THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

7 posts categorized "Arctic"

21 December 2016

Festive Fairyland

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The Ancient Mappe of Fairyland was published in London in 1918. It shows a vivid fantasy island inhabited by a riotous range of make-believe characters from Peter Pan and Puss-in-Boots to Hansel, Gretel and Three Blind Mice. You can see the original map in our current map exhibition, as well as viewing a larger online version here.

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But why does Santa Claus not appear on the map? The answer, of course, is that unlike these fantastical characters, Santa is emphatically REAL. 

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However, since every fantasy contains a hint of reality, and to honour Fairyland's mapmaker - the appropriately named Bernard Sleigh - here is Santa, instated on the map in the icy north where he belongs.

With festive greetings from everyone here at the British Library's Map Library.

 

 

 

13 September 2016

The long search for HMS 'Terror'

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Above: the Northwest Passage as charted by Capt. Robert McClure. Chart shewing the Northwest Passage discovered by Capt. Robert le M. M’Clure [Maps.982 (51)].

Yesterday The Guardian broke the news that, after over 160 years of searching for the ships commanded by Sir John Franklin on his doomed expedition, HMS Terror had been found in the Arctic. Submerged in Terror Bay, part of King William Island, the ship is in remarkably good condition and promises, like HMS Erebus, found in 2014, to provide further details as to what happened to Franklin and his crew in their final days. What the find achieves straight away is to provide an end to the search for these two ships, an endeavour which, during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, has become a story all of its own.

36 T00043-52 HRAbove: the men of HMS Resolute entertain themselves with a winter ball and on-ship theatre, from The Illustrated Arctic News [BL: 1875.c.19]. 

The search for HMS Erebus and Terror and the various stories, published accounts and maps which arose from this endeavour have become their own drama filled with shocking discoveries, perils and intrigues which have captivated imaginations across the world. This is the focus of the middle part of the upcoming book, Lines in the Ice: Exploring the Roof of the World, which predominantly uses the British Library's collections to shed light on the long history of this search. Sir John Franklin and those who travelled with him disappeared in the Canadian Arctic while searching for something that had obsessed mariners from England and Scotland for centuries, an Arctic trade route via the 'Northwest Passage'. During the resulting quest to find Franklin and his expedition many other crews wintered in the Arctic, men found ways to entertain themselves against both hardship and boredom, ingenious tools were used to search new areas and the Northwest Passage itself was crossed; albeit not in the way intended by those hoping to find a trade route in these Arctic waters. The maps and images displayed here are some of those produced in official and published accounts which arose from these expeditions and are reproduced in Lines in the Ice.

 

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Above: ships involved in the Franklin searches wait for dawn and the end of winter. 'HMS Assistance and Pioneer in Winter Quarters' [Shelfmark: 1781.a.23].

Eventually these expeditions began to discover what happened to Franklin's crew, even if the ships themselves were not located, and the answers found were not to everyone's taste. During an overland search for the crews of HMS Erebus and Terror Dr. John Rae had encountered Inuit who told him that others in the area had tried to help white men who were heading south. These men, sick and close to death, and the camps they left showed signs that they had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive, something Dr. Rae reported on his return to England. This was met with indignation from many, not least Lady Jane Franklin and those she encouraged to write against Dr. Rae, notably the author Charles Dickens. Despite the rhetoric deployed against Rae and his Inuit informants their account has been shown to be correct by further investigation. However, to this day Inuit accounts of the fate of the expedition and the location of the ships have been treated with distrust by many. How fitting, then, that both ships have now been found in locations which Inuit histories long suggested searchers should investigate.

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Above: the 'Boat-Cloak', praised by Dr. Rae as an essential tool for Arctic exploration. From Peter Halkett’s published description, Boat-Cloak or Cloak-Boat [1269.d.5].

Lines in the Ice is published by British Library Publishing (UK) and McGill-Queen's University Press (North America) and out now. As the book shows, the search for Franklin is well documented in maps, views and printed books around the world, the end of the story about the fate of the man and his crew, it now seems, will be found beneath the sea.

[PJH] 

10 August 2016

Hooked on Georeferencing

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Georeference NY

Above: a map of Manhattan from the US subset.

A funny thing happened last week as I noticed that the Georeferencer project's current phase had stalled around the 32% mark. Having checked on the project progress bar for a few days I decided we had lost momentum on the project, perhaps due to it being the summer holidays, personal commitments, a frustration with some of the content, or any other number of other reasons. Deciding I could not encourage more use without 'practicing what you preach' and getting stuck into the current cache of maps, I sat down in my breaks - for the first time in too long - to work through a chunk of the project using the lists of maps 'to be georeferenced' held on Wikimedia Commons.

