23 December 2020
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, 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.
[Exports of sawn wood], Atlas de Finlande
[Average seasonal and annual wind directions], Atlas de Finlande
[Rural schools], Atlas de Finlande
[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.
[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...
[Forests], Atlas de Finlande
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].
23 April 2020
Here at the British Library we’ve been digitising our maps and making them available for over two decades now. Consequently, there’s a wealth of fantastic and inspiring free-to-view historic maps on the web. In addition to ever-increasing quantities of maps on our own platforms, our digitised maps are also hosted by other cultural institutions, organisations and individuals with whom we’ve been pleased to collaborate.
This seemed like as good a time as any to pull a load of them together and let you know about them.
So, in this first of two posts, here are a few of the places on the British Library’s site where you can find digitised maps, and upon finding them, use them escape to the ends of the earth (or the end of your street) from the comfort of your own home. Enjoy.
3D virtual globes
We just did this, and we hope you like it. 3D virtual models of 10 of our historic globes from the 17th - 19th centuries with thanks to our Digitisation Services and digitisation company Cyreal. Another 20 will be added over the coming months.
The British Library’s Georeferencer isn’t strictly a collection of maps, since it draws its 56,000-odd maps from a variety of places (including the below sources). But you can definitely search for maps in it, for example by using this crazy map with all of the georeferenced maps located on it. Zoom in for it to make more sense, and find the area you’re interested in.
900 or so images, many of them maps from the King’s Topographical Collection, illustrating a series of new and repurposed articles on the subject of illustrating place. The project was generously funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The Finnis Scott Foundation, Marc Fitch Fund and Coles-Medlock Foundation.
20th century maps
Here are round a hundred maps from articles produced as part of our 'Mapping the twentieth century: drawing the line' exhibition.
The British Library’s Online Gallery was set up through the Library’s ‘Collect Britain’ project in the early noughties. There are thousands of maps on here, and although the Zoomify and browse facilities are no longer functioning (we’re in the process of migrating this stuff onto a new platform) there are still some great maps here, such as
The Crace collection of maps of London
One of the finest collections of historic maps of London anywhere, collected by a commissioner of London’s sewers and George IV’s interior decorator. Around 1200 maps from between around 1550-1850, digitisation generously funded in part by the London Topographical Society. Crace’s collection of London views are held by the British Museum.
All the maps from the Online Gallery are also available (in higher resolution) alongside maps from other collections via the Old Maps Online portal (with its fun geographical search tool). https://www.oldmapsonline.org/
Turning the Pages
This is another older British Library resource but it has a couple of really choice atlases in it. Are there any more choice atlases than Gerhard Mercator’s hand-made Atlas of Europe of 1570 (which contains the only two surviving maps drawn by the man himself)? Or one of the volumes from the famous multi-volume Beudeker Atlas containing maps and views of Dutch stately homes from the 17th and 18th centuries.
A number of maps and atlases held in the Western Manuscript collection have been digitised and found their way onto the Digitised manuscripts page. If you know what you're looking for you can search by pressmark. Or you can search by keyword (i.e. maps, plans etc.) if you're just browsing.
Many highlights reside here, including the late 16th century Burghley-Saxton atlas (containing the first printed county maps of England and Wales in proof) at Royal MS 18.DIII http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_18_d_iii
Explore the British Library
The British Library's principal online catalogue does include thumbnail images for a tiny number of maps, but coverage is extremely uneven and the resolution of images is variable (to get a larger image for non commercial use, click on the map's title included in the right hand part of the details section). You may be lucky - for example if you're interested in Jacques Callot's map of the 1627 siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
In a later blog I'll be listing non-British Library platforms and sites where you can find free-to-access British Library digitised maps. But in the meantime, I hope this keeps you busy.
21 December 2016
The Ancient Mappe of Fairyland was published in London in 1918. It shows a vivid fantasy island inhabited by a riotous range of make-believe characters from Peter Pan and Puss-in-Boots to Hansel, Gretel and Three Blind Mice. You can see the original map in our current map exhibition, as well as viewing a larger online version here.
But why does Santa Claus not appear on the map? The answer, of course, is that unlike these fantastical characters, Santa is emphatically REAL.
However, since every fantasy contains a hint of reality, and to honour Fairyland's mapmaker - the appropriately named Bernard Sleigh - here is Santa, instated on the map in the icy north where he belongs.
With festive greetings from everyone here at the British Library's Map Library.
13 September 2016
Above: the Northwest Passage as charted by Capt. Robert McClure. Chart shewing the Northwest Passage discovered by Capt. Robert le M. M’Clure [Maps.982 (51)].
Yesterday The Guardian broke the news that, after over 160 years of searching for the ships commanded by Sir John Franklin on his doomed expedition, HMS Terror had been found in the Arctic. Submerged in Terror Bay, part of King William Island, the ship is in remarkably good condition and promises, like HMS Erebus, found in 2014, to provide further details as to what happened to Franklin and his crew in their final days. What the find achieves straight away is to provide an end to the search for these two ships, an endeavour which, during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, has become a story all of its own.
