August 24, 2011

The Man of Commerce

“The Man of Commerce” is a detailed map that conflates human anatomy with the American transportation system. Published in 1889 by the Land & River Improvement Company of Superior, Wisconsin, the map promotes Superior as a transportation hub and shows the routes of 29 railroads across the United States. The outline map of North America is superimposed by a cutaway diagram of the human body. The map’s metaphor makes West Superior “the center of cardiac or heart circulation.” The railways become major arteries. New York is “the umbilicus through which this man of commerce was developed.” The explanatory notes conclude: “It is an interesting fact that in no other portion of the known world can any such analogy be found between the natural and artificial channels of commerce and circulatory and digestive apparatus of man.” Use of the human body as a cartographic metaphor dates back at least to the 16th century, to the anthropomorphic map of Europe as a queen in Sebastian Münster’s Cosmography (1570). This map may be the earliest application of this metaphor to North America. The cartographer was A.F. McKay, who in 1889 briefly served as the editor of the Superior Sentinel newspaper. The map was engraved by Rand McNally. The American Geographical Society Library acquired the map in 2009, aided in part by the Map Society of Wisconsin. The only other known copy of this map is in a private collection.

Chart of the NW Coast of America and Part of the NE of Asia with the Track of his Majesty's Sloops 'Resolution' and 'Discovery' from May to October 1778

George Vancouver (1757–98), who became a noted explorer and surveyor of the Pacific Northwest, joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 and was a midshipman on H.M.S. Discovery during Captain James Cook’s ill-fated third voyage of 1778–80. This may be one of Vancouver’s first charts. The purpose for which the chart was made is not known. Such charts may have been drafted by the midshipmen as an exercise, part of a running survey conducted under the guidance of ships’ masters and captains, as suggested by the fact that the chart does not compare in quality to those produced by William Bligh, the master of Discovery’s sister ship Resolution. Cook left Nootka Sound and the island that later would bear Vancouver’s name in April 1778. He sailed north along the Alaskan coast looking for inlets that might lead to the Northwest Passage but was forced to turn south. By July he had rounded the Alaskan Peninsula and was able to sail north again, visiting the Chukotskiy Peninsula, Russia, before heading out into the Bering Sea. Cook crossed the Arctic Circle in August before being forced back by pack ice. He turned west and worked his way down the Russian coast, eventually heading south and east into Norton Sound, Alaska, in September 1778.

A Chart of Part of the Sea Coast of New South Wales on the East Coast of New Holland from Point Hicks to Black Head

This map is one of four manuscript charts from the first great voyage of exploration by Captain James Cook, which in April 1770 made the first clear delineation of the east coast of Australia. Sponsored by the Royal Society and the Royal Navy, the expedition had several objectives. Cook was to observe and describe the transit of Venus, chart the coastlines of places he visited in the South Pacific, and record details of the peoples, flora, and fauna he saw. The expedition sponsors also hoped Cook would find and claim for Britain the land then known as terra incognita australis. Cook did not sail close to shore, except in a few places, so the amount of detail shown in the map varied with his ship’s distance from the coast.

A Chart of Part of the Sea Coast of New South Wales on the East Coast of New Holland from Cape Morton to Cape Palmerston

This map is one of four manuscript charts from the first great voyage of exploration by Captain James Cook, which in April 1770 made the first clear delineation of the east coast of Australia. Sponsored by the Royal Society and the Royal Navy, the expedition had several objectives. Cook was to observe and describe the transit of Venus, chart the coastlines of places he visited in the South Pacific, and record details of the peoples, flora, and fauna he saw. The expedition sponsors also hoped Cook would find and claim for Britain the land then known as terra incognita australis. Cook did not sail close to shore, except in a few places, so the amount of detail shown in the map varied with his ship’s distance from the coast.

Map of France Divided into Départements, Subdivided into Arrondissements

This 1806 map of France shows the division of the country into départements (regions) and arrondissements (districts). The modern départements were created in 1790, following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, by the National Constituent Assembly, partly to weaken the old military and historical loyalties of the provinces and create a more coherent and loyal national system. Each département was run by an elected general council, presided over by a commissioner representing the central government. The départements were subdivided into arrondissements, each of which was under the administration of a subprefect. Arrondissements were also further subdivided. They were created in 1800 and took the place of the earlier districts.

Map Showing the Portions of the City of New York and Westchester County under the Jurisdiction of the Department of Public Parks

This map was made in 1870 during a time of great change for the New York City parks. A group of corrupt politicians, known as the Tweed Ring after William “Boss” Tweed, abruptly replaced the Board of Commissioners of Central Park with a new city agency, the Department of Public Parks. The new parks commissioner, Peter B. Sweeny, then fired designer of Central Park Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux, and Andrew Haswell Green, the park comptroller. Tweed and Sweeny, along with the other key ring members, Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall and Comptroller Richard B. Connolly, seized control of the finances of the city and embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars. The Tweed Ring was exposed in 1871 and the Department of Public Parks was taken over by some of the former commissioners of Central Park. Andrew Haswell Green was reinstated as Parks Department comptroller, and Olmsted and Vaux were rehired. The new Department of Public Parks completed Central Park and relandscaped many other Manhattan parks in the early 1870s, including Madison Square, Washington Square, Union Square, and Tompkins Square.