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More map lust: global populations in 1890

I get my best thinking done by speaking. Not just randomly shooting my mouth off… though I certainly do that often enough. No, I like giving talks because it forces me to think through an issue sufficiently that I don’t look like a total fool standing on a stage, talking about a topic.

Of course, sometimes it’s possible to miscalculate. I agreed to give a lunch talk at the Berkman Center next Tuesday on a topic I’ve never spoken about before: Mapping Globalization. I am egregiously unprepared to give this talk. So now I’m putting together slides, a process that forces me to figure out what I actually think about the topic. This process involves a lot of web searches, and that, in turn, is leading me dangerously close to map addiction.

One of the ideas of the talk is the difference between mapping territory, or data about the population of that territory, and mapping infrastructure, the seen and unseen systems that make travel, trade and communication possible. I’ve stumbled across lots of maps of infrastructure from the late 1800s, an interesting time in the history of globalization, when steamships, railroads and telegraphs connected the world to an unprecedented degree and contributed to the wave of migration that brough the foreign-born population of the US to 15%.

Looking for a map of the world from that same time period, I came across this beauty: Area and population of the world 1890. Rand McNally and Company, 1897, from the David Rumsey Map Collection. The map features a small Mercator projection of the world, but a much larger chart that shows the comparative size and population of the nations of the world in 1890. This was, of course, the heart of the Imperial age, where the global ambitions of European powers led to a map where Britain controlled more territory than Russia or China.

I love this chart so much that I made a PNG and JPEG version of it from the MrSID file available on the Rumsey website. Click on the JPEG above, and you should get a fairly large PNG which lets you see in some detail. For more detail, you’ll want to download the image, or use the online viewer at the Rumsey site.

For the European powers listed, note the separations within the pie chart. Generally speaking, the small slice of the pie represents the area and population of the home country, while the huge remainder represents the population and area of the colonies. It’s astounding to think of an age in which it made perfect sense (to those in power, at least) for tiny European states to manage huge swaths of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, thousands of miles away, tenuously connected by telegraph lines and steamships.

4 thoughts on “More map lust: global populations in 1890”

  1. Coupla good reads:

    a) the Power of Maps, Denis Wood
    b) apollos’s eye
    c) Cartographic journal
    d) Imagined Communities – Chapter on Census, Map and Museum
    e) the myth of continents

    These will acclimatize you to the importance of these artifacts, how they helped us understand and imagine the world, and how the map makers also made the world, and how we started to believe it was so.

  2. Pingback: Vintage Infodesign [70] | Visual Loop

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