MapCarte 322/365: A new map of England and France by James Gillray, 1793

MapCarte322_gillrayMore satirical cartography in this MapCarte entry because maps are extremely powerful objects with which to convey a message designed to be politically charged or even propagandist. Here, James Gillray creates a caricature of England and its relationship with the rest of Europe, in particular showing disgust at nearest neighbours, France.

The map was created in 1793 amidst murmurings of impending French invasion as part of their wider revolutionary tendencies. How best to create a fervently patriotic show of distaste for invasion that is sure to increase sympathies to the ruling King and anti-French sentiment? Use a map! Gillray fits the shape of John Bull into the England and Wales. Bull, of course, is the stereotypical personification of England: a witty, jovial, stout matter-of-fact man. The French invasion of bum-boats is repelled by the defecating Bull from the ports of his ‘south coast’.

Even the French coastline is configured to look like a face with the stream of muck being thrown unceremoniously straight into the face itself. Gillray was a master of satirical caricatures and a commentator on political and social issues. This work captures the strength of feeling declared by King George III against the potential of a French invasion. Cartography as a vehicle for satire and commentary is indeed a powerful mechanism in the hands of a skilled craftsmen and although the sketch is merely that – a sketch rather than an accurate portrayal of topography – it needs no more than a general shape on which to hang the message.

MapCarte 261/365: Skintland by The Economist, 2012

MapCarte261_skintlandWe’ve featured a number of fantastic satirical maps in MapCarte as artists, illustrators and commentators make good use of maps to convey a pithy message. Robert Dighton’s Geography Bewitched makes good use of Scotland as a map shape which was featured in MapCarte 43. It was inevitable that today’s referendum on Scottish independence was also going to lead to some examples and The Economist’s 2012 effort shines brightly.

Not without controversy, the map of Skintland shows the familiar shape and topography that hides the labels if you don’t look closely enough. Each city, town and physiographic label takes on a new meaning as a way of expressing the editorial comment of the potential result of Scotland’s economic plight if they vote for independence from the United Kingdom. Glasgow, Edinburgh and the highlands have been replaced by Glasgone, Edinborrow and Highinterestlands. The Shutland Islands have been leased to Norway and the Outer Hebrides are now know as the Outer Cash. In the 18th Century, Edinburgh was referred to as the Athens of the North because of its fine architecture and its Enlightenment role. Now it’s labelled as Twinned with Athens to parody the economic failures in Greece. It’s a well observed addition.

SkintlandĀ is shown as an island and the coastal vignette carries on across the land border between England and Scotland to reinforce the message of being economically cast adrift. The map works because it’s well designed, not over-done and the joke is easily understood. The fact the map appears in The Economist makes it sit well and lends a certain gravitas to the ideas it represents rather than the impact it might have had in a tabloid publication.

Of course, the map has received scorn from the proponents of the Yes vote and many others who saw it as a slight on Scotland and it’s people as you’d expect…but that’s the point of satire. Someone will always be offended! What the map, and subsequent reaction, shows is the strength of feeling that places have in our hearts. Names on maps become valubale and if we change them, albeit with the intention of humour, those with a vested interest can easily be hurt. As a way of generating sales the map does wonders. It also shows us that maps are sacred objects and one has to tread carefully with design to avoid such ire…or do it deliberately well precisely to provoke a response!