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Beyond the Neat Line: Cartography’s Hidden Dimension

This is a guest post by Kathy Hart, Head of the Research Access and Collection Development Section in the Geography and Map Division.

For thematic maps, the map’s margins often contain rich sources of information which supplement the map content. The line separating the map from the information found in its margin is called the ‘neat line.’ The additional information found beyond the neat line, or otherwise outside the boundaries of the map itself, may include charts, graphs, or text which add to the viewer’s understanding of the map. Below are a few examples from the Geography and Map Division collection.

In the Daily Mail World Map of War and Commerce, made during World War I, we see extensive illustrations and graphs that convey amounts of resources among the “belligerent powers.”  For example, in the area denoting populations, images of both the “home and colonial populations” are depicted with men in both European and native dress, and with each image scaled to reflect the size of population. Similarly, armies are illustrated with soldiers in uniform, with images sized to reflect the size of each army. The illustrations also include food supplies, as well as the amount and source of coal and petroleum. The color pattern repeats the color patterns found in the map. Lastly, pie charts represent German, British and other exports, with the number of imports of each country found underneath.

Daily Mail world map of war and commerce. Map by George Philip & Son, and London Geographical Institute, 1917. Geography and Map Division.

Daily Mail world map of war and commerce. Map by George Philip & Son, and London Geographical Institute, 1917. Geography and Map Division.

City and county maps frequently contain illustrations and text beyond the neat line. Prominent buildings, such as courthouses, schools, churches and large residences are commonly featured. The Map of the Counties of Eaton and Barry Michigan, essentially a landowner map published in 1860, is one such example. Beyond the inclusion of typical illustrations, this map is also a business directory for Barry and Eaton Counties. For each county, the businesses are arranged by town name, and each business owner’s name is indexed to the map. Few women are listed. One, “More, Miss H.E., Teacher” is included in the Roxand business directory. Another woman, “Mrs. A.G. Munson,” without an occupation listed, is in the business index for Charlotte. Three additional women are shown on the Charlotte inset map, “Miss M.A. Delany, Teacher, Misses M. & C. Kinne, Milliners.” In addition to the business directories and views of buildings, a commonly found table of distances is included.

Map of counties of Eaton and Barry, Michigan. Map by Geil, Harley & Siverd, 1860. Geography and Map Division.

Map of counties of Eaton and Barry, Michigan. Map by Geil, Harley & Siverd, 1860. Geography and Map Division.

Often, the map’s title does not convey the breadth of information contained on or beyond the map. Found in the Geography and Map Division’s Civil War collection, the New Naval and Military Map of the United States includes a wealth of scientific and population data. Among the information featured is a list of the ports of entry, a chart showing the number of Union soldiers killed and wounded, and a chart showing the times of various cities in the U.S. compared to Washington D.C. Illustrations representing “Races of Mankind” are shown. A smaller, supplementary ‘inset’ map shows rainfall, the mean annual temperature, and the area of water basins around the country. Another inset shows the distribution and census of slave and free colored populations as well as a chart comparing social and agricultural statistics between free and slave states. A third inset map is color coded to reflect the distribution of crops, and includes the distribution of plants, trees and animals.  Within the inset map of the world is a small map showing the “prevailing religions.” Numerous illustrated vignettes surround the map such as the sinking of the Merrimac. Lastly, portraits of President Lincoln and military officers line the border of the page. Notably, the map also extends into Mexico and Central America, however, this is not referred to in the title.

The new naval and military map of the United States. Map by J. Calvin Smith, 1862. Geography and Map Division.

The new naval and military map of the United States. Map by J. Calvin Smith, 1862. Geography and Map Division.

Yet, not all maps are created to convey scientific, nor even significant information. Some are simply humorous, and in the case of the map below, self-described to provide good cheer as a souvenir of the time of the Bunker Hill Centennial, which took place at Wellesley, Massachusetts, June 19, 1875. This Porcineograph is a map of the United States in the shape of a pig, with illustrations along the border representing each state in the union and pork foods local to the state. Just above the map is a play on words, “Congressional Legislation is required to PERFECT this GEHOGRAPHY.” The author states that the sale of the map will go to charity. Keeping with the pork theme, Cuba is represented in the shape of a sausage.

This porcineograph. Lithograph by Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company, 1876. Prints and Photographs Division.

This porcineograph. Lithograph by Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company, 1876. Prints and Photographs Division.

I hope that I have shown here that in many cases, the insights that are found on a cartographic representation extend beyond the actual borders of the map itself, with the margins containing cultural, physical, and demographic information seldom detailed in finding aids or catalog records. Taking this expanded view of the map and exploring beyond its margins could lead researchers to a treasure trove of information hidden in plain sight, beyond the neat line.

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