Archive for the 'History' Category

Mondays with Minard: Cotton and Wool Comparisons

During the Civil War, the Confederacy attempted to use “Cotton Diplomacy” to force Europe’s major industrial nations to enter the war.  The strategy was simple–British and French textile mills depended on Southern cotton, and if that cotton was cut off because of the war, it would force the European powers to intervene in the conflict to save their domestic industries.  The strategy failed, of course, in spite of the near elimination of Southern cotton from the international market during the war.  Today’s map gives a hint as to why.

The map above is a curious comparative map of the quantities of cotton and wool imported to Europe in 1858 and 1861.  Blue represents cotton and wool from the United States, the orange from British territories in South Asia, and brown from the Levant (the East Mediterranean).  Pink represents cotton and wool imported to Britain that was subsequently re-exported to Europe.  There is also a small sliver of imports from Brazil, also in a light blue, though the original color may have faded.  One millimeter represents 5,000 tons of cotton or wool.  Click here or on the picture above to see the map enlarged.

In 1861, the Union had not yet implemented its wartime blockade of the South, and cotton and wool could still be exported.  Nevertheless, the British were facing continuous demand and worried about the stability of their suppliers.  As such, they ramped up production of cotton in India and elsewhere in South Asia, clearly visible on the map. 

When the South eventually was fully blockaded, it was this South Asian source of cotton, as well as additional new production, that kept Continental textile mills in operation and prevented Cotton Diplomacy from succeeding.  In fact, in 1861, re-exports of cotton and wool from Britain to the Continent actually increased. 

Minard also includes a line chart of cotton and wool production and imports over 30 years.  This chart is interesting in its own right, as it shows how the Industrial Revolution and the Cotton Gin dramatically increased the demand for and production of cotton.  Click here or on the picture below to see the graph in a larger size.

Although this map does not show as stark of a comparison as other Minard maps, it still serves to show a clever framwork for cartographic comparison.

This is a post in our continuing “Mondays with Minard series, exhibiting Charles Joseph Minard’s excellent cartographic handiwork.  This map was photographed specifically for use here at Cartographia from the collections of the Library of Congress.  Feel free to reproduce the map in any way you wish, but please cite us as the source. 

Mondays with Minard: Wine and Liquor in a Land of Luxuries

France has always been a cultural trendsetter, from the architecture of Versailles to the fashions of modern Paris.  French wine and other spirits hold an important place in the French cultural pantheon, and Charles Joseph Minard sought to map how they were manufactured and shipped across the country.  Today’s map, the next in our ongoing “Mondays with Minard” series, shows the major land and water thoroughfares for wine and spirits across France in the mid 1800s.

Minard plots land transport via railroads in pink, and river transport via boat in green.  Yellow lines represent overseas exports.  Minard drew each line to represent 100,000 tons for each 33 millimeters of thickness.  Click here or on the picture above to see an enlarged version of the map.

The map shows how clearly Paris was the nexus of the French transportation system.  Most of the French-made wine and spirits were destined for consumption there, but even the little that was exported usually had to pass through the city before reaching its final destination. 

French rivers, particularly the Garonne, carried in large amounts of wine and spirits until they reached major cities like Bordeaux where they could be loaded on railroad cars for easier transport.  The same phenomenon is visible with Rouen on the Seine.

The map also shows how, even in an industrialized country like France, wine and spirits sometimes had to travel hundreds of miles down relatively small rivers until they could reach the first major node in the rail network.

This is a post in our continuing “Mondays with Minardseries, exhibiting Charles Joseph Minard’s excellent cartographic handiwork.  This map was photographed specifically for use here at Cartographia from the collections of the Library of Congress.  Feel free to reproduce the map in any way you wish, but please cite us as the source. 

Minard’s Map of Port and River Tonnage

Charles Joseph Minard was a master of using simple sizes to indicate relationships.  In this map, as with his famous chart of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, Minard expertly relates the volume of tonnage shipped through European ports and on European rivers to the size of the lines and circles representing them.

Minard developed this map from data on port and river tonnage in the mid 1850s.  The numbers over each circle are the volume of products shipped in thousands of tons.  For this map, Minard includes all ports that carry over 200,000 tons of cargo per year.  For the rivers, each millimeter of thickness represents 100,000 tons of shipping.  Click here or on the picture above to see a bigger map.

