Half-Life of Facts: Cartography from Commercial Globes

By Robert Hess

In this series of artifacts of the week, we will examine the paradox that knowledge is in fact tentative in particularly consistent ways, through a number of examples right here in the house. We will trace how we come to understand particular things as ‘truth,’ and the importance of critical thought and openness to the precariousness of fact. The mission here is twofold, also acting as an example of the potential for valuable and relevant research within a historical library and archival collection; to not regard a museum as a static entity.

Cartography is the art, science, and technology of making maps, plans, charts and globes representing Earth or any celestial body at any scale. If you think about the study at Hillary House, it is full of books, games, souvenirs, and memorabilia showcasing a learned lifestyle and a passion for travel. A common educational tool, globes, rest on top of the northwest bookshelf in the study and display differences as exploration, colonization, and political boundaries changed what we call regions of the Earth over the 21-year difference between their publications. In this Artifact of the Week, we will be briefly exploring those differences as a result of cartographic development, in the attempt to accurately represent the Earth.

As research and development of cartographic instruments and techniques expand, so does the amount of detail and the nature of information gathered and is possible to display on commercial globes. The smaller terrestrial globe is “THE EARTH published by J.G. Klinger in Nuremberg in 1860” scribed by J.A. Bühler. The larger globe reads “Terrestrial Globe with recent discoveries compiled from the and most AUTHENTIC SOURCES published by Jno. B Carter Toronto. ONT, 1881”. This change in technology is evident in differences of the coast lines around the continents between the two globes. The production of commercial globes would not be possible without Indigenous maps, early exploration, and from necessity for military and geological use. Politically, North America has changed over this 21-year span.

Before and after Canadian Confederation in 1867, both globes have “Canada” written in the same place on North America. We can clearly see that “British Possessions” is labelled across all of what we know today as Canada on the Klinger. This is removed on the Carter globe, and replaced with “British America” over where the Northwest Territories is today. By slightly changing this wording on the globe, Carter displays a sense of patriotism to Britain that is still felt in Canada even after Confederation.

The next observation is at the bottom of these globes, displaying a geographical difference. The amount of land drawn around the South Pole has grown drastically over the span of 21 years in comparing these two publications. The Klinger describes the south as “Icy Sea”, “Wilkes Land” (sighted in 1838-42 by U.S. naval commander Charles Wilkes) “Antarctic Circles” and faded off is “South Pole”. From the Toronto perspective 21 years later, it is described as “Supposed Southern Continent” and both have similarities of “South Victoria”. For further exploration on the documentation and cartographical development of Antarctica, please read Terra Australis as an encyclopedic entry.

The Hillary family would have bought these different globes as educational tools to feed their curiosity about the world and teach their children about it as they grow up. It is not that any of these facts presented at the time were considered wrong; it is however interesting to see the timeline of how what we call “facts” changes over time. The Carter globe presents itself as the “latest and most authentic source” as of 1881. Further deconstruction of this claim of authenticity is a way to question how constructedness of knowledge impacts the collection of knowledge.
Visit us and see if you can find any other cartographic examples from the past. If you have any questions about these items in our collection, please inquire or schedule an appointment to work with our curator to find out how other “facts” have changed over time.

Works Cited and Further information:


Artifact of the Week: The Globe

3D Model of German Globe Circa 1860: https://skfb.ly/NR6B

Expanding on the globe article: http://aurorahs.com/2015/03/artifact-of-the-week-the-globe/