THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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3 posts categorized "Maps"

19 January 2018

Mapping the Christmas Flood of 1717

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This Christmas saw some pretty wet and windy weather, both in the UK and across the North Sea in the Netherlands, where I spent my Christmas holidays. Foul it may have been, but it was nothing compared to the storm that battered vast swathes of the Northern Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark for four days over Christmas in 1717. 

I must say, that I, like most of my fellow Dutchmen had never heard of this storm. Yet, it caused more casualties than the big flood of 1953. It was the biggest natural disaster in 400 years.  The Northern Maritime Museum,  located in two beautiful Medieval buildings in the centre of Groningen, is runnning an exhibition on this ‘Midwinterflood’, in collaboration with the Groninger Archieven. They are organising a conference about the flood on 20 January.

A prominent place in the exhibition is taken up by images of a map, which is by no means ‘only’ a topographical map, but tells the story of the flood in both cartographic and pictorial images and text. It is beautifully made, but that should not come as a surprise, since it was none other than the master cartographer Johann Baptist Homann who engraved it.

PHOTO1MapHomannMaps27095J.B. Homann, Geographische Vorstellung der jämerlichen Wasser-Flutt in Nieder-Teutschland, welche den 25 Dec. Aº 1717 ... einen grossen Theil derer Hertzogth Holstein und Bremen, die Grafsch. Oldenburg, Frislandt, Gröningen und Nort-Holland überschwemet hat. (Nuremberg, [1718?]) Maps * 27095.(6.)

Homann addresses us as ‘reader’ (‘Hochgeneigter Leser!’) instead of ‘viewer’, seemingly emphasising that the map is not just a topographical tool but a text to be read. 

PHOTO2MapHomannHochgLeser

 Detail from Homann’s map, with his address to the reader.

The most striking thing about the map is the green colouring which indicates the extent of the reach of the water. It immediately brings home the scale and seriousness of the disaster. At one point the water reached the gates of the city of Groningen, which lies 34 km inland from the coastal town Pieterburen. Estimates are that 14,000 people lost their lives across the whole of the northern Netherlands, Germany (10,000!) and Denmark. Homann gives a figure of 18,140 for casualties in Germany. Let’s hope that modern science is more accurate than he was.

PHOTO3MapHomanndetBericht

Homann’s account (above) and depiction (below) of the flood

PHOTO4MapHomannGronEmb 

The illustrations within the map, such as the water scoop, sluice and inundated village support the story. The putti holding up the banner with the quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are crying, as a sign of the scale of the human tragedy and may-be the feelings of Homann himself. 

PHOTO5MapHomannwaterscoops

Water-scoop and sluice (above) and weeping putti (below) from Homann’s map 

PHOTO7MapHomannPutti

My first thought when I saw this extraordinary map in the exhibition was: “Is there a copy in the British Library?” As soon as I could I went online to check our catalogue and indeed, I found it at the first attempt. I reserved it immediately to be ready for me to study it as soon as I was back at work. I almost could not wait. Fortunately I had the exhibition to keep me entertained. It gives a fascinating account of what happened, how it could happen, the human, material and financial costs and it also highlights the hero of the story Thomas van Seeratt, who had been appointed provincial commissioner only the year before. At first ridiculed when sounding the alarm on the sorry state of the dikes, he was tragically proven right on Christmas night 1717.

Soon after the event pamphlets such as that by Adriaan Spinneker started to appear, telling of horrible ordeals suffered by people trying to save their lives by clinging on to trees, or roof tops, barely clothed, without any drinking water or food, exposed to bitterly cold and wet weather for hours and sometimes days on end, all the while carrying loved ones on their backs or in their arms. In the end some became so exhausted and stiffened by cold that they had to let go of their children. 

Spinniker
Adriaan Spinneker, Gods Gerichten op den aarde vertoond in den ... storm en hoogen waterfloed ... in't 1717de Jaar voorgevallen, aandachtig beschouwd …(Groningen, 1718) 11557.bbb.64

Authorities did initiate a large programme of dike building, based on van Seeratt’s designs, which involved making dikes less steep, so they can absorb the shocks of the waves much better. These days Dutch national authorities and the 22 water boards are responsible for dike maintenance, rather than private landowners.  This is just as well, because without dikes to protect it, the Netherlands would look a bit more like this.  