The movement of commerce across the continent is presented starkly through the thickness of the rivers and the area of the ports.  Britain, a worldwide commercial leader, has Europe’s two largest ports in London and Liverpool.  Only Constantinople and Marseilles present any challenge to Britain’s remaining ports for volume of tonnage.

Britain, however, has no river shipping listed.  Northwestern Europe–the Netherlands, France, and northwestern Germany–have tremendous shipping along their rivers.  The Elbe and the Rhine account for a majority of this shipping.  With Germany still not unified but with a burgeoning manufacturing sector, all the commercial products had to travel to sea via rivers.  Even today, the Dutch port of Rotterdam handles the world’s highest annual shipping tonnage.

The Russian Empire, with its vast distances and few railroads, made good use of its navigable rivers to transports goods.  Sadly, the area on the map around the mouth of the Volga, in the Caspian Sea, is damaged.  Otherwise, we would also know the volume of goods leaving and entering Russia via Central Asia. 

The Danube, flowing with goods while in Austrian territory, ships virtually none at all through the barely-industrialized Ottoman Empire until it approaches the sea once more.   For an empire so large, the Austrian seaports of Trieste and Venice handle little cargo, representing the Austrian reliance on overland shipping from Central Europe

In France, the Seine itself does not transport a tremendous amount of cargo; but its tributary the Oise carries huge amounts of goods from the manufacturing centers in northern France to the markets of Paris.  Similarly, the Rhone carries little international shipping; most of its cargo begins and ends its journey in France.

This is the third post in our continuing “Mondays with Minard” series, exhibiting Charles Joseph Minard’s excellent cartographic handiwork.  This map was photographed specifically for use here at Cartographia from the collections of the Library of Congress.  Feel free to reproduce the map in any way you wish, but please cite us as the source. The original map is in fairly good quality, but I ran the picture through Photoshop to improve the contrast and make the colors more vibrant for the sake of clarity. 

The American Meridian

Modern geographers measure degrees of longitude from the Prime Meridian running through Greenwich, England, but things didn’t always work this way.  In fact, America, like many other countries, long maintained its own “Prime Meridian” for domestic and international cartographic measurements and surveys.   This meridian was the basis for determining state borders and other domestic surveys, and formed a key part of demarcating a rapidly growing United States.

The map above, from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, shows the major survey lines used to demarcate the boundaries of most modern U.S. states.  The borders of the first 17 states are not included on this map because they predate the establishment of the survey system.  Texas is also exempt as its boundaries were established by treaty.  Many of the secondary baseline meridians on this map were full degrees of longitude from one of several American meridians.  Click here or on the picture above to enlarge the map.

America actually had four separate prime meridians, all of which ran through Washington, DC.  The first was established in 1791 by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the planner who designed the new capital city.  L’Enfant established America’s first prime meridian running through the center of the U.S. Capitol Building, and used this as the basis for his original plans for the city. 

L’Enfant designed his city around a giant right triangle, with vertices at the Capitol, the White House, and the Washington Monument.  The leg of the triangle between the White House and the Washington Monument became America’s second prime meridian in 1793, as surveyed by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.  Stones marking this meridian can still be found on the National Mall today.

The second meridian persisted until 1850, when Congress established a new, third meridian explicitly for domestic surveys while adopting the British Prime Meridian for all nautical calculations.  The new American meridian would run through the old U.S. Naval Observatory, now the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, in DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.  This meridian persisted until 1897, when the U.S. Naval Observatory moved to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue.  Visitors to the area can find a small monument showing this meridian on the grounds of the George Washington University.

The third meridian was, by law, used for all domestic surveys from 1850 to 1897–the years of some of America’s greatest territorial expansion.  As such, many of the Western states have borders based on this third meridian.   Both the eastern and western borders of Colorado and Wyoming, for example, are demarcated at fixed, full degrees from the 1850 meridian.  The table below shows all state boundaries based on this meridian:

Degree    Boundary
25°         W Kansas (29 January 1861) as a state 
               E Colorado (28 February 1861), NE not dependent on Kansas 
               SW Nebraska
27°         E Montana (3 March 1863) as Idaho Territory
               E Wyoming (3 March 1863) as Idaho Territory 
               NW Nebraska
               W North Dakota as Dakota Territory 
               W South Dakota as Dakota Territory
32°         W Colorado (28 February 1861)
               SE Utah
               E Arizona (24 February 1863)
               W New Mexico
34°         SW Montana (26 May 1864) 
               W Wyoming (25 July 1868), SW not dependent on Montana
               SE Idaho
               NE Utah
37°         E Nevada (5 May 1866) as a state (39° → 38° → 37°) 
               W Utah
39°         NW Montana (26 May 1864)
               NE Idaho

America’s fourth meridian, running through the new U.S. Naval Observatory, was used for several decades.  It wasn’t until the International Meridian Conference in 1884 that most countries, including the United States, agreed to standardize their meridians on the British line.

