15 July 2021
Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.
What have we added?
So much! Here are some highlights:
Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John Speed, Moses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.
Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
How can you access them?
The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views, was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).
Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy. The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.
Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.
We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.
Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!
In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.
We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at [email protected].
Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.
Now off you go and explore.
01 July 2021
One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface is a digital audio-visual, multimedia web experience by artists Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda. Commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices and York Mediale, the work is, as the title suggests, an exploration of the ‘power of water as a dynamic and fluid archive’ with the Atlantic Ocean its main subject.
The British Library has been involved in providing resources for the project, and a number of maps from the Topographical Collection of George III, digitised and released as Public Domain on Flickr have been included in the exhibit, along with sound recordings from the Library’s Sound Archive.
I was interested to see how maps would be deployed in the piece. There are a multitude of maps that show the Atlantic Ocean, its coasts, and the infinite network of rivers and arteries which feed it (a number of maps along these lines, created by Adam in Mapbox, are embedded in the artwork). Maps not only visualise the Atlantic Ocean, but influence how it is navigated, experienced and memorialised, and this role of maps is also explored in One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface.
The online exhibition is split into sections, including: Memory, Analogue of Rivers, Ports, Navigation and Cartography, each constructed using various audio-visual elements that build, overlap and occasionally interrupt. Navigation is not straightforward, almost, at times, like fighting against the waves. Early maps appear in a number of places, particularly in the Archive section where they form part of the artists’ research materials. It is immersive, unpredictable digital art.
The creative potential of maps and mapping is limitless, and there is no better time to use them when so many are available from opened-up archives, where traditional and digital techniques are within reach, and when there is so much they can be used to say.
25 November 2020
In October we released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III. View the collection on Flickr Commons, and access images via the maps and views' catalogue records on Explore. Here's my choice of five compelling maps from the collection.
1. Plan of Manila, 1739.
This is the only recorded example of this 1739 edition of the 1717 town plan of Manila in the Philippines. Manila was, and is, a key international centre of trade, and the map was actually produced in the town (in a tiny vignette we can see a copy being presented by the Spanish governor of the Philippines to King Philip V of Spain). There’s probably no better image of a bustling commercial site, proof that a town is not just about its architecture and layout, but its people and processes too. This map has additional resonance, because Manila was besieged and looted by the British in 1762, and annotations in the map’s bottom right refer to aspects of the battle. Could it be George himself annotating the map according to reports he had received of the battle?
D. Antonio Fernandez de Roxas, TOPOGRAPHIA DE LA CIUDAD DE MANILA : CAPITAL de las yslas Philipinas
Manila: Hipoloto Ximenez, [around 1739].
2. Map and survey of Plymouth Harbour, 1780
This is the map that reminds me most of the strong links between mathematics and art in maps. It’s a large and serious military drawing, officially commissioned and with an accompanying report, of a key strategic naval installation and site of British maritime strength and power. It was drawn up as part of the earliest mapping activities for what would become the Ordnance Survey a few years later, enacted in response to the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France. So why is it so stunningly and mesmerizingly beautiful? It’s a question that should infuriate everyone who sees maps purely as cold communicators of facts and 'data.'
Matthew Dixon, Colonel, surveyor.
‘A General Plan with a Project for the Defence of the Arsenals of Plymouth, / By Lieut: Colonel Dixon Chief Engineer of the Plymouth Division. Revised and corrected by Geo. Beck Jan. 1780.’
3. Aquatint view of Kingston-upon-Thames, 1813
Thomas Horner, Kingston upon Thames. 1813
Is it a map or is it a view? What is that ominous large shadow looming in, Holbein-like, from stage left? Who cares! This is an intriguing and brilliantly composed aquatint print showing a collection of views of picturesque Kingston-upon-Thames. From above, in profile, from a distance away, it’s a multi-faceted image that invites us to dissolve our perception of the differences between vistas and to see them as a combined and rounded description of a place. Cartographic cubism! As Horner himself wrote, ‘…the whole, blended into one design by a picturesque fore-ground, forms a faithful view of the parish.’ It’s a joyous visual experience, with a few intrigues and little jokes (note the bungling surveyor- stonemasons in the foreground) thrown in for good measure.