After working my way through a number of maps I noticed two things. First off, progress on the Georeferencer project has not stalled, instead the counter on the front page has mysteriously stopped working (if you go there now you will still see it needs fixing). Instead, if you go to the 'Participants' tab you will see a different picture, one that suggests that, far from stalling, the project is actually charging along. At the time of writing 24,508 maps have been georeferenced, around 42% of what is currently in the system. The second thing I noticed was that I was hooked. Again.

Pandora voyage

Above: the route of the Pandora, from the Arctic subset.

Yes, despite the fact that there is no emergency or need to inspire more work on the system I'm still finding spare time to do 'just one more', the cartographic equivalent of computer gaming's 'One More Turn' syndrome. Now that I'm hooked I thought I would share some maps I georeferenced that worked out particularly well; the New York one lines up very pleasingly (grid systems make georeferencing much easier) while the map of the voyage of the Pandora satisfies my enthusiasm for Arctic maps, but, as usual, I have enjoyed working on every map I've done in this batch. I should probably back off a little now - not least as I have to sit down and write some talks around my new book - but I suspect I'll be dropping back in for 'Just One More Map' on a regular basis.

Thanks go out, as always, to our volunteers who are working through this large volume of material. We are making great progress here at the Library adding the data produced to catalogue records for the sheet charts, atlases and printed books that contain these maps and each newly georeferenced map means more useful data can be added to the catalogue. For those of you working on the project, don't forget about our lists of maps to be georeferenced over at Wiki Commons, they really do make the project more enjoyable - as I suggested in a previous post. For anyone reading this who wants to get involved in the project for the first time you can find out how here.

[PJH]

10 November 2015

Putting yourself on the (old) map

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Most of you know the British Library and a dedicated group of volunteers have, for the last few years, been plugging away at georeferencing maps from across the Library’s collections. The most recent, and rather large, set of maps has been carved out of the cache of Library images held on Flickr and now our volunteers are working their way through over 50,000 maps in need of georeferencing. Thanks to the work of our dedicated georeferencers things are progressing well, with over 9,000 maps referenced so far but for those of you interested in getting involved there are still plenty of opportunities for you to do so.

Above: the geographical spread of the maps georeferenced so far.

As you can see above, the georeferencing done so far has already dealt with maps from an impressively wide geographical area. In fact, there are now so many maps available I'm going through them and picking out some that strike me as particularly interesting. The below map of the expedition of Baron Adolf Eric Nordenskiӧld into the interior of Greenland is from a publication about his 1883 trek to understand more about the continent, it's also one of my favorites from the current georeferenced batch. The map almost made it into the Library’s recent Lines in the Ice exhibition as Nordenskiӧld encountered what he thought was a new mineral, Kryokonite, but which turned out to be coal dust deposited by snow. In short, Nordenskiӧld found some of the earliest evidence of the global circulation of pollutants – he just didn’t know it yet.

Nordenskiold in Greenland

Above: map of Baron Adolf Eric Nordenskiӧld’s 1883 Greenland expedition. See in Georeferencer.

For completely different reasons I’m also very keen on the two following maps, depicting late nineteenth century Niagara Falls (both sides) and Melbourne at a similar time. It’s not so much the content of the original maps as their situation on the contemporary Google Map which interests me here as both now form small parts of sprawling urbanised areas. Niagara Falls has not developed in the same manner as Melbourne, which grew explosively in the late twentieth century, but both maps and their background say a lot about twentieth century urban development.

Niagara Falls

Above: Niagara Falls, Canada and U. S. A., published 1886. See in Georeferencer.

Melbourne

Above: Melbourne, Australia, published 1888. See in Georeferencer.

It is these sorts of historical nuggets and contemporary juxtapositions which make the BL Georeferencer so interesting and if this whets your appetite to get involved I have good news, there are still plenty of maps left to work with. You can find out more about the process of signing up and working with the material here. Another gem to come out of the work of our volunteers’ work is the availability of these maps through the wonderful Old Maps Online. This has been available through a web browser for some time but it now comes to you in a mobile phone app too.                                    

There is more information about the app and its uses via this press release from the Old Maps Online team and it is well worth a read. For the purpose of this blog the most pertinent thing to point out is that the maps you reference from the current cache of material will also be available, in the palm of your hand, through this app. The bonus feature of the Old Maps Online app is that you can now find maps about where you are, wherever you are, so long as you have your phone, a signal and (especially if you are outside of your home country) a suitable mobile data package.

