October 21, 2013 12:50 pm
1812 was a weird year. The U.S., as a country, was still a baby. For the second time, America was at war with the British, and Canada had just burned down the White House. Looking back after 200 years, this map, made by esri, provides a view of how things have changed: it’s an interactive window on political geography, that layers the old and the new.
So how was the world of 1812 different from today? Well, for one, the U.S. was much, much smaller.
The U.S., in green, is just a fraction of its current size. Louisiana, now part of the U.S., fresh off the Louisiana purchase of 1803, is in yellow. But off to the west, large tracts of land were still controlled by Spain, while the northwest was under British control.
North America wasn’t the only country with shifting political boundaries. Australia, until 1824, was known as New Holland.
In 1812, European mapmakers like John Pinkerton (who published the older map) were lacking in knowledge of certain parts of the planet. Colonial interest in Africa didn’t reach its fever pitch until a few decades later, and in 1812, a mapmaker could get away with leaving blank huge parts of sub-Saharan Africa and labeling them “Unknown Parts.”
In Africa, Eurocentric mapmakers at least thought it was worth noting what they didn’t know. But, elsewhere, whole parts of the Earth were missing. The map of 1812 was shorter than the world as we know it. The North was cut off past Svalbard, and Antarctica is entirely absent, despite the fact that the southern continent was discovered nearly half a century earlier. Then again, even today maps often skip Antarctica, even though it’s a fair bit larger than the U.S.
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