Maps and views blog

08 February 2016

Money for old charts: printing maps in the nineteenth century

History of Kent

Above: A map from Henry Francis Abell's, History of Kent, as overlaid by the Georeferencer.

With 2016 well underway it is a great pleasure to see work on the 50,000 maps held in the Georeferencer continuing apace. It looks like our volunteers were very busy over Christmas and the numbers processed have jumped, heading well beyond the 20% mark with a total of 11,644 now georeferenced. I must confess I had intended to provide a festive post to showcase some of our more wintry maps but in the excitement of the run up to Christmas completely forgot to post it. And so the Georeferencer’s yuletide treats have to pass unmarked – until next year.

For today’s post I’ve been paying more attention to the UK maps being worked with in the Georeferencer. These make up a significant proportion of the content being processed and the UK is the densest area of pinned maps both for this element of the project and the Georeferencer work as a whole. Having recently moved to Kent I decided to have a dig around the maps pinned here, hoping to find some interesting items. This turned out to be a success but not in the way you would necessarily expect.

The above map comes from Henry Francis Abell’s, History of Kent, with original sketches and maps which, as you can see, makes a significant amount of of the ‘new maps and illustrations’ contained in the work. The only issue is that Abell had previously published a children’s history of Kent which contained exactly the same map and now the Georeferencer hosts them both side by side, highlighting Abell’s recycling of old map plates. Aside from being an insight into a slightly disingenuous writer or publisher’s practice of selling books these two maps open a door on a much wider practice of nineteenth century illustration production.

The BL 1 Million stream of images, from which this map is pulled, have allowed digital humanities researchers to analyse the content in various ways, comparing and contrasting images with each other. One of these researchers, Mario Klingemann, (recently awarded a BL Labs prize for his work) noted the prevalence of reproducing and slightly amending previously published illustrations in order to drive down the cost of production for publishers. In short, what Abell is up to with his maps was a relatively well established nineteenth century practice, especially where cheaper books were concerned.

Railroad GB

Above: Map of the Railroads of England designed for Edward Churton's, The Rail-Road Book.

One other item worth drawing attention to is this railroad map of Great Britain, which I stumbled across while looking for interesting maps of Lancashire. It reminded me that one of our volunteers, Susan Major, has recently published a work on railroad history - and you won’t be surprised to hear that Susan georeferenced this particular map for the Library. That’s all for this particular georeferencer update, there is more to come about the project and work of our volunteers in March. In the meantime, if you are new to the Georeferencer and would like to get involved, you can find out more here.