This means that if you go for a walk, say, on the Downs of Kent you can open the app and see georeferenced material about your location originating from the British Library, and other institutions who have taken part in the project. All this while stood in a field, a bog, a forest or a town. Have a go, it really is great fun.

[Phil Hatfield]

24 April 2015

Maps lie in a new online course

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At first maps were only thought of as representations of the places and the things they showed.

But in the 1980s (thanks in part to Jorge Luis Borges' tatty old lifesize cloth map) postmodernist historians began to see more power in them, and they became understood not as surrogates but as the prime reality of the places they were supposed to be showing. Given that one can't see an entire country very easily (apart from from space), it is easy to see how maps can become not just virtual, but actual realities to those who look at them.

From this point it is just a short leap to the position that maps - truthful, believable maps - are being used to persuade, hoodwink and indoctrinate. And so we come to the British Library, the University of Nottingham and FutureLearn's new and FREE  online course entitled 'Propaganda and Ideology in everyday life.' Designed to explore how propaganda interacts with us on a daily basis, in positive and negative ways, the course uses content and ideas from our 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' exhibition, and maps from our more recent 'Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage'. 

The maps include a Russian 'Atlas of the Arctic', a powerful high-end and symbolic cartogrpahic product, but maps don't just function in the corridors of wealth and power. Maps for schools,  including this Russian one from 1903, persuaded schoolchildren, by means of  beautiful colourful decoration, that Russia had lots of food and produce. It was in fact in the middle of a famine, but if the map shows it, it must be true. Right?

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Наглядная карта Европейской Россiи. Составлена М.И. Томасикомъ. Дополнена и издана кружкомъ учителей подъ редакцией В.В. Урусова. M. I . Tomasik, Warsaw, 1903. British Library Maps Roll 537. 

The British Library contains one of the vastest and most powerful map archives the world has ever seen. Millions of virtual (or are they actual?) worlds are contained in our vaults. But I'm not the only person surrounded by maps. You are too. What is great about this course is that it encourages its students to notice and collect maps in everyday life. Maps are all around us, and their shapes and symbolism works powerfully upon us- especially powerfully, since we don't really notice it happening.

If you take the course (which starts on 11 May) have your eyes opened to propaganda in your everyday life. It will be especially potent during the General Election campaign. Use the underground / metro / subway and you will see far more maps down there than just the tube map. Look around you!

 

 

13 April 2015

Lines in the Ice: top five highlights

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As we enter the final week of the British Library's free exhibition Lines in the ice: seeking the Northwest Passage, here are my top five (unashamedly map-heavy) highlights of what has been a memorable and eventful five month residency. 

1. Robert Thorne's world map from 1582.

ThorneRobert Thorne, Orbis Universalis Descriptio [London : T. Dawson for T. Woodcocke, 1582]. British Library C.24.b.35  Untitled

You probably won’t see another one of these exhibited in your lifetime, one of the earliest maps to have been printed in England, with only two in existence today, a clever bit of publicity by the Muscovy company which aimed to convince that the North West Passage didn't exist. Judging from the following 250 years of mostly fruitless searching, perhaps this point of view could have been given a bit more attention.   

2. Listening to icebergs

They are very big and very cold, and make a surprising racket. Curator Cheryl Tipp selected a number of sounds for the exhibition, which appear on sound points, and piped directly into the space. The angry polar bear was particularly eloquent.

 3. Explorer Ryan Nelson speaking at the BL

In an amazing coup, the British Library, the Eccles centre for American Studies and the Canadian High Commission hosted a talk by Ryan Harris, the man who discovered Sir John Franklin's ship Erebus on the sea bed. The event sold out almost before the ship was discovered!

  RHarris

4. An egg-shaped Arctic-biased world map on display for the first time

This rare and extraordinary educational 20th Century map (featured in this book) cleverly positions the Arctic (and Antarctic) centre stage using the 'Atlantis' projection. Its purpose was to focus minds on these zones in order to combat the vast problem of overpopulation. Oil was first extracted from within the Arctic Circle just a few years later.

  Amaps_37_b_55E.W. Fenton, The world we live in. Ipswich, 1958. British Library Maps 37.b.55.

5. Writer-in-residence Rob Sherman and his explorer Isaak Scinbank

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Top: Rob Sherman, bottom: Isaak Scinbank

Rob Sherman's work has been a stunning feature of the exhibition. His fictional explorer Isaak Scinbank, online and in his written journal (which is exhibited), attempted to discover what happened to Sir John Franklin. For me, Rob's work has helped explore how narratives and stories (and their meanings) develop and change over time, and how they can be invested in objects. This isn't the last you'll hear of Rob, I feel fairly certain... 

