Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

Introduction

Our earliest map appears on a coin made in the Roman Empire and our latest appears as pixels on a computer screen. In between we have the most complete set of Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain, the grand collection of an 18th-century king, secret maps made by the Soviet army as well as the British government, and a book that stands taller than the average person. Read more

26 October 2020

Maps of Jamaica in the K.Top. Collection

A guest post by Chantelle Richardson, Librarian of the National Library of Jamaica and former Chevening British Library Fellow

Throughout my year at the British Library, I was privy to seeing some amazing resources. One of my projects focused on Non-book Bibliographic materials from Latin America and the Caribbean before 1950. Compiling the list of materials for this project allowed me to view various items related to the Caribbean region. However, my interest piqued when I would see items related to Jamaica, especially maps.

My fascination with maps began when I started working in the Special collections branch at the National Library of Jamaica. Historical maps provide a vivid depiction of what the past looked like. They can be useful for a multiplicity of information needs. Land allocation is one aspect that is of particular interest. Maps can be used to see how communities were structured then and how they are now. 

I found that one of the best ways to browse the cartographic holdings at the BL was by using the printed catalogues available in the Maps Reading Room. Though most items can be found on Explore the BL (the online catalogue) I found the printed catalogues useful in helping me to navigate the vast collections. It is therefore good to know that a complete set of metadata relating to one of the Library’s treasure collections, the King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top.) will soon be made available on the BL Shared Research Repository – an ideal tool for browsing which is similar to how you would navigate the printed catalogues. 

Interestingly, I found that the BL has maps and other special collection items such as prints like those present in the NLJ collections. The K.Top. Collection is one of the best examples of this.

Maps_k_top_123_52_b_11_tab

James Robertson, MAP of the County Of Cornwall, In The Island Of Jamaica. London, 1804. Maps K.Top.123.52.b.11. 

The K.Top. Collection features many maps from the Caribbean in general. There are several maps related to Jamaica directly and indirectly. The names of cartographers like James Robertson, Edward Slaney and Nicolaes Visscher popped out as all have holdings in the NLJ collections. 

Maps_k_top_123_47

Edward Slaney, Tabula Iamaicae Insulae. London, 1678. Maps K.Top.123.47. 

 

Maps_k_top_123_5

Nicolaes Visscher. Insulae Americanae in Oceano Septentrionali ac Regiones Adiacentes. Amsterdam, 1775. Maps K. Top.123.5.  

The coloured Jamaica maps in the K.Top. Collection are particularly interesting. Aside from being appealing to the eye, they give information on the parishes, towns, and counties. Researchers wanting to analyze the division of land in Jamaica from when there were 22 parishes to its 14 now can use the coloured maps as reference.

Maps_k_top_123_50

Archibald Bontein, A MAP of the Island of JAMAICA. London, 1753.  Maps K.Top.123.50. 

Another interesting thing about the K.Top. Collection is that it not only has maps related to Jamaica but prints as well. Prints such as The Maroons in Ambush on the Dromilly Estate in the Parish of Trelawney, Jamaica are a good source for researchers who are interested in indigenous groups and resistance. 

Maps_k_top_123_59

J. Mérigot, The MAROONS in AMBUSH on the DROMILLY ESTATE in the PARISH of TRELAWNEY, JAMAICA. London, Robert Cribb, 1801. Maps K.Top.123.59. 

There are also prints by lithographers like George Robertson and Louis Belanger. These prints are an added benefit of the K.Top. Collection as they help to contextualize what was happening in some of the places identified on the maps. For example, a MAP of the COUNTY of Middlesex, IN THE ISLAND of JAMAICA has an explanation section which I found somewhat depicted in one of Robertson prints A VIEW IN THE ISLAND OF JAMAICA.

Maps_k_top_123_51_c_2_tab

James Simpson, MAP of the COUNTY of Middlessex, IN THE ISLAND of JAMAICA. London, 1763. Maps K.Top.123.51.c.2.tab.  

 

Maps_k_top_123_54_b

Thomas Vivarès, A VIEW IN THE ISLAND OF JAMAICA. London, John Boydell, 1778. Maps K.Top.123.54.b. 

