Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

No ‘Malvinas’ Here

Some difficulties of Latin place names in 1930s cartography

It’s no great secret I’m a lover of maps. When calling in to the Secretariat of State on the terza loggia of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican the other day, I was very pleased to see the cartographic murals there, including the two hemispheres done by Ignazio Danti in the 1580s. Moving to the next interior offices, however, the visitor is greeted by a much more recent mappa mundi, dating from the 1930s, replete with the glamour of empire’s heydey. (more…)

December 10, 2015 2:28 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

A Bunny Rampant

The carto-heraldic creativity of MacDonald Gill

If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.

“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).

The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.

January 5, 2014 11:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

African Independence

The nifty ‘Tumblr’ site Afrographique, which Africa-related facts and statistics in a visually appealing and accessible way, created a handy chart of all the countries of Africa and the years they became independent. The chart correctly gives Zimbabwe’s date of independence as 1965, even though it had a brief return to colonial status for a few months in 1979-1980. Yet it lists Ethiopia’s “independence” year as 1941, despite the fact that Ethiopia has arguably been independent forever.

The Empire of Ethiopia was founded in 1137 with the ascent of the Zagwe dynasty (responsible for the country’s world-famous rock-hewn churches), and while it was occupied by the Kingdom of Italy (whose monarch usurped the title ‘Emperor of Abyssinia’) from 1936 to 1941 with a continued insurgency and a lack of abdication by the legitimate emperor, Haile Selassie, there’s a strong case that Ethiopia retained her independence throughout but merely suffered a temporary foreign occupation.

Despite this arguable discrepancy it’s not nearly so bad as Africa Report, which published a chart claiming that South Africa gained its independence in 1994. Pray tell, what colonial power ran South Africa before 1994? South Africa was unified and gained dominion status in 1910, and Afrographique goes for the much safer independence date of 1931 when the Statute of Westminster was adopted asserting the sovereignty of the dominions of the British Empire. Some Afrikaners claim South Africa did not become independent until the Republic was declared in 1961, but this is neither legally nor constitutionally the case as the country as an internationally recognised sovereign independent nation merely changed its form of government from a monarchy to a republic.

Afrographique has a number of other interesting posts, including African Nobel Prize winners (nine of them South African, across medicine, peace, and literature) and the ten richest Africans (fellow Matie Johann Rupert is #4).

August 7, 2012 3:04 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Hail, Queen Europe!

The very name of Europe is feminine: Europa, the Phoenician princess of Greek lore, abducted by Zeus. From Strange Maps, we find this cartographic representation of Europe as a queen: Spain the crown, Germany the hearty bosom, Italy the graceful arm, and Sicily the Orb of Europe. The map was produced by Sebastian Munster in Basel in 1570 and was recently up for sale from Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps.

“During the late sixteenth century,” the map gallery writes, “a few map makers created these now highly prized map images, wherein countries and continents were given human or animal forms. Among the earliest examples is this map of Europa by Munster, which appeared in Munster’s Cosmography.”

January 9, 2011 4:08 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Europe According to Stereotype

A London-based graphic designer has created a series of maps depicting Europe according to the national stereotypes in the minds of various peoples. Yanko Tsvetkov, a Bulgarian living in Great Britain, created the first one in 2009 in the midst of the energy dispute between Russia and the Ukraine. Russia was labelled “Paranoid Oil Empire”, the Ukraine “Gas Stealers”, and the E.U. as “Union of Subsidized Farmers”. Switzerland was simply “Bank”.

“I created the first one in 2009 because at that time there was an energy crisis in Europe,” Mr. Tsvetkov said. “I just created it to amuse my friends but when I put it up on my website so many people liked it that I decided to really focus on the project of mapping the stereotypes based on different places in Europe. I was surprised by the reaction because I never really expected it to take off like this.” (more…)

September 21, 2010 11:24 am | Link | 42 Comments »
March 24, 2009 12:39 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

German Poland vs. Russian Poland

A curiosity of the 2007 Polish parliamentary election

THIS MAP displaying the results of the 2007 general election for the Polish parliament is overlaid with an outline of the nineteenth-century border between the German and Russian empires. The areas formerly ruled by the German Kaiser tend to back the right-wing liberal Platforma Obywatelska (“Civic Platform”) party, while those formerly ruled by the Czar tend to support the conservative Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (“Law and Justice”) party. (The green represents the centrist-agrarian Polish People’s Party, while the dark red represents the already-defunct “Left and Democrats” coalition.)

Source: Strange Maps

December 17, 2008 8:24 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

Germany carved amongst her neighbors

What is this cartographic madness? Hanover part of the Netherlands? Kassel ruled by France? Nuremburg part of a Bohemia that reaches to the Frankfurt suburbs? Hamburg in Denmark? Regensburg on the Austro-Czech border? I came across the company Kalimedia in an article from Die Zeit a month or two ago and discovered their map of a Europe without a Germany. Believe it or not, there were plans of one sort or another to achieve similar results at the end of the Second World War. The major plan for the dissection of Germany was merely a creation of Nazi propaganda, and while the vaguely similar Morgenthau Plan did exist, it was soon shelved once its impracticality became obvious.

The Bakker-Schut Plan, meanwhile, was a Dutch proposal for the annexation of several German towns, and perhaps even a number of German cities. German natives would be expelled, except for those who spoke the Low Franconian dialect, who would be forcibly dutchified. They even came up with a list of new Dutch names for German cities: c.f. the post at Strange Maps on “Eastland, Our Land: Dutch Dreams of Expansion at Germany’s Expense”.

September 14, 2008 6:20 pm | Link | 16 Comments »
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