Netherlands compared to sea level
The Netherlands compared to sea level. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

Further reading

Gerhardus Outhof, Verhaal van alle hooge watervloeden in ... Europa, van Noachs tydt af, tot op den tegenwoordigen tydt toe ... Met eene breede beschryvinge van den zwaaren kersvloedt van 1717 ... (Embden, 1720) 1607/5565.

Johannes Velsen, De hand Gods uitgestrekt tot tugtinge over zommige provintien der vereenigde Nederlanden, bestaende in zes gedigten van de watervloed, in Kersnagt, van 't jaer 1717. (Groningen, 1718), in: Dutch pamphlets 1542-1853 : the Van Alphen collection (Groningen, 1999) Mic.F.977

 

12 July 2017

The Trans-Siberian Railway

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The Russian Empire stretched continuously across one-sixth of the world’s landmass, from Poland to the Pacific and from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of Central Asia. According to the data of the General Staff of the Russian Imperial Armed Forces and the Statistical Committee of the Ministry of the Interior, at the beginning of the 20th century Russia’s territory stretched from north to south for nearly 3,000 miles and from east to west for over 6,600 miles. Russian tsars ruled over the second largest territory in the world after the British Empire.

Pictorial Russia 2
Title-page of  Zhivopisnaia Rossia (St Petersburg, 1881-1901) Cup.22.k.1. This multi-volume work described different regions and peoples of the Empire for a general audience and the decorative title-page attempts to depict the range and diversity of Russia’s vast territories in a single image

The Russian Empire was home to some 150 million people divided into around 170 ethno-cultural groups, whose ways of life ranged from nomadic steppe herdsmen and tribute-paying fur trappers to communal agriculturalists, industrial workers and wealthy nobles. Full maps of the Empire were usually published in two sections: European and Asian. The Asian part of Russia beyond the Ural mountains was significantly larger than the European part and occupied nearly two thirds of the entire Russian territory. Most of these territories were industrially and agriculturally underdeveloped compared with the European areas. In some areas of Siberia the population density hardly reached 10 people per square mile, while in the country’s western parts, including Poland and Finland, it was over 100 people per square mile. At the beginning of the 20th century the Asian territories that belonged to the Russian Empire were described as Siberia (including the Far East), nine regions in Central Asia with its population of nearly eight million people, and the so-called Caucasian region or Transcaucasia. The kaleidoscopic diversity of geography, agriculture, industry, culture, ethnicity, religion, history and social structures sustained enduring notions of a land of paradox and unknowable mystery.

It is not surprising that economic modernisation of Russia hugely depended on the transportation system. The vastness of Russia and slowly developing infrastructure could partly explain extreme diversities and difficulties in managing the country.

European Russia Maps 35872.(16.))

A fragment of the Map of railways, rivers and road communications in European Russia, 1914.
Maps 35872.(16.)

As demonstrated in the Map of the Development of the Russian Railway Network, 1838-1918, which shows the railway construction in ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ Russia, the railways remained concentrated in Russia’s most industrial western core.

Development of railways Maps 35797.(8.)

Map of the development of the Russian Railway network, 1838-1918. Maps 35797.(8.)

At the end of the 19th century a journey from Moscow to Sakhalin took about three months. It depended on crossing rivers and was season-bound. In March 1897, on his way to exile Vladimir Ul’ianov, the future leader of the Revolution known as Lenin, wrote in a letter to his mother:

The halt here is a long one and there is nothing to do, and I have decided to write yet another letter en route, my third. I still have two more days’ journey ahead of me. I drove across the Ob [river] in a horse-sleigh and bought tickets to Krasnoyarsk. … The way the trains run here is beyond all bounds. To do that 700 versts [464 miles] we shall crawl for forty-eight hours. Beyond Krasnoyarsk, the railway goes only as far as Kansk, i.e., for 220 versts [145 miles] —and altogether to Irkutsk it is about 1,000 versts [663 miles]. And so I shall have to go on by road—if I have to go at all. Another 24 hours is taken up by those 220 versts on the railway; the further you go, the slower the trains crawl along.
You have to use a horse-sleigh to cross the Ob because the bridge is not ready, although its skeleton has been built. … The country covered by the West-Siberian Railway … is astonishingly monotonous—bare, bleak steppe. No sign of life, no towns, very rarely a village or a patch of forest—and for the rest, all steppe. Snow and sky—and nothing else for the whole three days. They say that further on there will be taiga, and after that, beginning at Achinsk, mountains. The air in the steppe, however, is wonderful; breathing is so easy. There is a hard frost, more than twenty degrees below, but it is easier to bear here than in Russia. It does not seem to me that it is twenty below. The Siberians say it is because the air is ‘soft’, and that makes the frost easier to bear. Quite probably it is so.