Minard’s Map of British Coal Exports

Britain was the world’s leading industrial power for most of the 1800s.  19th Century industrial production relied on coal–it powered factories, heated homes, and was essential for producing steel–and as an industrial power Britain relied on coal to make it great.  Most British coal was used domestically, but some was exported to support burgeoning industrial needs in other parts of the world.  Charles Joseph Minard, the well-regarded economic cartographer, produced this excellent map of British coal exports for the year 1864. 

As with most of Minard’s works, this map relates the thickness of each export line to the amount of coal it represents.  Here, each millimeter of thickness represents 20,000 tons of coal.  The numbers written over or beside the lines represent the total number of tons of coal, in thousands.  Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.  Minard also included a fascinating graph of the eventual uses of all British-mined coal in the upper right.  More on that graph later.

The map clearly demonstrates that the majority of British coal exports were destined for use in Western Europe–in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the German states, and Scandinavia.  A smaller but still significant amount was exported to Russia (via both the Baltic and Black Seas) and the Ottoman Empire.

The coal that was not shipped to Europe was distributed across the remaining five populated continents, but not evenly: Australia and Africa (with the exception of British-controlled Egypt) imported hardly any coal at all, whereas China and India imported much more.  South America also imported a significant amount of British coal–much of it to Brazil, Chile, or Peru.  Canada and the United States imported a relatively small amount–the former possibly due to its lower population, and the latter probably due to large domestic coal production. 

The map show some interesting details about international trade during the mid 1860s.  Malta, Singapore, and especially Cuba imported large amounts of coal given their relative size and levels of industrialization.  Malta and Singapore, at least, were British colonies;  but Cuba was a Spanish possession, showing how much the dwindling Spanish Empire had come to rely on foreign industry to sustain itself. 

Though St. Petersburg was the Russian capital at the time, the majority of Russian coal imports from the Baltic Sea were instead destined for the city of Kronstadt, located on an island off the coast of St. Petersburg.  Kronstadt was the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet, and its steam-powered battlecruisers consumed coal at a tremendous rate. 

Prussia’s growing power in Germany is shown by the amount of coal it imported from the Baltic, peeling off into multiple ports.  But Minard also indicates that a rather large amount of coal was still being imported to the German North Sea ports and destined for the “Villes Anseatiques”–the cities of the old Hanseatic League, a Renaissance-era trading guild that had become defunct in all but name in the 1600s.  Interestingly, however, the German cities of Lubeck, Hamburg, and Bremen maintained the pretenses of the League until 1862–only two years before the data for this map was gathered.  It is unclear whether Minard refers to the imports of the last three cities, or of a collection of older member cities.  At the very least, the use of this nomenclature shows the continuing decentralization of Germany, which would not change until German unification under Prussia at the beginning of the next decade.

Finally, the map also shows the continuing economic importance of the Caribbean islands.  More coal was imported by those small specks of land than by the rest of North America combined. 

Minard also included an interesting chart in the upper right-hand corner of the map, showing the amount of British coal produced for each year between 1850 and 1864, and how it was used.  Click here or on the picture below to see a close-up of the chart.  The graph shows the tremendous changes in coal production over only a decade and a half–an increase of nearly 100% from just over 50 million to nearly 95 million tons.  Of this, less than 10% was ever exported–meaning that the British domestic market was consuming nine times as much coal as is shown as exported in the main map. 

The major uses of British coal, according to the chart, are: the production of iron (“Fer”) and cast iron (“Fonte”), gas lighting (“Eclairage au gas”), steam engines in ships and trains (“Navires a Vapeur et Chemins de Fer”), and domestic fireplaces (“Foyers Domestiques”).  A large amount of this production was also specifically slated for use in London, showing how that city was the major center of British industry. 

This is the second post in our continuing “Mondays with Minard” series, exhibiting Charles Joseph Minard’s excellent cartographic handiwork.  This map was photographed specifically for use here at Cartographia from the collections of the Library of Congress.  Feel free to reproduce the map in any way you wish, but please cite us as the source. The original map is in fairly good quality, but I ran the picture through Photoshop to improve the contrast and make the colors more vibrant for the sake of clarity. 

