in real terms now would take up a sizable chunk of the GDP). Maybe all of this will make sense at some more future point.

And along this line of thinking I include a very interesting drawing made by architect Lebbeus Woods, showing the bedrock part of Manhattan. He empties the East River and damns (?) the Hudson, and also builds some new port extending from Staten Island or out from Jersey…but the effect of the dry river bed between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Andthen some–he empties the river, and then deepens/excavates, heightening the depths (?!) of Manhattan Canyon. The depth of the river where we can see it in the drawing is maybe 100 feet, and certainly (judging the depth against the heights of the structures in the lower island) the canyon is deeper than that–maybe an order of magnitude deeper.

NYC woods
[Source: Lebbeus Woods, here.]


–A good read on Thomson and Woods can be found here, at Telemachus Untitled.

–A contemporary NY Times article on the Plan can be seen here and another (with illustrations) from 1913 here ("Plan to Fill in East River to Solve Port Problems").

–Another treatment of the whole idea can be seen at Frank Jacob's great Strange Maps blog, here.

JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd

I've made a post here before on the location of the Garden of Eating, um, "Eden", here, which I guess might be the ultimate of all Apple Maps, The Big Eat; but I've found these two (below) that are entertaining and probably not interetsing though they are without the overwhelming consequences of the first map. They're just about apples, and not what apples might represent (which I think was an unwieldy way for a Creator of the Universe to test the future of humankind with).

Apple map897 detail[Source: "Choice Variety of Apples", in American Agriculturist, New York, 1848, vol VII/no. III, page 79.]

And of course the route of Small Things Internally Eating Apples:

Apple map[Source: Maps Incohate, here.]

Eden 2359
[Source:private collection, Tabula Paradisi Terrestris justa Systema Auctoris incisa a P. Stark-Man was
printed late in the 18th century, probably around 1775, and locates the
GOE far in the north country, near the Dead Sea, deep in old Armenia,
near Mount Ararat (where Noe and his family were supposed to have landed
after the creator flooded the world killing everything, where
everything else, young and old, infant younger, men women children,
beasts and ants, were killed by a wrathful OT maker.).]

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1933

Happel map895 detail;
[Detail of E.W. Happel's map in his Relationes Curiosae (1675), plates 23 in the Peabody Library's The World Encompassed, 1952.]]

I’m not sure how my thinking went from Athanasius Kircher’s Earth skeleton to the magnificent Eberhard Werner Happel 1675 world map of ocean currents featuring what might be the largest California ever seen in the history of cartography, but, well, the thinking wound up there, (and this leaving out Bishop Burnett’s perfect primordial world egg in the process). This was intended as a simply post following up yesterday’s bit in the Blank and Missing Things series relating to California as an island and the missing land mass connecting the non-island to the rest of North America. Nominally California usually appears as a stubby/plump infected-appendix-sized bit either attached/not to the continent, but the California in the Happel (1647-1730, a man of math and medicine) map is larger than the rest of North America from the California gulf to the Atlantic. Of course that also includes all of Alaska and then some imagined lands as well, but, still the mass of it is labelled “California” stands by itself larger than South America, Africa (which looks surprisingly good for the age of the rendering), China (which is very very small) and Russia (which lacks virtually all of Russia east if the Urals). The only land mass that comes close to California’s size is the Antarctic regions, which is drawn here as a solid land mass including the scant points of data for New Zealand and Australia and whatever other island was found in southerly South Sea travels, all drawn together and fitted into an enormous continent.

Happel map895[The full image of the Happel map]

Although there weren’t many explorers yet to go up the west coast of North America in 1675, other maps of the period render the coastline in a more accurate way than this. The point of the map, really, is to display what was known of the ocean currents, some of which was correct but a lot of which is not–though it is a very good attempt given the state of the data collection. The source of this map,the Peabody Library’s The World Encompassed (1952) calls it the “first chart of ocean currents”, which I think is incorrect–and it is here where our favorite 17th century science-Jesuit comes into play, for it is in Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterreaneus (1642) that the first map of ocean currents occurs.

