Monday, July 26, 2021

The British Conversation Map

If you have ever traveled around the UK then you've probably discovered that the natives aren't always friendly.Talking to strangers is one of those 'foreign' activities which is largely frowned upon by your average Brit. Which is why whenever I travel around Britain I take along Cecil W. Bacon's What Do They Talk About? map

What Do They Talk About? is a humorous pictorial map of the UK which was published by the Geographical Magazine in 1951 during the Festival of Britain. The map depicts local buildings, landmarks and industries and text labels which highlight popular local topics of conversation. 

Some of the conversation topics suggested by the map are ones you would probably guess yourself. For example it is fairly obvious that in Cambridge people usually chat about Isaac Newton and the Universe, while in Oxford the conversation often involves philosophical discussions about Aristotle's ideas on deductive logic. 

Unfortunately some of the conversation topics are now a bit out-of-date. Conversation about 'the pit' in South Wales and 'the mill' in the North East died out with the collapse of UK industry. However it is good to see that many other British traditional topics of conversation still persist. For example to this day it is impossible to visit Bath without a conversation about the 'Regency Days' or discussing the 'Test Team' in Yorkshire.

The map cartouche proclaims that "Most people talk about the place where they work-the pit, the office, the mill ..." This preoccupation with occupations and local industry features heavily on the map. Therefore in Northampton they talk about 'Boots and Shoes', in Sheffield they chat about 'Steel', in Coventry they discuss the 'Internal Combustion Engine' and in the Potteries all the talk centers around (you guessed it) 'Pots'. 

It is interesting that despite the dramatic contraction of industry in Britain since the 1950's that many UK cities are still strongly associated with certain particular industries and occupations, even if most of the locals no longer work in these industries. However despite the strong bonds of history and tradition the 'What Do They Talk About? map does now feels like a product of its time. Which makes me feel that the world might be ready for a new 'What Do They Talk About? map ... (to be continued) ...

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