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The Dictionary Project, Volume X: India

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 23.

Time for a trip to the Subcontinent, home of more ancient civilizations! Trigger warning for British Colonialism ahead.

1897 Map of India (North)

1897 Map of India (South)

India is physically defined by water on three sides, but the borders in the north are worth a look. The northeastern borders, with Nepal and Bhutan, look unchanged between 1897 and now, but the state of Bangladesh has yet to be created. The northwestern borders have shifted, too. Pakistan now occupies much of the area that bordered Afghanistan in 1897. Green-shaded Kashmir, in the far north of India, is marked with dotted lines on modern Google Maps, a reflection of the ongoing territorial disputes between India, Pakistan, and China over that particular chunk of the Himalayas.

British Colonialism is obvious here, as is the influence of the East India Company, in the names sweeping in engraved fonts across borders and mountain ranges: the Bengal Presidency in the north, Bombay Presidency along the Arabian Sea coast, the Madras Presidency in the south and east. Some of the smaller-font names, too, are obviously not locally derived: Central India Agency, Central Provinces, and Northwest Provinces don’t have the same ring as Berar, Hyderabad, and Rajputana. Mumbai is still called Bombay, and Sri Lanka is still Ceylon, on these maps.

I was fascinated to see how many mouths the Ganges river has, on this map. Google maps identifies them differently now–there are a dozen different subsidiaries of the Ganges that drain into the Bay of Bengal south of Calcutta, not just the most famous one. And I didn’t know before today that the river changes its name, from Ganges to Padma, when it crosses the border into Bangladesh, and then again to Meghna, just before it hits the Bay of Bengal. Oh, the things you learn from maps.


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