Hannibal Crosses the Alps

Charles Joseph Minard’s most famous work, a chart of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, immediately impresses the observer with the magnitude of Napoleon’s losses.  The quickest of glances shows the dramatic thinning of the line representing the number of men in his army as they succumbed to starvation, enemy combat, and the bitter cold.  Minard produced a companion map, shown above, of Hannibal Barca’s invasion of Italy in 218 BC during the Second Punic War, including his famous crossing of the Alps.

Minard’s map charts Hannibal’s path from Iberia (Spain), across southern Gaul (France), across the Alps and into Italy.  Minard represents the number of men in Hannibal’s army with the thickness of the line showing the army’s path.  One millimeter of thickness represents 1,000 men.  The Hannibal map, however, is not as striking as the Napoleon map.  For one, the numbers of men involved in Hannibal’s invasion are significantly smaller.  Minard could have exaggerated Hannibal’s losses by increasing the ratio of men to line thickness, but held exactness in too high a regard to attempt such data manipulation.  Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

The Punic Wars were fought between Rome and Carthage over control over the Western Mediterranean.  The First Punic War, between 264 to 241 BC, was fought over control of Sicily and ended with Roman victory and the defeat of Carthaginian naval power.  The Second Punic War, on the other hand, was fought over conflicting spheres of Roman and Carthaginian influence in Spain.  Rome declared war on Carthage in 218 BC, and Hannibal set out soon after to invade Italy.

Hannibal understood that Carthaginian naval power was weak, and that Rome had to be struck directly in order to guarantee decisive victory.  Since he had no means of attacking by sea, he had to strike overland.  According to Minard’s sources, Hannibal began his journey with 94,000 men including cavalry, siege engines, and, famously, 36 war elephants.  When he arrived at the Pyrenees, the force numbered about 80,000.  In the Pyrenees he subdued the local tribes with significant losses.  Minard records Hannibal’s army at a strength of 60,000 when it emerged from the mountains, a loss of 25%. 

An approximate overlay of Hannibal’s route on a modern-day map from Google Earth. Click on the picture to enlarge.

Hannibal now marched across the plains of southern Gaul, defeating or negotiating with the local tribes.  He only met significant resistance when he tried to cross the Rhone River near modern Avignon.  He defeated the opposing tribe, as Minard shows, by sending a detachment upriver and outflanking them.   Hannibal then began his crossing of the Alps.  To this day, Hannibal’s path across the mountains is debated.  Minard’s legend indicates that he uses the route suggested by French historian Jean-Louis Larauza, though Minard indicates he himself cannot speak to the historical accuracy of this route.  Regardless, Minard indicates the severe losses Hannibal’s army experienced during the crossing–46,000 men entered the foothills of the Alps in 218 BC, but only 25,000 emerged. 

Now in Italy, Hannibal sought to join up with anti-Roman allies in the region, but before he could he had to fight his way through further hostile tribes and local Roman forces.  By the time the army crossed the Po River, these engagements dwindled the forces to a stunning 6,000 men.  It was these few who would join with the anti-Roman forces in northern Italy to begin the main assault on Roman territory. 

Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps is generally regarded as a masterpiece of military strategy, but in the crossing Hannibal suffered dramatic losses of men, as well as of his war elephants and, perhaps most importantly, his siege engines.  Without these engines, Hannibal would not be able to penetrate the fortifications of Rome itself and force a surrender.  Though he ravaged the Italian countryside for several years and won several important battles, he was eventually defeated by the tactics of Quintus Fabius Maximus, who realized he could defeat Hannibal by attacking the one thing he could not replace–his men.  He began forcing Hannibal to fight small, costly engagements instead of direct conflicts.  These “Fabian” tactics are still used today; we know them as “wars of attrition.”  The constant skirmishes caused Hannibal’s limited manpower to dwindle to dangerous levels, and eventually forced his retreat as he still could not receive reinforcements from Carthage. 

America and Russia: Beyond Borders

In the waning days of the Cold War, a first-rate team of American and Russian geographers began to ask whether the Soviet Union and the United States could be compared on common geographical principles.  The team speculated that geographic similarities–such as the tropics of Florida and of the Black Sea coast, the Appalachians and the Urals, and the Mississippi and the Volga basins–reflected fundamental similarities between the two historically feuding superpowers.  They wrote a book called Beyond Borders to explain their remarkable findings, but at the last minute their publisher was sold and publication of the book was cancelled.  Now, 18 years later, the team has made the book available online in its entirety, for free.