Researchers wanting to find a visual representation of rivers, harbours, estates, and aspects of plantation life during the 18th century may find these items useful.

J.B. Harley stated that he saw cartographical mapping of the British Empire as a language of power and not protest. The same could be said of some of the Jamaican maps. To ignore the imperial association of how the maps became a part of the K.Top. Collection would not be an objective stance. Like many of the other Caribbean maps featured in the collection, most of the Jamaican maps were acquired throughout the 16th and 19th century when Britain ruled much of the Caribbean. These maps can be used in research that explores themes like the role of early maps in Britain’s imperialist past, area studies, postcolonial studies, land ownership and geomapping. 

With the COVID-19 global pandemic remote access is becoming a major focus for libraries worldwide. Researchers who use both BL and NLJ resources have increased in the demand for digital materials. It was good to see that all the maps relating to Jamaica and the Caribbean from the K.Top. Collection have been digitized and are now openly available worldwide through the BL Explore and Flickr platform. 

In the coming months, I plan to input links from the K.Top. maps collection into the NLJ maps catalogue so users will have access to the digitized copies of these resources from our holdings. Having used these resources, I recommend it to all users for academic as well as personal research.

22 October 2020

Cataloguing the King’s Topographical Collection

In this guest blog post, curatorial lead of the King's Topographical Collection cataloguing and digitisation project Felicity Myrone reflects upon the historic cataloguing project. 

As we celebrate making a large section of the King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) accessible via Flickr and Explore, it seems a good moment to look back on how we reached this point.

Visual items such as maps, drawings, prints and plate books are some of the most valuable and vulnerable items in library collections, and yet most are not widely known.

Nineteenth century British Museum catalogues briefly listed K.Top by place depicted. We hope that a wider, fuller and more integrated approach will open up the collection to cross- and interdisciplinary research, now possible from home, worldwide.

Maps K.Top 106.63.r.
AFBEELDING van den DAM het STADHUYS de NIEUWE-KERCK de WAAG, en de OUDE-KERCKS-TOOREN van AMSTERDAM. / J. van der Heiden. (Published in Amsterdam, between 1690 and 1710). Maps K.Top 106.63.r.

Taking catalogue records from 1829

K.Top printed catalogue excerpt
Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, Etc. Forming the Geographical and Topographical Collection Attached to the Library of His Late Majesty King George the Third, and Presented by His Maj. King George the Fourth to the British Museum, London, 1829, Volume 1, p.32

to now

Screengrab of a K.Top record from Explore
Current Explore record. We retain and layer both former catalogues’ descriptions where applicable, now expanded with data so that what is depicted beyond place is discoverable for the first time. We include searchable names for those involved in the production and ownership of the item including artists, cartographers, printmakers, publishers, previous owners and dedicatees, transcribed titles, publication details, description of the scene/object/map, including decorations such as armorials and cartouches, reference to selective secondary sources, co-ordinates of the place represented for views/the coverage of maps, subject headings, plus searchable medium and genre terms using GMGPC and LCSH, curatorial notes such as reference to related works in other collections, links when items are part of a series, and copy-specific information (condition, security stamping, annotations, bindings etc). Exhibition and conservation histories are noted where they were known to the cataloguers, but they should not be taken as definitive.

Since 2013 16,226 K.Top prints and drawings and 12,149 maps have been catalogued as single records. Just 400 maps await full cataloguing; while this is work in progress there will be some duplication and anomalies on Explore.

How did we get here?

Peter Barber established the project while Head of Cartography and Topography at the British Library. Many other past and present colleagues have supported it, not least Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Hugh Brown, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.

We began cataloguing in 2013, Peter asking me to oversee views and my colleague Tom Harper to oversee maps. We appointed Alex Ault (happily still with us, now in Modern Manuscripts) and Mercedes Ceron for prints and drawings, and Kate Marshall and Magdalena Kowalczuk for maps.

As Peter retired in 2015 I became curatorial lead of the project, and cataloguers from then on mastered describing both visual and cartographic materials, on a bibliographic system (MARC records on Aleph). Overcoming the challenges this sets has been one of the greatest learning curves for the Library. We then appointed Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Mercedes Ceron (again), then Rebecca Whiteley, and later Marianne Yule, working with successive project officers Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale and Tamara Tubb.