4. India, 1619
This is a portentous map - the earliest British printed map of part of India. It marks the beginning of British cartographic involvement in India that would reach new levels of science-led imperial control through mapping by 1900. The Roe-Baffin map was produced following the earliest English trade mission to the Mughal empire. It has a stellar cast: Sir Thomas Roe, the diplomat who headed up the embassy. William Baffin, the navigator who went on to attempt to locate the North West Passage (Baffin Island is named after him). Reynold Elstrack, one of the earliest native English engravers.
The map was one of very few English-produced maps to provide a model for later Dutch atlas maps by Blaeu, Janssonius and others. English mapmakers were more often the copycats. The engraving of a Mughal seal has been expertly assessed by the British Library’s Dr Annabel Gallop.
William Baffin, 1584-1622, cartographer. A Description of East India conteyninge th'Empire of the Great Mogoll. / William Baffin deliniauit, et excudebat. ; Renold Elstrack sculp.
[London] : Are to be Sold in Pauls Church yarde. by Thomas Sterne Globemaker., 
5. The United States of America, 1782
This is a map with a story and a reminder of the power – and paranoia – that can be associated with maps. John Mitchell’s map of ‘the dominions of North America’ is a tremendous cartographic achievement in its level of description of this vast area. Yes, standing on the shoulders of earlier maps, but adding a vast quantity of descriptive notes and even including naming Native American nations (who were nevertheless ignored in what followed).
On another level, this late edition of the map is a piece of history, being the copy used by the British delegation at the 1782 Treaty of Paris where the terms of the peace following Britain’s defeat at the hands of the United States were established. The map has been marked up in red to show the lines of the new border the British would be happy with. But at the conference they realised that they didn’t have to cede quite as much as they had drawn. The map suggests that Upper Canada (much of modern-day Ontario) was also available to the USA. So later the British government ordered the British Museum to lock the map away so that nobody, particularly no inquisitive Americans, might see it and demand any more.
It was hidden from view until the early 20th century.
John Mitchell, 1711-1768, cartograph.er. A MAP of the BRITISH COLONIES in North America…
[London] : Publish'd by the Author Feb.ry 13.th 1755 according to Act of Parliament : Printed for Jefferys & Faden Geographers to the KING at the corner of S.t Martins Lane Charing Cross London, [about 1775, with annotations to 1782].
13 November 2020
You may already be aware with all the recent publicity surrounding the release of the first batch of images from the King’s Topographical Collection that this is indeed an incredible resource with countless unique maps and views. I thought I would share with you some of my favourite items which I think are wonderful examples you may encounter while browsing the collection. Fascinating not only because of the unusual format of some of the items or unexpected subject matter but also the fact that they provide a glimpse of what was interesting and worth collecting back in the 18th and 19th centuries. With 18,000 images available on Flickr there is plenty to discover!
This 17th century intricate architectural drawing shows the structure of the Cordouan lighthouse (Phare de Cordouan). What is unusual about this drawing is the use of flaps which are pasted over a round base representing the building. These flaps can be lifted to reveal a detailed layout of the various levels of the lighthouse.
Phare de Cordouan is situated at sea near the mouth of the Gironde Estuary 4.3 miles off the French coast and was constructed in 1611 to Louis de Foix, the royal engineer’s design. The original structure comprised of five storeys and included the grand entrance hall, King’s chambers, a chapel, apartments for the keepers and, of course, the lantern itself. The entire building was richly ornamented with particular attention paid to grand décor and its unique design became a symbol of power. Phare de Cordouan is one of the oldest lighthouses in France and is still in use today.
Maps K.Top.36.24.2.b. Plan of the most remarkable effects of the earthquake, which happened ye 27th of May, 1773; at the Birches, in the Parish of Buildwas and near Coalbrookdale in the County of Salop… 1773.
This unusual map represents an aftermath of a geological event which occurred in 1773 near the village of Buildwas in Shropshire. The eye-catching title resembles a sensationalist headline style although soon after the event it was established that the cause was a landslip rather than an earthquake - in the mapmaker’s defence the term earthquake was used occasionally to describe a landslip in the late 18th century. Whatever the cause, the map is a contemporary record of an event that significantly changed the local landscape and impacted the community.
It delineates the extent of the damage including the pre- and post- earthquake configuration of the area such as the road location, the old and the new course of the River Severn, as well as the chasms and areas where the ground was raised. The force of water damaged the existing bridge which was eventually replaced in 1796 by a cast iron bridge built to the design of the Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford (it was actually his first iron bridge). The map was published just four months after the event in the context of an inquiry into the reconstruction of the turnpike road and the river channel.
