A large and appealing schoolgirl map of the world with delicately rendered patriotic imagery, signed by the artist,.
The map is projected on a double hemisphere, with the continents and national boundaries rendered in outline color and hundreds of cities and geographic features identified. The map is dated 1828, but the occasionally crude geography, particularly of Alaska, Australia, and the Pacific islands, and the lack of any evidence of Antarctica, suggests it was based on a significantly earlier prototype. Some of this may have been the result of simple inattention: I note, for e
ample, that the artist has placed Boston, Massachusetts in Nova Scotia and Washington, D.C. in the Ohio Valley, while omitting Scotland altogether. On the other hand, she lavished considerable care on the title, with its variety of lettering styles and ornamental calligraphy, as well as on the adaptation at top of the Great Seal of the United States, in which the eagle bears an oak branch rather than the usual olive branch.
The map is signed by then-14-year-old Hannah Edgerton (1814-1831), a member of one of the founding families of the Town of Franklin in Delaware County, New York. I have been unable to locate the Cairo Seminary where she studied: Searches of Google and Newspapers.com come up empty, and the history of the Town of Cairo in History of Greene County, New York (J.B. Beers & Co., 1884) makes no mention of such an institution. That said, in this era private secondary schools were often short-lived, so perhaps the Cairo Seminary came and went with little notice by posterity. Further, at the time this map was drawn Cairo (population 2912 in 1830) was the closest town of any size to Franklin, so it seems plausible that Hannah would have attended school there.
From the 1790s through the 1830s map copying was an important element of American primary education, valued for imparting geographical knowledge and providing excellent practice in drawing and penmanship (Schulten, p. 186). Schulten argues, however, that the technique was also valued as a tool for developing character: “this task was often less about cartographic conceptualization than demonstrating the discipline and control required to replicate or emulate a map.” (ibid., p. 199)
These maps were drawn or embroidered, to some extent by boys but primarily by girls, as the education of the former tended to place a greater emphasis on navigation and surveying than on geography. The source maps were usually from commercially-published atlases, as school geography texts did not begin to proliferate until the late 1810s. The practice began to decline in the 1830s, under the influence of educational theorists such as Pestalozzi, who argued that geographic education should be built on direct, local observation “rather than beginning with the most abstract concept of astronomical and world geography.” (ibid., p. 217)
The surviving examples of the genre vary wildly: Subject matter includes states, regions, countries, continents and the world; sizes range from a notebook page to large productions on multiple joined sheets; decorative styles range from plain to highly adorned with calligraphic, botanical and/or patriotic ornamentation; and quality of execution ranges from extremely crude—as if dashed off at the last minute to fulfill an assignment–to highly refined. All are, however, interesting as examples of a certain pedagogical model and as windows into the minds of young Americans for many of whom little or no other historical trace remains.
Provenance and references
Previously sold at Louie Luke Auctions, March 25, 2023 (lot 444). Their catalog traces provenance to a private Boston collection and, prior to that, the Franklin Free Library in Franklin, NY, from which it was properly deaccessioned.
For background see Susan Schulten, “Map Drawing, Graphic Literacy, and Pedagogy in the Early Republic,” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 57 no. 2 (May 2017), pp. 185-220.