All were appointed on short term contracts funded by generous donations. The department became a hive of activity, ever ready to adapt to unfamiliar materials and systems and coach each other, and produced an average of 15 records a day each while finding time to contribute to other Library work. It was truly inspiring to oversee a team with knowledge beyond place to include costume, natural history, anatomical art, architecture and antiquarianism.

The collection is presented as plate books, atlases and single sheets mounted into large albums by place depicted: it can be tricky to remember that an item related to the one you are cataloguing is found elsewhere, possibly in an item that you or your colleague looked at days or months ago. As the cataloguing and digitisation progressed making these connections became easier, but there will inevitably be data we have missed.

It has also been particularly rewarding to work with PhD students: Jeremy Brown, who undertook a collaborative PhD on Italian maps in the collection and later worked as a cataloguer, Fred Smith, who also joined as a cataloguer having undertaken a PhD placement cataloguing an album of Charles I’s prints, and Emily Roy whose PhD placement involved analysing, visualising and digitally mapping the new K.Top metadata.

The project overlaps and coincided with the publication of a catalogue raisonné of the Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. By permission of the Warburg and Royal Collections and the hard work of Victoria Morris in converting the records to MARC, we now also feature Mark McDonald’s full and expert cataloguing of all of Cassiano dal Pozzo’s prints at the British Library.

We hope that our new records and images will highlight the visual resources we hold as a global resource and the potential in revisiting and cataloguing images in greater detail than is usually attempted in a library environment.

Felicity Myrone, Lead Curator, Western Prints & Drawings 

16 October 2020

10 things you may not know about the King's Topographical Collection

We have just released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III  for you to peruse and study.

As far as private and royal map collections go, the K.Top is one of the most well-known and best preserved of those assembled before the mid-19th century.  It's also one of the more unusual and idiosyncratic due to its inclusion of a variety of other items besides maps and views (collectively known as 'ephemera.'). And it has an interesting custodial history following its presentation in the 1820s. Here are ten things you may not know about it.

 1. A single piece of acquisition evidence survives for the collection, an invoice for a map of New Hampshire of 1761 (Maps K.Top 120.25) made out by the mapmaker Thomas Jefferys to the King's advisor the Earl of Bute.

2. The collection includes many official and governmental maps (such as this map of part of the coast of New England) which were presumably lent to the King for consultation but for one reason or another not returned. 

Maps K.Top120.21
Samuel Holland, 'A PLAN of the Coast from PLEASANT RIVER to the west end of PENOBSCOT BAY...',(Portsmouth N.H.,1772). Maps K.Top 120.21.

3. The bulk of the collection of single-sheet maps and views are contained in 250 massive guard volumes that were created in the 1960s.

4. The collection is a distinct part of the larger King’s Library, but a number of volumes were separated from it and are now housed in the King's Library proper. Other items also found their way into the Western Manuscripts collection and the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings.

5. 'Top' stands for 'Topographical'. There’s also a Maritime (also in the British Library) and a Military collection (part of the Royal Collection in Windsor). However and most helpfully, the Topographical Collection also contains sea charts and military charts.

6. The king is rumoured to have kept the maps adjacent to his private chambers in Buckingham Palace.

7. Prior to 1828 the collection was given a geographical arrangement, which involved dismembering and redistributing of the contents of bound atlases including at least two Italian made-to-order atlases of the 16th century.

8. It includes the largest atlas in the world up to 2012, the Klencke Atlas.

9. It includes the first English map of New York City following its capture (1664) and the first English-produced printed map of India (1619), by William Baffin. 

10. A number of maps thought to be by the 16th century Flemish mapmaker Abraham Ortelius, including this map of Ancient Britain, were recently discovered to be late 17th century pirated copies after Ortelius, probably by the English mapmaker John Overton (see the notes to Maps C.49.e.74 for further information) .

Maps C,2,d,5,
Abraham Ortelius, BRITANNICARVM INSVLARVM TYPVS... Antwerp, 1595. Maps C.2.d.5.
Maps K.Top 2.111
Abraham Ortelius (but John Overton), BRITANNICARVM INSVLARVM TYPVS. London, c. 1690. Maps K.Top 2.111.