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Dictionary Project, Volume X: North America

The Dictionary Project is a post-a-day exploration of The Century Dictionary and Cylopedia, a twelve-volume set printed in New York in 1901. The Project runs from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015, and matches volume numbers to calendar months. Volume X is The Atlas, and today is Day 2.

We start our journey through the Atlas in North America. (American publication. No surprise there.) It’s a good thing Canada is a large country, and can accommodate all the letters in the “Dominion of Canada” label that sweeps from the Yukon to Quebec. I think there has been no change to the borders shown in this map, but some names have changed. “British Honduras” is now called Belize, and, bottom right, what was once called “Santo Domingo” is now the Dominican Republic.

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European colonialism was both rife and normalized, even idealized, at this time, and many of the maps in this book reflect that. (Just a heads-up for future posts.) For example, this map includes nearly two hundred years of significant Explorers’ Routes (check the legend at the bottom), including a “please see” referral to two other maps for the voyages of that most famous local troublemaker, Columbus.

At the time of printing, Europeans had been in North America for nearly four hundred years, and had pushed across, explored, and settled, the entire continent in the previous two hundred. The United States and Canada both existed, coast to coast. There were human settlements of every size, all across the continent, various levels of bureaucracy governing them and dividing them, and roads connecting them. Almost none of that is reflected here. State and provincial borders, all roads, and many place names are excluded, probably to show the lakes, rivers, and mountains — and the Explorers’ Routes along and across them — to better advantage. It’s impossible to put everything on a map of this scale; you have to choose what’s important. The emphasis on explorers in this map makes me think the Atlas was designed with the schoolroom — or at least the schoolchild — in mind.

There are some surprises among the place names, for me. Was Vernon (in sector H6) a significant town in the southern interior of British Columbia, in 1897? It’s certainly not the biggest town in that area anymore. I didn’t know there was a Las Vegas in New Mexico long before there was one in Nevada. And look at little “Rocky Mountain Park of Canada”; that’s the beginnings of world-renowned Banff National Park. There’s at least half a dozen surprises or curiosities on this map, for me.

Do you see anything on this map that surprises or excites you? Tell me about it!

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