6. Charles II's map of the Arctic

G70112-95Moses Pitt,' A map of the North Pole and parts adjoining’, from The English Atlas , London, 1680. British Library Maps 1.TAB.16.  Untitled

Another map that has never before been exhibited is Moses Pitt's map of the Arctic, this copy owned by Charles II and acquired by the nation via the Topographical Collection of George III. 

The gold leaf on this map will be shimmering in public until Friday, so if you have the chance to visit the exhibition before then, please do. We are also holding a free seminar on Friday to celebrate the end of Rob Sherman's residency. Thank you to all who has visited Lines in the Ice since November, and thank you to everybody who helped make the exhibition a reality.

 

15 December 2014

England and the North-East Passage

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This gripping guest blog, in conjunction with our current Arctic exhibition, has been generously provided by historian James Evans. James is author of  Merchant Adventurers: The Voyage of Discovery that Transformed Tudor England.

There ‘remained only one way to discover’, the Bristol merchant Robert Thorne told fellow Englishmen early in the 16th century, ‘which is into the north’.

Officials and merchants had seen the wealth amassed in Spain and Portugal by the discovery of new routes across the ocean. But while the Pope tried to reserve all non-Christian lands to the Iberian nations, the English insisted this could apply only to territories reached by sailing south.

To the unexplored north England claimed a God-given right. After all, John Cabot had discovered North America for the English in the 15th century, soon after Columbus’s epochal voyage. And many thought there must be a passage here to ‘Cathay’, as China was then known, to match that in the south – because land on the earth was bound to be balanced. How else would it spin straight?

Thorne world map

Robert Thorne, Orbis Universalis Descriptio. London, 1582. British Library C.23.b.35.

Thorne wrote a tract, and drew a map, to illustrate his ideas. He argued the English could sail due north, across the Pole, then descend towards undiscovered lands in the Pacific. He admitted that many considered this impossible, the sea in the far north being ‘all ice’, the cold ‘so great that none can suffer it’. But others believed ice formed only near land, while open ocean, across the top of the world, would remain clear.

Thorne tried to organise a voyage to test the idea, but died before he could. Not until Henry VIII had died too did power pass to men who truly believed in the value of exploration. Under Edward VI, Cabot’s son, Sebastian, was lured back from Spain – and it was he who oversaw, in 1553, a major English attempt to find a northern passage.

Which way would they go? North-west? North-east? Or directly north? The watching Spanish ambassador fretted, rightly, that England was ‘seeking the road to the Indies’. But he didn’t know whether the north could offer one. No one did. The lack of knowledge about this part of the world is shown on a map made for Henry VIII by Jean Rotz, on which huge empty spaces reveal the ignorance which existed concerning the north parts of the world.

Rotz-D Hem

Jean Rotz, [Double hemisphere world map], from A Boke of Idrography, London, 1545. British Library Royal MS 20 E IX

The 1553 crews went north-east, hoping a passage this way would be an ‘easy matter’. But of course it wasn’t. The world was in the grip of what has become known as the ‘Little Ice Age’, and ice, to the north, was more extensive than it is now. It was an extraordinary venture, which began trade with Russia via the White Sea – a region carefully charted by William Borough, who sailed as a teenager – and it set an important example. But it failed to find a northern passage.

The ship belonging to the expedition captain, Sir Hugh Willoughby, became hopelessly lost. The land ‘lay not’, he wrote in frustration, ‘as the globe made mention’. His men tried to see out the winter. His log, today in the British Library, records their desperate final weeks, locked in what it describes as a ‘haven of death’.

AWilloughby log

 Sir Hugh Willoughby, [Extract from a journal of a journey to Cathay, c. 1554], British Library Cotton MS Otho E VIII

The company set up then in England, whose monopoly extended across the north, continued to look north-east. Further attempts were made by Stephen Borough (William’s older brother), and later by Arthur Pet and Charles Jackman. But the landmass pushed them further north, as they moved east, and the ice proved impenetrable.

Attention, in England, switched to the north-west, where Martin Frobisher thought discovery ‘the only thing of the World’ left undone to make a man rich and famous. (The map-maker Abraham Ortelius produced the first Atlas in 1570 – the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – and his page on the Arctic north showed clear passages to both north-west and north-east.)

SmallOrtelius World Map
Abraham Ortelius, 'Typus Orbis Terrarum', from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Antwerp, 1570-84.

The British Library's free exhibition Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage, is now open.