Pictorial Railway Maps

Vilelms Griķis, “Apcelo savu Dzimto Zemi!,” 1938.

At Retours, a digital magazine about railway history and design, Arjan den Boer looks at pictorial railway maps.

In the mid-20th century pictorial maps in cartoonish styles were a popular way of promoting travel and tourism. In contrast to objective, realistic maps they appeal to emotions such as romance, fantasy and humor. They are used to tell anecdotes about a region’s history, culture and landscape in a way attractive to old and young. These illustrated maps are meant to inspire, not to provide travel information.

Pictorial maps or Bildkarten seem to be the opposite of the schematic metro-like maps of railway networks from the same period, composed of straight lines and without any details. Schematic and pictorial maps share one thing though: they are only loosely bound to geographic reality. Their common goal is to convey a message—either the straightforwardness of a journey or the attractiveness of a region.

Lots of maps featured here, mostly from European rail services. Since much of the study of pictorial maps focuses on the United States, as well as Britain (especially in re MacDonald Gill), this is a refreshing filling in of the gaps.

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.