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Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886

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Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886

Everything about the design of this elaborately decorated world map glorifies the late-19th-century British Empire. Cartographically it used a Mercator projection centered on the Greenwich Prime Meridian, placing Great Britain just above the map's central focal point. The Greenwich Prime Meridian (near London) was adopted as the international standard in October 1884. The British Isles, as well as all of the British colonies spreading out to the east and the west, were highlighted with red, while other geographical areas were left blank with only a minimum number of place names. In addition, an inset box was placed near each of the major colonies, listing statistics about geographical area, population, and trade. The words "Freedom, Fraternity, Federation," suggesting a peaceful co-existence within the British Empire, were prominently placed along the map's top margin, but the remainder of the map's illustrations imply "colonialism." At the bottom center Britannia is seated on top of the world ruling over her subjects, represented by a variety of animals and costumed figures. India, quickly identified by an elephant and a tiger, appears in the lower left corner, while Australia, including a kangaroo and a sheep, is shown in the lower right. Using the Mercator projection in constructing this thematic map may have not been the most appropriate choice because it greatly exaggerates the size of Canada. However, since this projection is best used for navigational purposes, it was a reasonable choice. Considering the British Empire thrived on ocean-going transportation, the use of this projection would have provided a familiar image for the British public.

By [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Date Published: 08 August 2012