Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

2 posts from February 2022

21 February 2022

PhD placement opportunity - Japanese maps

The Map collection is offering a 3-month placement for a PhD candidate to work with the British Library’s collection of pre-1900 Japanese produced maps. With the deadline for applications fast approaching this Friday 25th February, here is a final attempt to whet your appetites.

The collection of 350 Japanese-produced maps is one of the finest held outside of Japan. It includes printed and hand-drawn maps of the world, East Asia, Japan itself and its various subdivisions, towns and coasts, dating from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. It includes route maps, bird’s-eye views, administrative maps, military maps and historical maps. Some of them are rather large.

Or75f13
Nihonkoku oezu, by an anonymous mapmaker. Woodblock, published between 1684-1688. Ex-Kaempfer collection. Or.75.f.13.

A number of the maps came to the British Museum, now British Library, via the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in the 1750s. Sloane had acquired the Japanese-related collections of Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1716) in the mid-1720s, who had collected them during his time in Japan, working as a doctor for the Dutch East India Company. Many other maps formed part of the collection of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), which was purchased by the British Museum in 1868.

Maps25b29
Kyo oezu [A Large map of Kyoto]. Manuscript, produced in 1826. Maps 25.b.29.

Today the maps are split between two areas. The majority are held in the map collection (part of Western Heritage Collections), which contains over 4 million maps and global coverage of the period 1540 to 2022. A smaller number of maps are held in the Library’s Japanese collections, a section of the Asian and African Department.

Japanese map imaging studio
Maps 25.b.29 being photographed by British Library imaging technician Carl Norman in 2018.

Catalogue records for the maps are available on Explore the British Library, and the collection was digitised in partnership with Ritsumeikan University in 2019 (and can be viewed on their MapWarper here).

The key aims for this placement are the enhancement of the maps’ cataloguing data. This will include collecting key physical and cartographic information from the maps, such as dimensions and annotations, that have not previously been recorded, and improving terminology and adding translations to improve the collection’s discoverability. There will be opportunities to write and research, work with curators and British Library staff from a variety of areas, gain insights and training, and receive some strong learning and development experiences.

Once again, the deadline for applications is this Friday at 5pm. For further details go here and scroll down to download the full project profile.

11 February 2022

Radical mapping

I recently participated in a discussion panel with the LivingMaps network as part of the launch of their ‘'New Directions in Radical Cartography: why the map is never the territory’. Edited by Prof Phil Cohen and Dr Mike Duggan, this edited collection brings together 20 examples of contemporary research, artwork and theory from across the world under the label counter-mapping or radical cartography. 

Cover image of Cohen & Duggan (eds), New Directions in Radical Cartography (Rowman & LIttlefield, 2022)
Cohen & Duggan (eds), New Directions in Radical Cartography. Cover image by Linda Knight, Inefficient Mapping, 2020 https://lindaknight.org/inefficient-mapping/

The definition of counter-mapping and radical cartography was a question that formed much of the discussion. Counter-mapping, described in depth in the book, is a process which really began in the 1970s following a realisation that regular or normative maps were perhaps not as democratic or utilitarian as assumed, and appeared to favour certain groups over others. Maps such as those by William Bunge and the Pluto Press aimed to readdress the balance.

Radical mapping, according to Phil Cohen’s introduction to the book, moves things along. Firstly, many of the examples in the book are not ‘maps’ in the way that many of us appreciate them (though they are perfectly consistent with other cultures’ mapping). The maps are community workshops, walking tours, audio-led immersive guides, poetry and reading, contemporary archaeology GiS, multi-media, memory palaces and more. Yet all of them can be understood as mapping in some way, if you believe that mapping doesn’t necessarily always lead towards the creation of a map.

That seems pretty radical to me. There’s also a sense of radical-ness in what the mappings are doing. For example, they are user-led and generated as opposed to being created by professional map companies or agencies. They are also open-ended and unfinished – incredibly radical if you are used to thinking of a map as a tangible object. They also, often in very quiet ways, articulate the voices of groups who do not usually shout very loudly on traditional maps - children, the elderly, and migrants. Quietly radical, if there is such a thing.

Critical cartography is a developing area of the academic discipline of cultural studies. As ‘post-representational’ mappings, this work is not collected by the British Library (in the same way that GiS is not collected). However, early maps are used creatively by artists and academics affiliated to critical cartography. For example, digitised British Library maps were included in Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda’s One Fifth of the Earth’s Surface project which was featured in last years York AND festival. And whilst not from the Library’s collection, map based artworks included in Claire Reddelman’s Postcards from the Bagne demonstrate just how successful the use of early maps in artistic and cultural practice can be.

Integrating early maps, digitally or physically, into a multi-layered multi-sensory perception of places in time known as deep mapping (as, for example, described by Dr Stuart Dunn in A History of Space in the Digital Age), is another of the key ways in which maps contribute to cutting-edge research and continue to be, in every sense, living maps.