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Americans Learn about the World & Their Place in It

World. PHELPS, H./ ENSIGN & THAYER (publishers) [New York, 1847]
The World At One View. 21 3/8 x 29 inches
Lithograph with fine period color. Mounted on rice paper, mended edge splits, reinforced long crease at lower right that had partially separated, overall very good.


Separately published; very scarce. This richly pictorial work was meant, in true American fashion, to impart to its American viewers both a visual and textual sense of the wider world and by implication, America's place in it. Matthew Edney, in the study noted below, detected imperial aspirations embedded in the map, pointing out that it presents a "vision of the United States of America as the next great world empire." In support, he cites the bottom illustrations -- a horizontal scroll of monuments from China through India, Egypt, Rome and Paris to New York at the far right. The message is also reinforced in a table of the highest buildings of the world, which lists grand Old World monuments like St. Peter's in Rome and the Egyptian pyramids, but also includes Boston's Bunker Hill Monument and Baltimore's Washington Monument.
Further, the panorama across the top of the map envisions a transcontinental railroad, over two decades before its completion in 1869, from New York and terminating in Oregon, and from there sea access to China. It is here stated that "This [Rail]Road once built, would become the Great HIGHWAY OF NATIONS." (There is another state of this map that illustrates in this area the sun appearing to be setting on a composite landscape of ancient lands, while to the left of the title, the sun rises over a composite American landscape.)
It is interesting, however, that the most prominent as well as most finely detailed images in the entire work, other than the map itself, are the ones running the length of the engraving just below the map, entitled, "Female Costumes of the Different Parts of the World." Perhaps this was included for the entertainment of women while they used this information-rich work to impart geographic knowledge and political ideology to their children.
The lithography firm of Humphrey Phelps (also known as Phelps, Humphrey) operated in New York City from 1841 to 1853, and at various times co-published work with Gaylord Watson and with Ensigns & Thayer. Phelps produced maps, prints and books, and was known for the "Phelps Guides" series of folding maps and wall maps for travelers, which he began producing in 1838.

Edney, Matthew H.

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