Russia’s vast territory lacked infrastructure that could support industrialisation. The building of the Trans-Siberian Railway started in 1891. As minister of transport and later minister of finance, Sergei Witte saw the project as one of the vehicles for economic reforms. 7,000 km was built between 1891 and 1916. However, in 1904 the Trans-Siberian Railway proved slow in carrying troops and supplies over the vast distance which had devastating results on the outcomes of the Russo-Japanese War. After the October Revolution in 1917, the railway became a strategic point, as the Czechoslovak Legion  took control over large areas near the railway.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. As part of the accompanying series of events, on 21 July Railway Historian Christian Wolmar will be giving a talk on the Trans-Siberian Railway during the Revolution. You can find more details, including how to book, here.

05 July 2017

Peoples and Languages of the Austrian Empire in 19th-Century Ethnographic Maps

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The Empire of Austria was created in 1804 when the last of the Holy Roman Emperors assumed the title Emperor of Austria as Francis I. This Empire was made up of heterogeneous political entities: kingdoms, archduchies and duchies, earldoms, and other administrative areas without a common purpose. The Habsburg dynasty ruled over these territories as a sole unifying power.

Maps_27727_(3)

Ethnographic map of the Austrian Empire which shows the lands of the House of Habsburg according to the constitution of 1849. Maps 27727.(3.)

In 1855 the Austrian Empire held Balkan territories which included the Kingdom of Dalmatia, the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia and the Military Frontier, as a defensive zone along the Ottoman border.

Maps_6_5_53_(3)

Ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy. Detail shows the political structure of the Austrian Empire in 1855. Maps 6.b.53.

The population of the Austrian Empire according to the 1851 census was 36,398.000. The Slavonic peoples constituted 40.6%; Germans 21.6%; Italians and Rhaeto-Romanic speaking peoples 15.3%; Hungarians 13.4%; Romanians 6.8%; and Jewish, Romani and Armenian peoples just over 2% of the total population.

Maps_27727_(7)

An 1858 Map. Peoples of the Austrian Monarchy: a survey of the nationalities. Maps 27727.(7.)

Slavonic languages were the most spoken languages in the Austrian Empire. Officially there were six Slavonic languages in the Empire: the Czech (spoken by Bohemians, Moravians and Slovaks), Polish, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian (Serbs, Croats and Bosnians), Slovenian and Bulgarian.

Maps_27727_(13)

An 1867 map of peoples and languages of Austria and lower Danube countries. Maps 27727.(13.)

The Austrian Empire was a multi-national and linguistically diverse Monarchy. At least 17 nations and minority groups were represented in it. In 1868 according to individual languages most people spoke German (25.2%) followed by the Czech, Hungarian and Romanian, among other national languages spoken in the Monarchy.

Maps_27727_(16)

A 1868 ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy gives detailed statistics of the national and linguistic diversity. Maps 27727.(16.)

After the defeat in the Austro-Prussian War  of 1866, the Austrian Empire looked towards East for consolidation and imperial expansion. The Habsburg Monarchy was reshaped in 1867 as Austria-Hungary and in 1878 was allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Maps_27727_(29)

An 1888 map of languages of Austria-Hungary (above, Maps 27727.(29.)) shows the addition of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a population of 1,336.091 according to the census of 1885, which increased the number of the Serbo-Croatian language speakers in the Monarchy. The map includes the statistical data in numbers and percentage of the nine languages spoken in the individual crown lands.

Slavonic languages and dialects spoken outside the Austrian Empire were Russian, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian, and Kashubian.

Maps_1065_(35)

Austrian map showing peoples and languages of the Central Europe in 1893. Upper and Lower Sorbian designed as Wenden on the map in the area south of Berlin and Kashubian in the area south of the city of Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland). The map also displays Slovak as a distinctive language from Czech. Maps 1065.(35.)

 Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections