THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

5 posts from November 2016

24 November 2016

20th Century Panoramaniac

I love panoramas and this one inspired my love of the Alps and mountain mapping.

Berranan

Heinrich Berann, [Jungfraubahn mountain railroad, Switzerland], 1939. British Library Maps 1060.(4.).

Panoramas form a fascinating niche collection within the 4.5 million maps in the British Library’s collections. They have a long history and my second favourite is the 1851 fabric view of London produced for the Great Exhibition with south at the top and the original ‘Crystal Palace’ laid out in Hyde Park.

Changing mapping technologies have influenced the panorama and its uses in war, discovery and peaceful pursuits especially winter sports.

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Heinrich Berann, Atlantic Ocean Floor, 1968. Â©National Geographic

The British Library's current exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line showcases the finest exponent of the late 20th century, Heinrich Berann (1915-1999) and his panorama of the Atlantic sea-bed.  An Austrian, Berann began with his Grossglockner Hochalpenstraße of 1934 and his final panoramas of U.S. ski areas came out in the mid 1980s.

My favourite is one I discovered while sipping a non-alcoholic beverage in a street café in Interlaken and is a paper beer tray mat with an image of Berann's Bernese Oberland panorama (top image). Under the glass, this utterly stunning piece of art showed the whole area in perfect, sunny weather, a wispy cloud over the Jungfrau, each railway, road and mountain in perfect detail. It made me want to explore more… once the rain clouds had dispersed of course. And it was there to be got wet, scrunched up and thrown in the bin… how!

This map made me realise there was more to maps than an my trusty Ordnance Survey sheet of Hexham, no matter how good they were, and I wanted to discover more about cartography in all its facets.  Berann is no longer with us but his panoramas still inspire cartographers and art lovers alike.

See more of Berann's stunning work here

Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is now open

Dave Watt

21 November 2016

Pushing the Boundaries

The British Library’s new exhibition Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line will look at the tumultuous 20th century through the eyes of maps. It is a period which we recognise as one of incredible highs and unimaginable lows, containing episodes ranging from the pinnacles of scientific achievement to the depths of barbarism. This is an exhibition in which we felt it was important not to airbrush the story of the 20th century, but to look at how maps (which can themselves be controversial objects) present multiple perspectives upon what happened in those 100 years.

As a result, Maps & the 20th century will cover a number of aspects of history which some might find difficult or controversial. The first is the inclusion of maps produced in association with war, genocide, humanitarian crises and other episodes which led to suffering and loss of life. As tools of war maps can present a compassion-less and cruel version of the world or, on the other hand, one loaded with emotion. What we have done is to use these maps to try and appreciate these events in the spirit of inquiry and respect.

Maps are ‘children of their times’, and as well as providing singular insights on the past this invariably means that they include language, imagery and perceptions of their times, including some which might appear shocking to a contemporary audience. These can, however, enable a perspective upon the changing values of society.

A handful of important non-western 20th century maps are included in the exhibition. However, the majority of exhibits are European or North American products, produced for audiences based there. This imbalance is not intended to demean or marginalise important non-western mapping practices. It reflects the reality of the 20th collections of the British Library, and is testament to the success of the imperial mapping project in the 19th and early 20th centuries which eradicated much mapping which did not conform to that idea. Much indigenous mapping was, and continues to be in spoken or otherwise ephemeral form more advanced but more difficult to capture than the maps we will display.

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A map annotated according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1915-16.  Map of Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia. London:  Royal Geographical Society,  1916. Add.MS 88906/25/6

Some of the maps we display will show a version of the world which does not correspond with an understanding of the world held by some people. This might concern the location of a border, or even the named ascribed to some places. Whilst not necessarily aligning with any particular world view shown in a map in the exhibition, our reason for exhibiting is to understand why maps should show one certain world view over another. Understanding the motivations of the mapmaker is one of the key methods of unlocking the past through maps, and this is the aim of Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line.

Our exhibition is simply one of many countless stories of the 20th century that could be told, but we hope that the maps may allow us to look objectively on the recent past, and in so doing help to inform our future.

11 November 2016

Colouring maps for adults

Adult colouring books. Leave it to the kids? Whether you’re addicted to them, or bamboozled by their appeal, they’re probably here to stay. Adult colouring atlases (currently for sale in the British Library shop) are particularly interesting, and not so peculiar as you might think because before printed colour came in during the late 19th century, by hand is exactly how maps were coloured.

It wasn’t so usual to use colouring pencils in, say, the 18th century. Instead it was usually a water-based paint such as watercolour or the thicker gouache which could provide a brighter and smoother finish.

Page80+81Daniel Stoopendaal after Isaac de Moucheron, 'Plan or View of Heemstede in the province of Utrecht'. Amsterdam: [N. Visscher], ca. 1700. Maps C.9.e.9.(25.).

There were certainly expert map colourists, for example the artist who coloured prints such as the one above from the British Library's sublime 18th century Beudeker Atlas (online version here). Something to aspire to, colouring book enthusiasts.

But colouring maps wasn’t as glamorous a pastime as you may think. There are rumours, for example, that among others the 19th century London mapmaker John Tallis used child labour for the colouring of his maps. Looking closely at the outline colour in the map below, I think we can all agree that a gold star was probably not so forthcoming.

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John Tallis, 'North America'. From Tallis's Illustrated Atlas and Modern History of the World. London, 1851. Maps 5.e.25.

So when you next find yourself daydreaming as you delicately shade pale pink just the right side of a printed line, spare a thought for those browbeaten children who would likely have had at least 50 atlases to complete before bedtime.

Our exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is now open. 

04 November 2016

Step onto the map: the British Library's exhibition is open

Welcome to Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line, the biggest map exhibition of the decade and the first to showcase the mapping of the ‘cartographic century’.

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Heinrich Berann, Atlantic ocean floor. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Magazine, June 1968. Maps CC.5.b.42.

We have selected 200 maps from our collection of 4 million maps, supplemented by a handful of crucial loans) in order to showcase their technological development, their increasing variety, and what they meant to 20th century western  society

Viewing history through objects is an important way of unlocking our past, and maps are more eloquent than most objects in providing snapshots upon a past that may be just behind us, yet appears like a foreign country.

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Lancashire Coalfield. National Coal Board, c. 1983. Maps 188.v.38.

Of course, maps are not always the most reliable witnesses, and we are keen to show how maps shaped perceptions of the world through what they included, what they left out, what they placed in the middle.

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John Arthur Carter, This is where I am just now, I’m still ‘on the map’ you see! Eastbourne, c.1914, Maps C.1.a.9.(199).

Drawing the Line will immerse you in an array of 20th century virtual worlds, from the iconic to the unusual, from the secret to the compelling. You will quite literally step onto a map when you cross the threshold....

... and by the way we’ll be mapping you as you do so.

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Jeremy Wood, [My Ghost 2000-2016]. London, 2016. Maps CC.6.a.83. ©Jeremy Wood 2016

A book of the exhibition is published by the British Library and features chapters by Nick Baron, Jeremy Black, Tim Bryars and Mike Heffernan.

View a list of our series of entertaining events

See our schools and adult learning programme

Follow us on Twitter @BLMaps

.. and remember that there is more than one way to read a map.

02 November 2016

Map exhibition build photographs

One exhibition comes down, another one goes up. No matter how many exhibitions I see go into the British Library's PACCAR gallery, I never cease to be amazed by the utter transformation of the space. Our Shakespeare in 10 Acts exhibition which closed in September was a complex and winding space with 10 separate areas for each of the acts. Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line will be entirely different. We're going for the open and expansive look with a handful of open zones. It will be an 'immersive' experience.

Here are some photographs taken over the course of the past few weeks, giving you just enough of a hint to want to see the finished article from Friday.

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The view into the gallery a week ago

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Still a fair amount to do

 

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A few maps starting to appear on walls

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 One of our more unusual exhibits is installed