East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Mapping India


As I think I mentioned I’m working on the last parts of the Hope & Glory handbook, and I’m checking out my resources and trying to turn two boxes of loose sheets, post-it notes and scrawled ideas into 45.000 words of highly playable gaming material.

Now, geography is important – and as the first Hope & Glory book will focus on the Anglo-Indian Raj, a good solid overview of the Indian sub-continent might be appreciated by the players.
And here’s the rub.

Selection_570Because Gordon Johnson’s Cultural Atlas of India is a wonderful read, but when it comes to the breakdown of the Indian sub continent into smaller chunks, of course uses the current political division – and it’s not just a matter of calling Uttar Pradesh what once was the United Provinces.
There’s lots of information in here, but it’s information about today’s India.
And what I need is India in 1850.
The best book I was able to find is the John Murray 1859 edition of A Handbook of India: being an account of the Three Presidencies and of the Overland Route; intended as a guide for Travelers, Officers and Civilians that is as lightweight, as amusing and as easily accessible as the title suggests.

The text is freely available through the Internet Archive, but the plain text version is the product of a hasty scan that was never corrected, and that therefore offers us passages such as…

The road passes through Gtidai(ir and Metop&Uiam as before. The bottom of the Pass is 2 m. 4 f. distant from the latter place, and at 9 m. 2 f. thence is K6t£^ri, whence Utakamand is 14 m. 6 f . mstant. This is the oldest road cut by Government for the ascent of the Nflgiris, and it led formerly to the originad sanatarium at Dimhatti.

But the true problem is, these guidebooks do not offer an overview of the land, but only of what Travelers, Officers and Civilians, on their way from England, were likely to see of the Three Presidencies and of the Overland Route, and nothing else.
Basically they work as a package tour – what’s not on the route won’t be covered.

I find this particularly frustrating because were I to look for a quick map and overview of, say, China during the Spring and Autumns period or the Warlords years, or Japan before the Shoguns, or Italy before the unification, I’d be able to find it.
But India is so big, and so many things changed so fast, a good proper synthetic map is damn hard to find.

Mind you, there are  a lot of excellent maps in the Columbia university collections, and those will serve as a guide – but just to make things a little more complicated…

  1. not two maps spell the same names in the same way
  2. they are mostly from after 1857 and the Indian Mutiny
  3. usually the level of detail is so overwhelmingly high, that it becomes difficult to determine, say, six large chunks to describe in as many chapters, each chapter 500 words.

So right now it’s a matter of taking out old history books and assorted stuff, and then collate information, trying to make it snappy, complete and informative. With the problem, of course, that history books tend to be concerned with the when things happened, not the where things happened.
I’ll have to get the details from the books and then plot them on a map. The one I’ll be using is probably the 1861 map by J. and C. Walker, cross-referencing it with older maps – but this is a load of work I hoped to get out of my hands a lot more easily.

The overall effect is that not only I am not putting any order in my loose notes from those two boxes, but I am pouring thousands of pages into Scrivener, with the purpose of then pruning and distilling it to something reasonable.
And I have to do it fast.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Mapping India

  1. I’ve found Jstor very useful in situations like this; have you tried and searched there?
    Typing India and setting geography as topic there’s a free pdf of an article by some Eustace W. Fisher, published in 1887, for the Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York. It seems quite interesting, but I reckon it’s not the exact years you were looking for.
    Alas, there are many other (some free, some not sadly) documents and sources on Jstor. You may find something of interest there 🙂


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.