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The New Primary Geography

There’s very, very many things I love about this book.

The New Primary Geography was published in 1870, making it nearly 150 years old at this point. Recorded geography ages in a fun way – while physical geography remains the same, the world sitting atop of it is constantly moving.



This book was written as a school book for kids, so it’s almost entirely written in this “Question? Answer.” format. The responses are short & certain.

While a lot of the responses are pretty innocent & decent generalizations, in other places this text book really shows the era it was written in. In particular this page on THE PEOPLE WHO INHHABIT THE EARTH as it describes the ‘white race’…

Elsewhere while remarking on the population of the United States, it states “The Indians are ignorant and barbarous, and are but few in number.



I get the feeling we mostly see maps either in the recent world – such as a parents globe that still has the Soviet Union displayed, or an old board of RISK – or antinque maps from the Age of Exploration.

1870’s seem surprisingly recent yet unfathomably far away! Which makes it all the more surprising to have a physical reminder of how little of Africa or northern Canada were known.


There’s a lot of love style wise in these maps. Here we have Iceland breaking right through the neatline, which has the neat breakdown of having longitude from Washington on top AND Greenwich on the bottom.

TURKEY IN ASIA makes me smile a bit. Nice solution there, Mitchell.



I really dig the overdrawn waterlines, and how it helps push the visibility of all the small islands.

United States

When I first looked at this book I assumed it was colored by the student, given that it’s occasionally kinda sloppy. This map, and how none of the states that touch share a color, changed my mind on that. Not a kid couldn’t do that, but I can’t imagine most would care to.

Most of the Western States were just territories at this point, yet it’s kind of incredible how little those borders have changed. Points of interest here are the still unified Dakota territory, & how Oklahoma was still ‘Indian Territory’

South America


There is no map for the Arctic. They were still exploring it!



True to the advertising, by my count there’s 101 engravings all throughout the book. Here’s a few of my favorites:

If you want to see more from this book, HathiTrust have it all scanned and online. Their copy seems less water damaged than mine, but all the smudges and aged paper has a character I wouldn’t trade a new primary geography for.

Can’t help but wonder what lines will divide the world in another 150 years, aye?


– D.M., somewhere Brooklyn

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