For as long as we have existed, humans have used maps as visual representations of the physical world around us. Consequently, as our knowledge of the world around us has grown, so have our maps.
Maps and humans are deeply interconnected, and this relationship can be seen in several depictions of maps as actual people. Instead of illustrating the world as it is in reality, these anthropomorphic maps have been produced for different purposes but mostly to assert nationalism, make a political statement, or portray what the world should look like. Throughout history, these illustrate demonstrate how human truly maps are.
Long before Matthew Cusick turned bits of old maps into collages of people, cartographers that have produced anthropomorphic maps created these distinctive representations by taking continents, countries, and physical features of the Earth and then turned them into human forms. In other words, they alter maps and give them human qualities and characteristics.
Similar to political cartoons, these maps are molded and shaped to make some sort of statement about a country, continent, or situation. Finding the purpose behind these maps can often be deduced by the look of the map or how people are portrayed.
A good example is this map of 19th Century Europe that shows a large Russian peasant reaching out towards Europe.
Maps Depicting Europe as a Queen
Although it is likely that anthropomorphic maps have existed for much of human history, the first known examples come from the European Middle Ages and Renaissance periods beginning in the fourteen century.
One of the most popular depictions is called the Europa Regina, or Queen Europe, and several were produced by different cartographers in the 1500s. The Europe Regina represents the European continent as a queen with the Iberian continent as her crown, Bohemia as her heart, France as her upper body, and several Slavic countries as her lower body.
The Europa Regina illustrates the political situation through the way the map was drawn. It portrays the dominance of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V and the political influence of the Habsburgs, thus France, Spain, and Bohemia all have prominent places in the map. More generally, the map also displays the dominance of medieval Christian Europe in the world overall.
The continents of Asia and Africa have much smaller roles. Obviously, these maps have been clearly influenced by strong nationalism and the desire to make a statement about the political situation at that time.
Other Europa Regina Depictions during the Renaissance
The depictions of Europe as a queen or young maiden played an important part in cartography during the Renaissance. One of the earliest maps like these is the Europa Prima Pars Terrae in Forma Virginis created by Protestant theologian Heinrich Bunting. It is one of the most sought after anthropomorphic maps, and it seems to have been created in 1548.
Bunting’s depiction is larger and more sharply defined than other Europa Reginas but the concept is almost exactly the same. The European continent is portrayed in the shape of a queen with Spain as her crown, the upper body is France and Germany, and her gown reaches down to Russia.
Anthropomorphic Maps of the Nineteenth Century
The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw an explosion of anthropomorphic maps. Not only was the world undergoing drastic political changes but this was also the age of maps that took on an increasingly satirical tone.
Many maps drawn in this period sought to poke fun at revival nations and depict prevailing sentiments towards each other. For example, a map of England and France shows the tenable relationship of those two countries at the height of the French Revolution. In this map, King George III is the embodiment of England.
Many of these anthropomorphic maps from the late 1800s come from a time when Europe was in a state of marked political upheaval. These years were filled with strong nationalism, wars of aggression, revolutions, the decline of empires, and the unification of several nations.
One prominent theme of anthropomorphic maps was the depiction of these nation-states and the threats they exemplified, particularly Germany and Russia. Anthropomorphic maps also began to portray other parts of the world including the United States. The Man of Commerce, created in 1889, is a metaphor that uses human anatomy to show U.S. railroad routes across the country and emanating from Superior, Wisconsin.
Satirical Maps of the Twentieth Century
Cartographers continued to use create maps as humans into the twentieth century as well. These maps frequently had satirical and political connotations. The Satyrische Europa Karte Weltkrieg depicts in map form the struggles between European nations during World War I. Satirical and political maps from this period also included more depictions of animal shapes to represent countries and groups of people.
Anthropomorphic maps, or representations of continents and countries as humans, have taken on predominantly political, nationalistic, and satirical tones. Throughout the centuries, these maps were ways to emphasize the important of one’s country or empire while deemphasizing others around the world. Many of these maps were created to make some sort of statement. Ultimately, anthropomorphic maps demonstrate the profound interconnectedness between humans and maps. As long as humans exist, we will continue to create visual depictions of the surrounding world, however we tend to perceive it.