Maps and views blog

5 posts from December 2020

31 December 2020

Adding sparkle to the New Year

London, as well as many other cities around the world will not be having the traditional New Year’s Eve firework performance usually associated with this time of year so to cheer you all up here are some examples of historical firework displays found in the King’s Topographical Collection of maps and views. The materials reveal a great deal of detail on the subject and one can learn a surprising amount on the type of fireworks and techniques developed through the centuries as well as all the necessary preparations for breathtaking displays.

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A VIEW of the FIRE-WORKES and ILLUMINATIONS, at his GRACE the Duke of RICHMOND'S at WHITE-HALL and on the River Thames, on Monday 15 May, 1749. Maps K.Top.27.41.6.

The use of fireworks in England date back to the second half of the 15th century and subsequently been used to mark various occasions such as royal weddings, coronations or to celebrate military victories and peace treaties.

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THE REVOLVING TEMPLE OF CONCORD ILLUMINATED As Erected in the Park in celebration of the glorious Peace of 1814. Maps K.Top.26.7.ff. 

Particularly splendid celebrations were organised on 27th April 1749 to mark the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, a major conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg dynasties which lasted eight years between 1740 and 1748.

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THEATRUM BELLI SERENISSIMAE DOMUS AUSTRICAE ... Map showing the theatre of war in the Austrian domain. Augsburg, 1740. Maps K.Top.88.26. 

For this particular occasion long preparations were undertaken to create a splendid spectacle for the elite. In the fashionable surroundings of St James’s Park an enormous structure measuring 410 feet long and 114 feet high so called the “fire-work machine” was constructed to create an impressive pyrotechnic display. 

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A PLAN and ELEVATION of the ROYAL FIRE-WORKS to be presented in St. JAMES's PARK April the 27th1749 on Account of the GENERAL PEACE signed at Aix la Chapelle Octr 7. MDCCXLVIII . Maps K.Top.26.7.r.

Furthermore, one of the leading composers of the day, George Frideric Handel was commissioned to supply suitable music for this extravaganza and so he composed his famous Music for the Royal Fireworks’. By the way, Handel’s original manuscript is preserved at the British Library and is available here. A detailed description of this incredible ‘sound and vision’ show was published so you can read all about it and get an understanding of how the firework machine was constructed (but please don’t try to build one at home!)

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A DESCRIPTION OF THE MACHINE FOR THE FIREWORKS ... Maps K.Top.26.7.r.(1.)

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View of fireworks in Covent Garden to celebrate William III's victory in Ireland in July 1690. Maps K.Top.22.28.e.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021! 

23 December 2020

Where’s Father Christmas? A look at the Atlas de Finlande, the first national atlas

Only a few hours to go until Father Christmas sets off on his magical round, delivering presents to all the good children of the world. He is said by some to live in the forests of Lapland, high in the Arctic north of Finland, with his merry band of elves and trusty reindeer...

Attempting to find the location of his grotto, I turned to the first edition of the Atlas de Finlande (BL Maps 31.c.19.), a work published in French in 1899, and now considered by many to be the first of a new genre of mapmaking that would proliferate over the following century - the national atlas.

Atlas de Finlande, title page

Atlas de Finlande, Société de Géographie de Finlande, 1899. BL Maps 31.c.19.

In thirty-two plates the atlas provides a comprehensive description of Finland and its people, and employs diverse and innovative thematic maps to articulate the results of scientific, economic and statistical research.

Atlas de Finlande, exports of sawn wood

[Exports of sawn wood], Atlas de Finlande

Atlas de Finlande, wind directions

[Average seasonal and annual wind directions], Atlas de Finlande

Atlas de Finlande, rural schools

[Rural schools], Atlas de Finlande

Atlas de Finlande, population density

[Population density], Atlas de Finlande

The atlas also makes a clear political assertion of Finnish cultural identity and nationality at a time before Finland was an independent country, whilst still an autonomous region within the Russian Empire. With political relations deteriorating, the publication makes a case for and anticipates Finland's declaration of independence, which followed in 1917.

In particular, the depiction of Finland’s border throughout the atlas was seen as a provocation, as the same line symbols represented both Finland’s internal boundary with the rest of Russia, and her international boundaries with Sweden and Norway. This formed the subject of an official Russian protest.

Atlas de Finlande, the frontier

[Map of Finland, showing the frontier], Atlas de Finlande

At the International Geographical Congress of 1899 in Berlin, and at the Paris World Exhibition of the following year, the atlas was hailed as an outstanding cartographic and scientific achievement.

But I have found one small omission. However hard I look, I cannot find that grotto...

Atlas de Finlande, forests

[Forests], Atlas de Finlande

Merry Christmas!

 

Nick Dykes

17 December 2020

Pandemic maps: science, size and simplicity

2020 has certainly been a year for maps, though not one for which any of us will feel grateful. I’m referring to the proliferation of often doom-laden public maps illustrating the spread (and receding – more of this please) of Covid-19 across the UK. Throughout the year, interactive maps have appeared on online media outlet pages, and most prominently, maps have featured along with graphs and charts in daily government briefings into the official response to the virus.

