An idealised landscape and a common mistake

This Panorama of physiographic types is an intriguing item in itself, and seems to have caused a little confusion both here in the Bodleian and in map libraries across the world. It’s a diagram demonstrating different types of landform in an imaginary landscape, shown both as a perspective drawing and conventional contour map. A similar diagram (for a different imaginary landscape, with different features) appears on the other side.

They are called simply Chart A and Chart B. Precise measurements are provided, and there is an accompanying sheet describing the different landscape features. It was first produced in 1926 by the American cartographer and geographer Armin K. Lobeck, and continued to be reprinted into the 1950s. Above is a detail from Chart B.

The landscape view on Chart B even includes subterranean features.

At the bottom of each chart, in text so small it would be easy to miss, is a succession of surprisingly difficult geographical exercises. These include precise calculations as to the heights and depths of certain features, drawing profiles, calculating past forms of now eroded landscapes and  positions of watersheds, identifying types of lakes, and reasons for the comparative heights of mountain ranges. There are baffling questions such as “What is the significance of the three ridges on the southern end of Whitbeck Mountain?” and “What kind of material probably occurs in Wright Bluffs?” There are also a few human geography questions, about likely sites for natural resources and good places to build cities.

Our attention was drawn to this map by a query on an email discussion list for map librarians (yes, these are a thing) on how the scale should be recorded on the catalogue record. The (notional) scale on both charts has a blank; it is written as 1:     , 000. There is also a scale bar showing that the scale is about one centimetre to a mile, which works out at around 1:161,000. As part of the exercises, the keen geography student was expected to calculate this.  However, map cataloguers across the world had been less observant, ignoring the blank and recording the map with a scale of 1:1,000. A staff member at a library in the United States spotted the error in their own record, and suggested that it was a printing mistake on the map. Other libraries which held the same map, on at least three continents, had the same mistake in their record for the map, including the Bodleian Library. It has now been corrected.

Maps of this sort showing a fictitious landscape for illustrative or educational purposes have been going for a long time; a previous blog post here gives examples from the 1910s and the 1970s. This week I also stumbled across an example from 1812; an educational atlas that begins with a map of an imaginary place to explain the terms and symbols used. This is from The young lady’s and gentleman’s atlas, for assisting them in the knowledge of geography, and the author describes himself as John Adams, teacher of mathematics. Judging by the handwritten names on the flyleaf it was shared by two sisters. It is often easier to explain the world through an idealised landscape rather than through the messiness of real examples.

Panorama of physiographic types / A.K. Lobeck. New York: The Geographical Press, Columbia University, [ca 1940]. O1 (9)

The young lady’s and gentleman’s atlas, for assisting them in the knowledge of geography / John Adams.  London: : Printed for Darton, Harvey, and Darton, 1812. Opie H 1