Tramerzinus map896_edited-1 detailed

[Michael Tramezinus's map of the Western Hemisphere (1534) showing a mostly non-existent western coastline of North America along with a stringy California--but given the time and the available information, it is an excellent map that is not afraid to define unknown lands with a squiggly line. Source, plate 35 from The World Encompassed.]

Kircher is a highly problematic character in the history of science. He is at times wonderful and insightful and creative; at other times he is boring, pedantic, grueling, wrong, fanciful, and stingy with attribution. I’m no Kircher scholar, but it seems to me after al this time that sometimes he writes stuff that he couldn’t've meant, that he absolutely knew better than to assert–but there it is, anyway, written as gospel truth (and the Gospels and related religious mythio-stories evidently demanded obedience to their own truths, in which Kircher complies) . This is one of the problems with the Fra Athanasius.

Tramerzinus map896
[The full detail of the Tramezinus map.]

In his Mundus Subterraneus Kircher presents the true first map of ocean currents ( Tabula Geographico-Hydrographica motus Oceani, currents, abyssos, montes igniuomos in universe orbe indican), some bits being correct and others not so. He rejects the Aristotelian concept of condensation, and figures that the accumulation of snow/rain/dew is simply not enough water to feed the rivers and lakes and oceans, so he devised subterranean oceans and rivers with vast stores of water to feed the waters topside. His hydrophyllaciae is one of four components of an underground Earth that closely coincides with the four elements and with the human condition, much in the tradition of the Medieval body/spirit approach to the understanding of the world system.

Kircher current maop
[Source: image from the mapseller site of Sebastian Hidalgo Sola, Buenos Aires, here.]

John Edward Fletcher, in his A Study of the Life and Works of Athanasius Kircher, ‘Germanus Incredibilis …” describes Kircher creating an “Earth Skeleton”which he dresses according to science and ecclesiastical needs, finding a vis spermatica, the launching of all matter from the primeval chaos of primordial Earth. The Mundus addresses this and many other things–it is, in all of this and all of its faults (as Fletcher states), a great repository of all geological knowledge of the time. There is the good with the bad in the Mundus, “a conglomeration of exotic facts and fiction, along with odd scraps of truth and the occasional flash of brilliance” (Fletcher, p. 172), and the ocean currents map is one of those bits.

Kircher undertakes an enormous and probably impossible job in this book, but may actually be kept from getting to the big point by depending upon himself too much. As Fletcher points out (page 171), the Mundus‘ third edition of 1671 failed to take into account the major advances in fields touching on the book’s contents, in particular, the work of Mariotte and Varenius, which was much superior to that of Kircher on the ocean currents, neither of which are discussed or even mentioned in the new edition.

This was a very round-about way of getting to the California-part of the Happel map, but the attribution of the World Encompassed as “the first” of its kind needed to be addressed.


Here’s an interesting read on the Kircher/Happel maps: from

JF Ptak Sciene Books Part of the series on The History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things.

The influence of economic strategy seems to be the Old Red Sandstone of the geology of life on this planet, and sometimes it reaches right into cartography, expressing itself in unusual ways. Such may be the case with the creation of the idea of California beign an island.

California as an island det[A detail of a sample map showing California as an island, by Nicolas de Fer, 1720, and depicting the famous missing land at the north end of the Gulf of California.]

In general, much of the vast expanse of blankness of the continent in the 16th and 17th century was hidden under ornate Baroque cartouches and their encumbrances, which was a tried-and-true method of taking up space on a map where you didn't (a) really know what was their and (b) didn't want to make stuff up to fill in the white space. By necessity most of North America was unknown to cartographers at this time because, well, there was no reliable information to work with. The far reaches of the middle North American western coastline enjoyed a history of
connectivity with the large land mass that exists east of the Gulf of
California, the region known today as "california" being connected to the rest of the continent from the early 16th century.

