Representing Europe: What represents your country?

I have recently been sent a number of resources from the European Commission about various aspects of the European Unions and the countries included within it. There were two which I found particularly interesting. They have produced a poster called ‘United in Diversity’. Its shows a map of Europe with a number of key landmarks and objects which are typically found in each country. Even as an adult, these kinds of things are quite fun to look at.

Now I know these maps are not supposed to be geographically accurate as it would be impossible to show all the important landmarks of a country on a map this size. Generally most countries are represented by a few key landmarks, a couple of famous people and some typical food types. For example, the images shown for France include, the Eiffel Tower, Asterix, frogs, grapes and snails, among other things.  It is interesting which things countries have been represented by.

When I have shown this poster to a few people, one of their first reactions to the UK section was to question ‘why is Robin Hood in Scotland?’, and ‘why has England been completely taken over by Big Ben?’ (this was usually a reaction from a British person, those of other nationalities tended to look at their home country first. There’s no place like home). But on looking at the poster in more detail, most found it fascinating and even amusing to look at the way in which countries has been represented.

In addition, the EC have produced a booklet to go with the poster which includes images for each country in more details. For example: The United Kingdom

So according to this map, the key things which represent the United Kingdom: Harry Potter, darts, golf, an airedale terrier, industry in Liverpool, Hadrian’s wall, a thistle, cricket, rowing, Horatio Nelson, Robin Hood, the Tudor Rose, Charles Darwin, the dragon of Wales, William Shakespeare, double decker bus, Issac Newton, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, a tax cab, the Eurostar, the white cliffs of Dover, a ferry crossing the Channel, Stonehenge, Francis Drake, Rolls-Royce, red telephone box, Queen Mary cruise liner, Queen Victoria, afternoon tea, a castle in the Hebrides, Scottish bagpipes, Loch Ness, the Beatles, James Maxwell, the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby, Alexander Fleming, David Livingstone, Giants Causeway and George Best.

It would perhaps be interesting to look at how the country would have been represented 50 years ago in a map like this, or even 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the Republic of Ireland doesn’t have it’s own section in this booklet and has just been subsumed into the page for the United Kingdom. I’m sure there most be more things to characterise Ireland than those shown here.

A further example: Germany

So here, Germany is represented by: Zeppelin airship, Max Planck, the lighthouse of the Arcona headland, Medieval ship of the Hanseatic league, Emmanuel Kant, the Prussian helmet, the Brandenburg Gate, the river Elbe, the Roter sand lighthouse, a horse, Conrad Adenauer, the river Weser, musicians of Bremen, the Pied Piper, Johann Sebastian Bach, German Shepherd dog, Frauenkirche in Dresden, Richard Wagner, Martin Luther, black rye brad, Sauerkraut, cathedral of Cologne, industrial region of the Ruhr, the Bauhaus logo, Ludwig van Beethoven, Charlemagnes crown at Aachen, Johannes Gutenberg, tower of the European central bank, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Albrecht Durer, Olympic stadium, Hansel and Gretel, Beer and Oktoberfest beer festival logo, fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein, Albert Einstein, the Danube river, Mercedez-Benz, Johannes Kepler, the river Rhine, a pretzel and the black forest.

Now, obviously those countries which take up a larger geographical area are likely to have a larger amount of images to represent them. But what I find fascinating is the choices of items to represent a country. As I mentioned earlier, it would be interesting to see changes in how a country is represented over time. Which more recent people, places or objects would be added to these images? or which are no longer seen as quintessential images of a country? I am aware that these posters and booklets are aimed at children with the intention of expanding their awareness of the diversity within Europe, and I think they have to potential to do this very well

These publications led me to think about what would maps created like this look like for different regions. From a British perspective I can think of many areas of the country that are very distinctive with many icons that would represent an area.  For example, Liverpool could be represented by far much more than just industry and the Beatles, but also the docks, the two cathedrals, the Liver birds and many more. This post is more about my thinking about what represents different regions and how looking at areas at different geographical scales can alter the way we think about them. This has already been shown by the fact that in the map of the Europe shown at the top of this post the UK is mostly covered by Big Ben, but when shown in more detail has much more to offer. What would you region, city, town, village or neighbourhood be represented by?

You can download the ‘United in Diversity’ poster and booklet (among other EU related publications) form the European Commission website: here.

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1 Response to Representing Europe: What represents your country?

  1. Jennifer Hall says:

    Terribly polite of the good EU folk to only put on flattering things, would like to see a less rosy version. Did you see the grayson perry ‘print for a politician’ when it was at the Manc gallery? If you can spare the time, please recreate a beautiful marriage of the two.

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