Geographical spread of Covid 19 in England 09-20
Geographical spread of Covid-19 in England, 15 September 2020. Taken from the Coronavirus daily briefing slides of 21 September 2020

Data visualisations have played an important role in keeping the public informed, and for demonstrating the scientific evidence behind the adoption of measures to combat the pandemic. Occasionally the quality of data visualisation has not been to standard. Professor James Cheshire of UCL Geography has written about this, providing some cardinal rules such as ’explain your working’ and ‘keep it simple.’

This latter rule has been well understood by the makers of public maps for centuries. Before the computer screen, maps had to work hard in order to be legible and intelligible by large groups of people from potentially large distances away. From the 1840s in the UK, large maps were specifically designed with bolder lines and reduced information in order to function, for example, in large elementary school settings.

Maps STE 167
George Frederick Cruchley's school room maps were large and specifically bold productions for use in large spaces. Cruchley's enlarged Map of Europe. Compiled for the use of Colleges and Schools. London, 1851. Maps STE 167

UpdateCruchleyScaleExample

Large maps were also used as backdrops for large gatherings and meetings. Remember those?

Sifton-Praed Ltd., 'The German scheme of Mittel Europa.' London, 1916.
This large map of 1916 showing the projected Berlin-Baghdad Railway, almost 3 metres wide, was used as the backdrop for public lectures on subjects such as 'Why Germany Wanted War.' Sifton-Praed Ltd., 'The German scheme of Mittel Europa.' London, 1916.

If you want your map to be seen and understood by a lot of people, make it as clear as possible.  Of course, this isn't always practical: nobody wants to be accused of ‘dumbing-down’. And there is no getting away from the fact that geography is complicated and maps can be misleading, particularly when it involves mapping people who are neither static nor evenly spread. Thus the map of the UK divided into counties or regions and coloured by numbers of Covid cases per 100,000 people is falsely reassuring: large, rural and comparatively Covid-free counties dominate visually over smaller, more concentrated and consequently more affected urban areas (tools such as inset maps, and more arresting colours and tones, each of them subjective in their own way, have helped).

Though there were earlier attempts, it was only really towards the end of the 20th century that algorithms enabled population figures (such as UK census data) to be visualised spatially in digital maps. For some examples, see the cartograms from Danny Dorling’s ‘New Social Atlas of Britain (1995) and also ‘Worldmapper’ Tina Gotthardt and Benjamin Hennig’s terrific up-to-date world cartograms where the size of a state is visualised in human terms, such as the relative size of its population or, as here, its proportion of confirmed Coronavirus cases over a particular period. 

Worldmapper, 'Covid-19/Coronavirus cases (January-August 2020)
Worldmapper, 'Covid-19/Coronavirus cases (January-August 2020). ©Worldmapper 2020

Maps need to be clear and understandable. But of course there’s also a lot to be said for complexity. People like scientific data, and this year has been big year for science and its associated debates. Historically, there are no shortage of maps whose creators have clearly delighted in cramming as much scientific content into them as possible, even to the point of confusion. We might call this the rhetorical use of science in maps, the deployment of science an alluring device to emphasise the accuracy, seriousness or reliability of what is being shown, or even as a self-promoting device used by a mapmaker to demonstrate his or her scientific acumen.

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Adam Zurner goes to town with a variety of hemispheres and scientific diagrams of the earth and cosmos. Planisphaerium Terrestre cum utroque Caelesti Hemisphaerio, sive diversa Orbis Terraquei ... Amsterdam: Pieter Schenk, around 1735. Maps K.Top 4.15.

 

ADD MS 69459
Isaac Causton's 1719 estate map of part of Suffolk lays it on somewhat heavy with the grid. 'A map of Madm Margaret Bonnell's land lying in the parishes of Brent-Eligh and Preston in the county of Suffolk surveyed by Isaac Causton'; 1719. Add.MS 69459.

 

11 December 2020

International Mountain Day

11th December marks International Mountain Day giving us a great reason to celebrate mountains in maps!

Mountains cover approximately 24% of the Earth’s land surfaces therefore not surprisingly they form a core features appearing on countless maps produced through centuries. Unlike vegetation or rivers which can disappear or change their course over time mountain ranges are considered an ideal persistent landmark which can help travellers identify their location or can be used as natural borders between regions and countries.

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Detail showing portion of the Himalayas from Imperii Sinarum Nova Descriptio by Jan van Loon. Amsterdam, 1656-1675. Maps K.Top.116.12

Mapmakers often expressed their artistic skills, imagination and creativity by representing mountainous terrain in distinctive ways, either by the use of subtle colouring and shading drawn pictorially or by original symbol designs making their maps not only a practical tool but an actual work of art as well.

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Detail from Military Survey of Scotland by William Roy, (1747-1752) Maps CC.5.a.441.

