clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A 15-year-old girl made these beautiful caricature maps of the world — in 1868

Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

A 15-year-old girl made some maps in 1868 — and they happen to be a perfect encapsulation of how the people of that time saw the world.

Her book Geographical Fun, published under the pseudonym "Aleph" with the help of William Harvey, sketches the countries as if they were people. Each map shows a common caricature of Europe at the time.

England was an empress

Imperial England at her finest. (Library of Congress)

Imperial England at her finest. (Library of Congress)

In 1868: Britain was smack in the middle of her imperial century, the period from 1815 to 1915 in which the British trounced Napoleon, added 10 million miles of land, and incorporated 400 million people to the British Empire. An empress was the only appropriate personification of the island nation, considering Queen Victoria's rule from 1819 to 1901. Still, the pseudonymous author was biased — she was British.

Today: British imperial ambition is just a memory — though, for the record, the sun still doesn't set on the British Empire.

Prussia was all about Otto von Bismarck

Prussia and Otto.

Prussia and Otto. (Library of Congress)

In 1868: Any 1860s map of Prussia had to include Otto von Bismarck, the statesman who led Prussia — and eventually united the German states — under Prussian leadership. His uniting of the German states led to the Second Reich and set into play the politics that would shape the 20th century.

He was a diplomatic mastermind who held sway over international politics in Europe and would have been difficult to ignore. The old man is probably William I, the Prussian king being dragged into modernity.

Today: Prussia is gone after the final division of its territory between German and Soviet interests in the 1940s.

Russia was the bear trained by the Czar

Russia's bear and czar. (Library of Congress)

Russia's bear and czar. (Library of Congress)

In 1868: In the 1860s, Russia was under the rule of Czar Alexander II, who attempted to modernize Russia in a changing world. He emancipated some 20 million serfs and pursued judicial reform. Compared with his predecessors, Alexander was a force for change in Russia. He was also bound to the Russian bear that symbolized the powerful but untamed country.

Today: The age of czars is long gone since the death of Nicholas II in 1918. But despite the massive changes in the 20th century, Russian leaders and bears still belong together, like when Vladimir Putin rides on one in action-figure form.

You can explore the full book of caricatures here, which includes Holland, Belgium, and a Hamlet-inspired version of Denmark.

Update: A reader sent in this great article, which details the full story of the miraculous mapmaker who made these caricatures.