The researchers’ objective was to develop a rubric for comparing Russia and America based on their geographic regions and common history:

While we do not try to minimize the differences between Russia and America, we observed that people in the two countries have many similarities in the way they spread across the continents, adapted to various environments, conquered or absorbed indigenous people, and molded their respective geographies into a set of regions.

The team identified eleven regions on which to base their analysis:

The Core: In America, this roughly corresponds to the Mid-Atlantic Region; in Russia, it means the areas around Moscow and the Upper Volga–the regions that are “what would become all that one could define as uniquely American or Russian.”  This is the traditional “homeland”–Philadelphia, Washington, and New York City in America; and Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Yaroslavl, and Tver in Russia.  This is locus of national cultural origin.

The North: In America, this is New England and the northern parts of the Midwestern States on the Canadian border, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  In Russia, this includes Novgorod, St. Petersburg, and the coast of the White Sea.  This region is home to Puritanical and Orthodox traditions–an original national ideological home that has since been outpaced by the development it inspired elsewhere.

The South: In America, this roughly means the states that seceded during the Civil War–from the Potomac in the north to central Texas in the southwest.  In Russia, this means central Ukraine into south-central Russia, bordering the Volga.  These regions are defined by their warm weather and arable land, but also by their history of forced servitude through serfdom and slavery. 

The Heartland: In America, this area corresponds with most of the Midwest, from Milwaukee to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to Buffalo.  Russia’s “Heartland” centers on the junction of the Volga and Kama rivers, near Kazan, Samara, and Ufa.  This is the traditional industrial backbone–a land of factories, labor, and hard work, turned to rust in more recent years from economic depression and a changing economy.

The Crossroads: In America, this is the area around the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, near St. Louis and Nashville, and into the Ozark Mountains in the west.  For Russia, this actually means Belarus, but also Smolensk and other parts of western Russia.  This is the area where cultures meet and clash, nestled between the American North and South, and between Russia and Europe, integrating and meshing opposing ideologies.

The Breadbasket: In America, this is the Great Plains and part of the Midwest, from North Dakota to Indianapolis to Oklahoma; and in Russia this means the Black Sea littoral and as far east as Orenburg.  The Breadbasket is exactly what it sounds like–the “fertile triangle” and source of food for a hungry nation.

The Old Mountains: In America, the Appalachians; in Russia, the Urals.  These mountain ranges define the boundary between the old homeland and the new areas of expansion, and reflect the first traversal point on the road to national expansion and manifest destiny toward the Pacific.

The Tropical South: In America, this is clearly the Deep South and South Florida, a land of palm trees, lazily hot weather, and sultry culture.  But in Russia, this means The Crimea, southern Moldova, and the northwest tips of the Caucasus–a region similar in climate and, as in America, a recent boom of luxury and wealth built by a “sun and sin” economy. 

Mexistan: This is the alien yet internal culture–a fusion of foreign and domestic.  In America, this is the Southwest; in Russia, Central Asia–lands conquered in foreign conflicts, generally far-removed from the ancestral homelands, and harboring a people different from those who founded the nations.

The Land Ocean: This is the vast peripheral expanse–in America, the West; in Russia, Siberia–that forms the backdrop for each nation’s plunge into manifest destiny toward the Pacific Ocean.  The Land Ocean is a region defined by frontier mythology and by the subjugation and elimination of its native peoples.

The Pacific Gateway: In America, this region stretches from San Francisco to Alaska.  In Russia, it surrounds the Sea of Okhotsk, from Vladivostok to Petropavlovsk to the Bering Sea, where America and Russia’s Pacific Gateway Regions meet.  This area is marked by its extreme distance from the national homeland, as well as by its similarly extreme geography of volcanoes, mountainous peaks, and lush forests.

The authors have made their entire book available online, including all the comparative regional analysis of history, peoples, and culture.  They also include maps of the regions within both Russia and the United States, showing how these regions transcend state or national borders as unique geographic identifiers.

Click here to see the book in its entirety.  Click here to see an index of the maps for America and Russia. 

The book concludes with a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville that I remember well from my college political philosophy courses–one of his more prescient quotes to be sure, but also one that strikes at the heart of two of the world’s great nations:

There are at the present time two great nations in the world which seem to tend toward the same end, although they started from different points: I allude to the Russians and Americans…their starting point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems to be marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.

Thanks to Claire for another great recommendation!


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Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.

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