The so-called mountain tourism in Europe can be dated back to the 18th century and the Grand Tour, a fashionable journey across Europe undertaken by young gentleman as a complement to their formally acquired education. In the 19th century it was discovered that high altitude fresh air had a therapeutic effect on lung disease and the Alpine climate was considered to be the best treatment. Poets and painters created a tranquil idyllic vision of the Alps with their gorgeous surroundings of unspoilt nature, thriving wild life and clean air.  

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Horace Bénédict de Saussure and his guides climbing up Mont Blanc in 1787. Voyage De M.R De Saussure A La Cime Du Mont-Blanc Au Mois D'août MDCCLXXXVII Christian von Mechel. Geneva, 1790. Maps K.Top.76.77.c.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries mountaineers began to explore the more remote areas initially relying on local guides to help them discover the unfamiliar valleys, gorges and glaciers with their waterfalls and mountain lakes. Their detailed maps and accounts paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

Maps 1060.(4)

Official poster for the 1976 Winter Olympic Games to Berann's design that combined the techniques of landscape painting and mapdrawing. Heinrich Berann, XII. Olympische Winterspiele Innsbruck 1976, Innsbruck, 1976. Maps 1060.(4)

Nowadays the mountainous landscape is not only associated with active holidays such as skiing or summer treks but also leisure activities including rock climbing, water rafting and mountain biking. In the late 20th century the amateur mountaineers began to conquer the world’s highest peaks. Extreme sport enthusiasts regularly head for the summit of Mount Everest in the Himalayas, the highest mountain on earth at 8850 m (29,035 feet) is become quite a tourist attraction!

03 December 2020

Bushfire maps of Australia

Last week another temperature record was set in Sydney, Australia – the overnight minimum temperature of 25.4 degrees Celsius was the highest ever for November, higher even than the historical daytime average for the month. This is one of a string of new records set there over recent years.

Three-day Heatwave Forecast

BBC weather forecast

Graphics courtesy of Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, above, and BBC, below.

With heat comes the risk of bushfires, which have once again started to burn across the region, reminding us of the catastrophic fire season that was experienced last year - now known as ‘Black Summer’. In total an estimated area of between 18 and 24 million hectares burned - comparable in size to the area of Great Britain - with the loss of 34 lives, over 3,500 properties destroyed, and estimates ranging from one to three billion mammals, birds and reptiles killed.

This map depicts the state of fires in the region around Sydney on one of the worst days of the crisis, and was issued to the public through the New South Wales Rural Fire Service website to encourage evacuation from areas under immediate threat. The British Library imaging studios made a large format print from the file to be kept in the maps collection.

Potential fire spread prediction map

Detail of fire spread prediction map

Potential fire spread prediction for Saturday 21 December 2019, NSW Rural Fire Service. BL Maps X.17367.

The area shown extends around 150 miles from north to south. In particular the map indicates the plight of towns along the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, which are caught between bushfires to the north and to the south. The prediction shows the highway being cut off by fire to the north-west of Katoomba, and the outskirts of Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls falling under threat from ember attack, which forced large numbers of inhabitants to evacuate eastwards to Sydney.

Detail of fire spread prediction map

Fortunately the worst did not come to pass, and over the following days back-burning operations – where controlled fires are started ahead of the oncoming blaze to deprive it of fuel – kept the fire fronts largely at bay. Some of these can be seen in irregular dark areas of burning to the north-east of Katoomba on a screenshot of the Rural Fire Service’s ‘Fires Near Me’ mobile site.

Fires Near Me app

Screen shot of Fires Near Me mobile webpage, NSW Rural Fire Service, 25 December 2019.

It was not until torrential rains fell in early February that these fires were finally extinguished.

Debate continues around what caused the fires to be so extreme. By June of 2019 record high temperatures and longstanding conditions of drought had led experts to warn of an extended fire season to come, and many attribute these underlying conditions to climate change.

Others also point the finger to an alleged reduction in the use of fire management techniques learned from, and still practised by, Indigenous people. This map of Arnhem Land in northern Australia shows the results of a collaboration between scientists and Indigenous people, where the frequency of ‘hot fires’ has been reduced in areas deliberately burned during the previous cold season.

Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia

Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia, Macquarie, 2005, fig.3.17. BL Maps 234.b.40.

Whichever factors led last year's fires to be so extreme, most agree that bushfires are an inevitable part of Australian life. An ambition harboured by many, perhaps, but that is yet to be achieved, is expressed by the author of a 1976 study, 'Bushfire: history, prevention, control' (BL HMNTS X.322/8372) - ‘Fire has been part of the Australian environment for a very long time. I hope that... this book conveys the sense that fire and man must live together, not in a master/servant relationship, but as co-habitants in a finely balanced environment.’

Only yesterday, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, declared, ‘Our planet is broken. Nature always strikes back and is doing so with gathering force and fury’. We can only hope that the fire season to come is not like the last.