The search for HMS Erebus and Terror and the various stories, published accounts and maps which arose from this endeavour have become their own drama filled with shocking discoveries, perils and intrigues which have captivated imaginations across the world. This is the focus of the middle part of the upcoming book, Lines in the Ice: Exploring the Roof of the World, which predominantly uses the British Library's collections to shed light on the long history of this search. Sir John Franklin and those who travelled with him disappeared in the Canadian Arctic while searching for something that had obsessed mariners from England and Scotland for centuries, an Arctic trade route via the 'Northwest Passage'. During the resulting quest to find Franklin and his expedition many other crews wintered in the Arctic, men found ways to entertain themselves against both hardship and boredom, ingenious tools were used to search new areas and the Northwest Passage itself was crossed; albeit not in the way intended by those hoping to find a trade route in these Arctic waters. The maps and images displayed here are some of those produced in official and published accounts which arose from these expeditions and are reproduced in Lines in the Ice.
Above: ships involved in the Franklin searches wait for dawn and the end of winter. 'HMS Assistance and Pioneer in Winter Quarters' [Shelfmark: 1781.a.23].
Eventually these expeditions began to discover what happened to Franklin's crew, even if the ships themselves were not located, and the answers found were not to everyone's taste. During an overland search for the crews of HMS Erebus and Terror Dr. John Rae had encountered Inuit who told him that others in the area had tried to help white men who were heading south. These men, sick and close to death, and the camps they left showed signs that they had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive, something Dr. Rae reported on his return to England. This was met with indignation from many, not least Lady Jane Franklin and those she encouraged to write against Dr. Rae, notably the author Charles Dickens. Despite the rhetoric deployed against Rae and his Inuit informants their account has been shown to be correct by further investigation. However, to this day Inuit accounts of the fate of the expedition and the location of the ships have been treated with distrust by many. How fitting, then, that both ships have now been found in locations which Inuit histories long suggested searchers should investigate.
Above: the 'Boat-Cloak', praised by Dr. Rae as an essential tool for Arctic exploration. From Peter Halkett’s published description, Boat-Cloak or Cloak-Boat [1269.d.5].
Lines in the Ice is published by British Library Publishing (UK) and McGill-Queen's University Press (North America) and out now. As the book shows, the search for Franklin is well documented in maps, views and printed books around the world, the end of the story about the fate of the man and his crew, it now seems, will be found beneath the sea.
10 August 2016
A funny thing happened last week as I noticed that the Georeferencer project's current phase had stalled around the 32% mark. Having checked on the project progress bar for a few days I decided we had lost momentum on the project, perhaps due to it being the summer holidays, personal commitments, a frustration with some of the content, or any other number of other reasons. Deciding I could not encourage more use without 'practicing what you preach' and getting stuck into the current cache of maps, I sat down in my breaks - for the first time in too long - to work through a chunk of the project using the lists of maps 'to be georeferenced' held on Wikimedia Commons.
After working my way through a number of maps I noticed two things. First off, progress on the Georeferencer project has not stalled, instead the counter on the front page has mysteriously stopped working (if you go there now you will still see it needs fixing). Instead, if you go to the 'Participants' tab you will see a different picture, one that suggests that, far from stalling, the project is actually charging along. At the time of writing 24,508 maps have been georeferenced, around 42% of what is currently in the system. The second thing I noticed was that I was hooked. Again.
Yes, despite the fact that there is no emergency or need to inspire more work on the system I'm still finding spare time to do 'just one more', the cartographic equivalent of computer gaming's 'One More Turn' syndrome. Now that I'm hooked I thought I would share some maps I georeferenced that worked out particularly well; the New York one lines up very pleasingly (grid systems make georeferencing much easier) while the map of the voyage of the Pandora satisfies my enthusiasm for Arctic maps, but, as usual, I have enjoyed working on every map I've done in this batch. I should probably back off a little now - not least as I have to sit down and write some talks around my new book - but I suspect I'll be dropping back in for 'Just One More Map' on a regular basis.
Thanks go out, as always, to our volunteers who are working through this large volume of material. We are making great progress here at the Library adding the data produced to catalogue records for the sheet charts, atlases and printed books that contain these maps and each newly georeferenced map means more useful data can be added to the catalogue. For those of you working on the project, don't forget about our lists of maps to be georeferenced over at Wiki Commons, they really do make the project more enjoyable - as I suggested in a previous post. For anyone reading this who wants to get involved in the project for the first time you can find out how here.
10 November 2015
Most of you know the British Library and a dedicated group of volunteers have, for the last few years, been plugging away at georeferencing maps from across the Library’s collections. The most recent, and rather large, set of maps has been carved out of the cache of Library images held on Flickr and now our volunteers are working their way through over 50,000 maps in need of georeferencing. Thanks to the work of our dedicated georeferencers things are progressing well, with over 9,000 maps referenced so far but for those of you interested in getting involved there are still plenty of opportunities for you to do so.
