I recently found a tatty copy of J. G. Bartholomew’s Century Atlas and Gazetteer of the World published in 1891. I have always loved maps and atlases and this one is a joy to thumb through. It provides a wonderful snapshot of the British Imperial world view at the end of the Victorian Era.
This was a time when the British Empire covered more than nine million square miles with a population of more than three hundred and fifty four million people. Our imports and exports were double that of our nearest rivals and we had the greatest merchant fleet in the world. Militarily we had a much smaller standing army than many states but the British Navy was unrivalled, it’s fleet of sixty one Ironclads ensured that Britannia ruled the waves.
Reading through the gazetteer, everything is defined in terms of how it relates to the British Empire, an air of British superiority wafts from it’s pages. The language is Victorian, the races of each continent are listed, polar regions are described as frigid zones and were still largely unexplored, world religions are defined as Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, Buddhists, Brahmins and Fetish Worshippers, there is even a map of ancient Palestine shewing the division of the land into biblical tribes.
Atlases are now more or less redundant which is a great shame as they are so much more than just a book of maps.