Maps K.Top.27.41.7. Fox's new floating bath, now lying opposite Surry Stairs, near Somerset Place, on the Middlesex Side of the Thames, for the Reception & Use of Bathers. About 1810.
This rare ephemera from the beginning of the 19th century advertises an innovative and rather bizarre concept: a boat specifically constructed to serve as public baths. Conveniently moored on the River Thames in central London this floating facility would be ‘the compleatest and best adapted of its kind for bathing in England’.
The adventurous entrepreneur worked out all the logistics explained in the accompanying text. The floating baths would be made available on a subscription or a single-entry basis and serviced by watermen transporting the bathers to and from the boat. There was a promise of a pleasant experience in the stylish décor and even health benefits claiming that the facility was recommended by doctors. These were rather doubtful claims as bathing in the Thames surely could not be beneficial considering how polluted the River was in the 19th century. There is no record that such a boat was ever constructed but the idea was realised on a much larger scale later in the century when in the 1870s floating baths opened on the Westminster embankment with water filtering systems in place.
Maps K.Top.119.17. [A coloured chart of the upper part of Lake Erie at Fort Erie and a detailed plan of Fort Erie, together with three cross sectional drawings]. 1764.
This manuscript plan of Fort Erie (Ontario, Canada) is a prime example of fine draughtsmanship. It has an artistic element to it with lot of attention paid to aesthetics. The plan incorporates the fortification elements drawn to different scales to fit the sheet without making it look overcrowded. Produced by Franz Pfister an engineer and an accomplished surveyor with a military purpose in mind, it provides an insight into 18th century fortification design techniques and shows in detail individual structures including cross sections and views of buildings.
Fort Erie was constructed on the north-western shore of Lake Erie in 1764 after the Seven Years’ War when Great Britain gained the territories in New France. It was the first British fort built in order to establish a communication network between the Niagara River and the Upper Great Lakes and played a significant role as a supply depot for the British troops during the American Revolution.
Maps K.Top.117.24.1.a. Sketch of the Northern Part of Africa Exhibiting the Geographical Information Collected by the African Association. Compiled by J. Rennell. 1790. & 1792.
This printed map is a great example that demonstrates the process by which maps were brought up to date. It was prepared for the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior of Africa and contains manuscript annotations displaying the new geographical detail acquired by Major Daniel Houghton during his expedition of 1790-1791. The updates include amendments to spelling of place names, corrections of positioning of settlements, the courses of rivers, as well as extent of lakes and mountain ranges.
The map along with the accompanying handwritten Memoir and a letter from Henry Beaufoy a secretary of the Association, to Sir Frederic Barnard, George III’s librarian, constitute a primary resource on Houghton’s expedition. The documents reveal that the expedition was not strictly a geographical enquiry. Major Houghton also investigated the feasibility of establishing a trade route, commercial prospects and potential demand for commodities which could be supplied by the British including military equipment and supply of ammunition.
05 November 2020
As we consider the future of Anglo-American relations, this striking poster map from November 1983 provides a compelling snapshot of the past; a time of Cold War tensions, nuclear proliferation and civil protest. It appeared on the eve of the arrival of American cruise missiles on British soil, and is associated with the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp movement.
Greenham Women Against Cruise take President Reagan to court in the USA, 9th Nov '83. BL Maps X.17363.
The women-only movement was set up in 1981 to protest against the British Government’s decision to allow nuclear weapons to be stored in Britain as part of a widespread deployment by NATO of nuclear arms throughout Western Europe. Protesters maintained a permanent presence outside Greenham Common Air Base, 50 miles west of London, at times blockading entrances and cutting down perimeter fences. In December 1982 over 30,000 women joined hands around the base at an ‘Embrace the Base’ event.
The poster advertises the date when Greenham Common women would take US President Ronald Reagan to court in the US, asserting that the deployment of nuclear weapons on British soil violated international law and the US Constitution - ‘Cruise threatens peace and breaks the law’.
The locations of all 102 American military bases found in Britain at that time are indicated on the map, and large American flags reinforce the impression of a Britain in thrall to the United States, and of sovereignty lost. The poster acts as a call to arms, inviting participation in protests at every one of the bases.
The image below shows one of these posters in use at the time. In the lower right corner contact details of regional organisers have been added, with an invitation to ‘Please visit your local Peace Camp on the day’. Perhaps the copy held in the British Library is an early proof print, awaiting these further details.
Image courtesy The Danish Peace Academy.
