Memorizing Maps

At the “Maps for the New Nation” conference in Chapel Hill last weekend, Jeff Patton from the Department of Geography at UNC-Greensboro gave a great talk on 19th-century school atlases. Dr. Patton showed a couple of examples from a “poetical geography,” in which geographic names were set to rhyme to facilitate memorization by students. I went looking for one of these in the North Carolina Collection and found Needham Bryan Cobb’s Poetical Geography of North Carolina, published in 1887.

If schoolchildren of the 1880s had to memorize all of the place names in this volume, they had quick a task ahead of them. Cobb sets the counties, rivers, creeks, sounds, bays, and mountains to rhyme, several hundred names in all. Here’s an example:


Just eleven shallow sounds
Slumber on our shore: —
Albemarle and Pamlico,
Topsail, Stump, and Core,
Currituck and Croatan,
Where the wild geese soar,
Wrightsville, Masonboro’, Bogue,
Roanoke – and no more.

If you find that too easy and are ready to set more to memory, the whole book has been digitized and is part of East Carolina’s Eastern North Carolina Digital Library.