Above: the geographical spread of the maps georeferenced so far.
As you can see above, the georeferencing done so far has already dealt with maps from an impressively wide geographical area. In fact, there are now so many maps available I'm going through them and picking out some that strike me as particularly interesting. The below map of the expedition of Baron Adolf Eric Nordenskiӧld into the interior of Greenland is from a publication about his 1883 trek to understand more about the continent, it's also one of my favorites from the current georeferenced batch. The map almost made it into the Library’s recent Lines in the Ice exhibition as Nordenskiӧld encountered what he thought was a new mineral, Kryokonite, but which turned out to be coal dust deposited by snow. In short, Nordenskiӧld found some of the earliest evidence of the global circulation of pollutants – he just didn’t know it yet.
Above: map of Baron Adolf Eric Nordenskiӧld’s 1883 Greenland expedition. See in Georeferencer.
For completely different reasons I’m also very keen on the two following maps, depicting late nineteenth century Niagara Falls (both sides) and Melbourne at a similar time. It’s not so much the content of the original maps as their situation on the contemporary Google Map which interests me here as both now form small parts of sprawling urbanised areas. Niagara Falls has not developed in the same manner as Melbourne, which grew explosively in the late twentieth century, but both maps and their background say a lot about twentieth century urban development.
Above: Niagara Falls, Canada and U. S. A., published 1886. See in Georeferencer.
Above: Melbourne, Australia, published 1888. See in Georeferencer.
It is these sorts of historical nuggets and contemporary juxtapositions which make the BL Georeferencer so interesting and if this whets your appetite to get involved I have good news, there are still plenty of maps left to work with. You can find out more about the process of signing up and working with the material here. Another gem to come out of the work of our volunteers’ work is the availability of these maps through the wonderful Old Maps Online. This has been available through a web browser for some time but it now comes to you in a mobile phone app too.
There is more information about the app and its uses via this press release from the Old Maps Online team and it is well worth a read. For the purpose of this blog the most pertinent thing to point out is that the maps you reference from the current cache of material will also be available, in the palm of your hand, through this app. The bonus feature of the Old Maps Online app is that you can now find maps about where you are, wherever you are, so long as you have your phone, a signal and (especially if you are outside of your home country) a suitable mobile data package.
This means that if you go for a walk, say, on the Downs of Kent you can open the app and see georeferenced material about your location originating from the British Library, and other institutions who have taken part in the project. All this while stood in a field, a bog, a forest or a town. Have a go, it really is great fun.
24 April 2015
At first maps were only thought of as representations of the places and the things they showed.
But in the 1980s (thanks in part to Jorge Luis Borges' tatty old lifesize cloth map) postmodernist historians began to see more power in them, and they became understood not as surrogates but as the prime reality of the places they were supposed to be showing. Given that one can't see an entire country very easily (apart from from space), it is easy to see how maps can become not just virtual, but actual realities to those who look at them.
From this point it is just a short leap to the position that maps - truthful, believable maps - are being used to persuade, hoodwink and indoctrinate. And so we come to the British Library, the University of Nottingham and FutureLearn's new and FREE online course entitled 'Propaganda and Ideology in everyday life.' Designed to explore how propaganda interacts with us on a daily basis, in positive and negative ways, the course uses content and ideas from our 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' exhibition, and maps from our more recent 'Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage'.
The maps include a Russian 'Atlas of the Arctic', a powerful high-end and symbolic cartogrpahic product, but maps don't just function in the corridors of wealth and power. Maps for schools, including this Russian one from 1903, persuaded schoolchildren, by means of beautiful colourful decoration, that Russia had lots of food and produce. It was in fact in the middle of a famine, but if the map shows it, it must be true. Right?
Наглядная карта Европейской Россiи. Составлена М.И. Томасикомъ. Дополнена и издана кружкомъ учителей подъ редакцией В.В. Урусова. M. I . Tomasik, Warsaw, 1903. British Library Maps Roll 537.
The British Library contains one of the vastest and most powerful map archives the world has ever seen. Millions of virtual (or are they actual?) worlds are contained in our vaults. But I'm not the only person surrounded by maps. You are too. What is great about this course is that it encourages its students to notice and collect maps in everyday life. Maps are all around us, and their shapes and symbolism works powerfully upon us- especially powerfully, since we don't really notice it happening.
If you take the course (which starts on 11 May) have your eyes opened to propaganda in your everyday life. It will be especially potent during the General Election campaign. Use the underground / metro / subway and you will see far more maps down there than just the tube map. Look around you!
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Where’s Father Christmas? A look at the Atlas de Finlande, the first national atlas
- King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps
- Festive Fairyland
- The long search for HMS 'Terror'
- Hooked on Georeferencing
- Putting yourself on the (old) map
- Maps lie in a new online course
- Lines in the Ice: top five highlights
- England and the North-East Passage