About 116 years later, though, cartographic thinking on part of the coast changed. Antonio de la Ascensíon is credited with first giving flight to the idea that the California Peninsula was in fact an island–and so, beginning in 1620, California would frequently make guest appearances on maps as an island. (Fray Antonio was born in Salamanca in 1573/4 and studied there and at the College of Pilots in Seville; he was ordained in the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and sent off to Mexico. As a cosmographer he accompanied Sebastian Vizcaino (1548-1624) on his expedition to California to find a good port for Spanish galleons coming from Manila, which is when Antonio produced his diaries with the famous island maps1.) This map was created during a period where there was heavy competition for trade routes and geographical knowledge was actual currency, so there was some amount of cartographic information that was proprietary. When the abbot's map was lost to/and recovered by the Dutch, the changes that were made to California were codified and published–the Spanish thought it not necessary to correct the misinformation. Perhaps. In any event, it seems plausible that the Spanish crown had no interest in involving itself with what may or may not have been the loss of proprietary information, and so let the island business slide. Until1751, when the King of Spain issued a proclamation saying that California was indeed not an island.

This practice continued to about 1747, when there was more than ample evidence to suggest that the island status of California was erroneous–still, it took several decades for the last of the island-maps to make its appearance.

California as an island

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This is an odd entry for the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things category as it relates both to making things missing and finding them again. In this instance the topic is maps and puzzles, where both actions of making things blank and restoring them are intentional. The first item on display–a sample from a "dissected" map patent from 1873, shows both an unusual "blank map" (a template simply waiting for a face) and the ability to remove part of the whole or the entire thing itself–and then of course replace/return the pieces. But I must admit the original image (below) had that appeal of being mostly an unintentionally absurd item, a blank jigsaw in a frame.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1920

The interesting thing about Hell–Dante's Hell–is that it has been shown and reconstructed and imagined for a long time–eight centuries–and, outside of painting, most of the representations seem to be in cross-section. That is why this image from the famous exposition by Alessandro Vellutello's 1544 struck me so strongly–it is a mostly straight-down look at the miserly and the prodigal in the fourth circle of Hell.



"… I saw multitudes
to every side of me; their howls were loud
while, wheeling weights, they used their chests to push.
They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?' –Canto VII, lines 25-30

This image depicts the great, tiring but tire-less, endless, despicable joust of the miserly and the prodigals, going at each other with large, difficult-to-move stones. Pluto is supposed to be in the middle, but I don't see him here. The artist though has made the men basically unrecognizable, giving them little character to their faces and virtually no differences in their bodies–Virgil tells Dante that they have lost themselves to something else, that there is no "there" there, that Dante–who would normally speak with the people he was coming into contact with–would not be able to interview them as they were too absorbed in their vicious need.

As has been seen in the many maps constructed for the Divine Comedy over the years–but especially during the Renaissance–Hell for Dante was a real place, a nine-layered inverted cone of measured depth and width commensurate with the sin, and established under the city of Jerusalem. Dante visited the place

"… but who art thou
That hast inquir'd of us?" To whom my guide:
"One that descend with this man, who yet lives,
From rock to rock, and show him hell's abyss." ( Inferno XXIX, 89–92, trans. Cary)

entering Hell on Good Friday and emerging from Purgatory on Easter morning, taking three days to travel through the two places and straight through the center of the Earth.

Here are a few examples of the cross sections that are the great standard bearers of Dante's visions:

The Hell of Dante by Pietro da Fino, 1568:
Frontispiece of Hell

The circles of Hell from Commedia di Dante insieme con uno dialogo circa el sito, forma et misure dello Inferno by Filippo Giunta, Florence, 1506.

The circles of Hell

Again, just a few examples of the cross sections of Hell to contrast with the scarce looking-straight-down-at-Hell image above.