Obscured by clouds | Bodleian Map Room Blog

neub9
By neub9
5 Min Read

It is hoped that the work now offered to the Public, will be found to rank among those which convey to the reader, at once, their plan, and in these, their own recommendation’.

If ever the introduction to an atlas sounded like the start of a Jane Austen novel it’s Edward Quin’s fascinating ‘An historical atlas in a series of maps of the World as known at different times…A general view of universal history from the creation to A.D. 1828′, published in 1830. Quin’s atlas shows the geographically known extent of the World (to Europeans) in a series of 21 maps, starting with the deluge in 2348 B.C. and ending with the General Peace of 1828.

The Deluge, from Edward Quin’s An historical atlas…1830. 2023 b.9

The beauty of Quin’s atlas comes from this sense of mystery achieved by revealing the known parts of the World according to the period of the map, with the rest of the World covered by thick, dark billowing clouds. With our knowledge of the World growing with each map the clouds withdraw a little further and more of the World is revealed. The engravings were by Sidney Hall, and as can be seen by this extract from the Deluge map Hall was a skilled engraver. Hall’s life and work in cartography is a fascinating story in itself, as when he died his wife carried on his work. To read more about Hall and his wife Selina see an earlier blog here

The way the areas shown on the maps advance with each period can be seen in this map.

We are now in the eighth period, From the birth of Christ, to the death of Constantine, A.D. 337′ . By this point the World as was known had grown considerably. While the atlas is very much an European view of the World Quin does highlight non-European empires, with the Chinese and Indian Empires all appearing in this map. The Islamic Empire first appears on the twelfth, ‘From the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, A.D. 476, to the death of Charlemagne, A.D. 814′, which is shown below

But Quin is very much a product of his time. The World starts not in the deep geological past, a theory recently introduced by, amongst others James Hutton in a two volume work published in 1795 (title page from first edition shown) but with the Creation (‘As to the origin of the Earth we should be entirely ignorant, had we not the aid of the Holy Scriptures’), with the earth populated from the ‘parents of mankind’, Adam and Eve. This basing of knowledge on religious belief continues with the next map, which goes forward to the exodus of the Israelites in 1491 B.C. It’s not till the fourth map, showing the World between the foundation of Rome and the death of Cyrus that that we move away from the Bible and start to see the classical authors as the source of information.


From the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, A.D. 476, to the death of Charlemagne, A.D. 814′.

The last map to show the World with any cloud still covering unknown parts is this, from the eighteenth period, ‘From the death of Charles V. of Germany, A.D. 1558, to the restoration of the Stuarts in England A.D. 1660’.

Despite exploration into and across the Pacific by, amongst others, Magellan, there is still cloud cover over the margins of the Earth, it would take the next map, ‘A.D. 1783, Independence of the United States’ before the World was revealed in full.

Quin wasn’t the first to create an atlas in this way, with earlier examples from Germany but Quin’s was the more famous, and certainly better illustrated. Later editions used Hall’s engravings at the start but soon these were replaced by a less-effective hemisphere based World view, you can see this online here Search Results: All Fields similar to ‘An and Historical and Atlas and Quin’ – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

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