Almost a year later, a federal judge dismissed the court case in the US, holding that the courts were not empowered by the Constitution to decide the case. Then in 1987, US President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev signed a non-proliferation treaty, which led to the removal of all nuclear missiles from Greenham Common by 1991. The Women’s Peace Camp remained there, however, to continue protests against nuclear weapons, until finally leaving the base in September 2000.
This map is only a very recent addition to the collections. Further articles focusing on women’s activism can be found at the Women’s Rights webpage of the current major BL exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights.
26 October 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
James Simpson, MAP of the COUNTY of Middlessex, IN THE ISLAND of JAMAICA. London, 1763. Maps K.Top.123.51.c.2.tab.
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.
13 October 2020
Today we release 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III into the public domain.
The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV. This is the first of two planned image releases.
For the first time, anybody who wishes to can remotely view, search, research and enjoy one of the world’s richest and most varied public collections of the history of place.
The idea of remote or virtual travelling is a particularly common one today thanks to the seamless interfaces of online map viewer that simulate the idea of airborne travel and evoke the excitement of discovery. However, the idea of virtual travel has a long history, and is well illustrated by the travel-averse king who resided in his palaces and viewed the world through his collection of maps and views. This is the Google Earth of the late 18th century and the journeys it can take you on are no less informative, intriguing, and instructive of the many facets of past eras.
What is K.Top?
The King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) is one part of the Geographical Collection of King George III (the other parts are the Maritime and Military collections). The nucleus of the collection was assembled from 1660, but added to considerably after 1760 by the king’s librarians and agents. The collection was presented to the British Museum (from 1973 British Library) as a distinct part of the King's Library in 1823,. For more on the history of the collection see this post by Felicity Myrone.
What is in it?
It’s probably easier to list what isn’t in this collection. It totals around 40,000 printed and manuscript maps, views, charts, texts, architectural plans, prints, atlases and ephemera. The collection is arranged geographically, with around 40% dedicated to the British Isles, one third covering the Europe of the Grand Tour, and 10% for British areas of influence such as North America, the West Indies and India.
What themes does it include?
Too many to mention, but here’s a sample: landscape, tourism, antiquarianism, architecture, rural life, fine art, agriculture, medieval and church studies, urban planning and development, industrialisation – canals and transport, military history, the history of collecting, the history of cartography, the Grand Tour, royal palaces and stately homes, science and invention, the history of exploration, American Independence.
As a product of the 16th-19th centuries, the collection is also associated with imperialism, and the role of maps in facilitating imperialist activities both practically and ideologically. We hope that the release of this material will facilitate research and greater understanding of these aspects of the past.
How can I access it?
18,000 images are available via the file-sharing site Flickr, which you can find here https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157716220271206
Images from the collection are also tagged George III Topographical Collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/georgeiiitopographicalcollection
There are links to full Marc cataloguing records on Explore the British Library. To view a digital image from the catalogue record on Explore, select 'I Want This' and then 'View Online Digital Item.'
How about georeferencing?
Glad you asked. For those of you who like a challenge, we have made all of the maps from this release available on our Georeferencer Tool. See how you get on with geolocating the maps. Some will be easier than others.
What can I do with the images?
You are free to study, enjoy, download and remix these images as you see fit. When doing so, please bear in mind any potential cultural or other sensitivities associated with them. Importantly, we’d really like to know what you are doing with the images so please let us know @BLMaps or by emailing [email protected], we’d love to hear from you.
Who do we have to thank?
So very many people. Here goes:
Generous trusts and individuals including the American Trust for the British Library, Art Scholars Charitable Trust, Blue Rubicon, Viscountess Boyd Charitable Trust, Christies Education, Coles Medlock Charitable Foundation, Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Dunard Fund, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, Englefield Charitable Trust, Edward and Dorothy Cadbury Trust, Hadfield Trust, John R Murray Charitable Trust, Ken Biggs Charitable Trust, Samuel H Kress Foundation, Langtree Trust, London Historians Ltd, London Topographical Society, Maunby Investment Management Ltd , PH Charitable Trust, Peck Stacpoole Foundation, Pitt Rivers Charitable Trust, Reed Foundation, Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Swinton Charitable Trust, Trefoil Trust, Turtleton Charitable Trust, Cyrus Alai, Caroline and Peter Batchelor, Michael Buehler, Tom Boyd, Richard H Brown, Claire Gapper, William B Ginsberg, Jaime Gonzalez, Martin Halusa, Jerome S Handler, Peter Holland, Tina Holland, Arthur Holzheimer, J Michael Horgan, John Leighfield, Norman Leventhal, Sri Prakash Lohia, Tom and Hilary Lynch, Lynda Partridge, Robert E Pierce, Carolyn Ritchie, David Rumsey, J T Touchton, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Peter A Woodsford and others who wish to remain anonymous.
