A striking 1830 historical atlas presenting the progress of history and the expansion of geographical knowledge of the world from a European perspective, depicted on a sequence of twenty-one maps each capturing a historical epoch, with accompanying explanatory text.
Note: The illustrations depict only four of the 21 maps in the Atlas; the full contents may be viewed on the web site of the David Rumsey collection.
While there was a long tradition of classical atlases in European publishing, beginning with Abraham Ortelius’s remarkable Parergon (1579), these were composed of regional maps displaying classical geography. Quin’s atlas, by contrast, introduced a new, teleological approach, presenting history as a more-or-less linear sequence of events constituting progress, in this case from almost total “darkness” to the establishment of “tranquility” and “liberty” across the face of the earth.
Quin’s maps represent this progress in an innovative and particularly effective manner, where the “known” world is depicted in the map and the “undiscovered” world beyond these limits overlaid with clouds, becoming progressively darker the further from the center. Engraver Samuel Hall has rendered this effect beautifully through the aquatint process, which is particularly suited to conveying gradations in tone.
Contents of the atlas
The first map depicts the Garden of Eden and Mount Ararat. Subsequent maps show phases of biblical history, then successively the Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Alexandrian and Roman Empires. With each phase the cloud border recedes to reveal a larger geographical area of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean World.
By the seventh map, set at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 B.C., the coverage extends from France and the Iberian Peninsula along the Mediterranean littoral through the Middle East to India, China and Korea. In successive maps of the Roman Emperors through to Charlemagne much of Europe is revealed, including Scandinavia. The following maps, through the fifteen (1294), show the geopolitical changes in this region, without significant expansion of geographical awareness.
The dramatic expansion of European knowledge resulting from the “Age of Discovery” is captured in four maps from 1498 (Discovery of America) to 1783, the end of the American Revolution, by which time the obscuring border of clouds has fully receded. The twentieth map depict the world during the Napoleonic Wars, and the final map the divisions established by the Second Treaty of Paris (1815). In this period “The old world was restored to tranquility, liberty extended her sway in the new one, and navigation and commerce made fresh advances towards perfection.”
Quin’s Atlas is thus very much of its time, presenting without irony an unashamedly Euro-centric view of history. An anonymous writer in on-line The Public Domain Review has this to say on the subject:
“Looking back from a contemporary vantage, the Historical Atlas remains memorable for what is not shown. Quin’s cartography inadvertently visualizes the ideology of empire: a geographic chauvinism that had little respect for the knowledge of those beyond imperial borders. And aside from depicting the reach of Kublai Khan, his focus remains narrowly European and Judeo-Christian. While Quin strives for accuracy, he admits to programmatic omission. “The colours we have used being generally meant to point out and distinguish one state or empire from another. . . were obviously inapplicable to deserts peopled by tribes having no settled form of government, or political existence, or known territorial limits”. Instead of representing these groups, Quin, like his clouds, has erased them from view.”
Quin (1794-1828) is a mysterious figure. His father, of the same name (d. 1823), was a journalist and founder of the editor of the daily paper, The Traveller. He was a member of the Clockmaker’s Company and served as Common Councillor for the London ward of Farringdon Without.
Quin the son was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and worked as a Barrister at Lincoln’s Inn, in London, until his premature death in 1828. Evidently the materials for the Atlas had already been prepared as they were published posthumously by Richard Benton Seeley and William Burnside.
Quin’s Atlas was successful enough that it through a number of editions through 1850, with new plates engraved in 1846. Its influence crossed the Atlantic, and in 1836 American educator Emma Willard had an edition published in New York under the title Atlas to Accompany a System of Universal History. (1836).
Rumsey #2839 (See Rumsey’s web site for high-resolution scans of each page of the atlas.) Phillips, Atlases records 1836, 1846 and 1856 editions, but not this 1830 first edition.