Dedicated project staff Felicity Myrone, Hugh Brown, Alex Ault, Mercedes Ceron, Kate Marshall, Magdalena Kowalczuk, Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Rebecca Whiteley, Marianne Yule, Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale, Tamara Tubb, Fred Smith, Jeremy Brown and Emily Roy.
Also very dedicated British Library colleagues Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Gethin Rees, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.
And finally, none of this would have been possible without the efforts of Peter Barber, Head of British Library Map Collections until his retirement in 2015, in promoting the research value, relevance and importance of the King’s Topographical Collection to existing and new audiences.
05 August 2020
Can maps express poetry? French architect Le Corbusier believed so. In Towards a New Architecture, his influential work on Modernism of 1923, he selected this image of an aeroplane cockpit - an aviation map surrounded by dials – to illustrate what he called poetic facts:
‘Poetry lies not only in the spoken or written word. The poetry of facts is stronger still. Objects which signify something, and which are arranged with talent and with tact, create a poetic fact.’
Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier, 1923. BL General Reference Collection 07815.h.26.
Could a map even be a poem? This recent purchase by the Map Library suggests it can.
Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966. Shelfmark not yet allocated. Image courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection.
Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, was made in 1966 by Japanese artist Chieko Shiomi (later Mieko). She had recently moved to New York to join colleagues in the Fluxus network, a community of artists around the world dedicated to experimental performance work, whose members included George Maciunas (the founder), John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Richard Hamilton and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Shiomi organised a series of ‘Spatial Poem’ events, in which she invited Fluxus colleagues to perform a specific action and then post a response back to her in the mail. This map documents responses she received during the second event, and bears the following subtitle: ‘This is the record of various directions to which people were simultaneously moving or facing around 10pm (Greenwich time) October 15th 1965’.
In Shiomi’s own words,
‘There are time gaps, since this Event took place all over the Earth. I sent the participants a list of time gaps in different places and asked them to report what direction each of them was facing at the same particular moment. While there were simple reports such as they were facing the ceiling, a newspaper, or a television, there were also interesting interpretations and calculated performances. Maciunas sent a report saying that he brought a swivel chair into an elevator and pressed the button to go up. While the elevator was ascending, he was rotating at high speed on the chair. Thus he insisted that he was directed toward all three hundred and sixty degrees while ascending. Somebody else reported that his direction varied because he was chasing a mouse that had entered the bedroom. Or a person told me he was "going from his 4th glass of beer to his 5th glass of beer," and yet another reported that she was "going in the direction of simplification." [Text courtesy MOMA].
Portrait of Chieko Shiomi at the first Spatial Poem event, 1965, New York. Image courtesy MOMA.
Visually, it's the sort of map you might encounter in a dream. Modern and ancient motifs appear side by side, and create an atmosphere at once familiar but strange. These two wind faces hark back to a World Map of Ptolemy from 1482.
Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and of Ptolemy World Map, 1482 (below). BL IC. 9304.
A woodcut figure, who hovers over Los Angeles and aims an early sextant at the Pacific Ocean, first appeared in 1677 in Nathaniel Colson’s The Mariners New Kalendar (BL General Reference Collection 8805.bb.35.). An earlier version of the image, reproduced below, is taken from John Seller’s Practical Navigation of 1669.
Detail of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669 (below). Image from Wikipedia.
A number of curious compass/clock devices adorn the map – one forms a cartouche with the map’s title, while others mark different times around the world. These have been adapted from the diagram of a sixteenth-century survey instrument used in the construction of mine shafts. The original appeared in De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola in 1556.
Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556 (below). Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Jumping forward through the centuries, a contemporary window pane in Copenhagen is shattered by a ball.
Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.
Alongside this evocative mix of images, the text responses received by Shiomi have been ordered into shapes and spirals that convey the momentary locations, directions and population distribution of Fluxus members as well as any modern infographic.
Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.
Returning to Le Corbusier’s words – if poetry is found in an object which signifies something and is laid out with talent and with tact, then surely it resides here in Shiomi’s map.
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