03 December 2020
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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
17 July 2020
This final chapter discusses a number of cartographic innovations from the middle of the twentieth century onwards that exploited the ability of photographs to capture data - from developments in aerial photogrammetry, through multispectral satellite mapping and surveillance imagery, to the digital map platforms of today.
Technical innovations that had begun during the Second World War soon extended into the civilian sphere with the widespread adoption of aerial photogrammetry by national mapping agencies worldwide – a development that arguably had a greater impact than any other on mapping practices of the twentieth century. New radar surveying techniques allowed air photographs to be pinpointed on the ground more accurately, more economically and over far greater areas than before, bringing vast regions of inaccessible terrain within the mapmaker’s scope for the first time.
Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the whole of the Soviet Union was mapped in this way, resulting in over 300,000 sheets at a scale of 1:25,000. During the same period, the British Directorate of Overseas Surveys also covered over 2.5 million square miles of land, mostly over former British colonies and administrations that had no mapping capability of their own. The image below shows an isolated settlement and nearby areas of subsistence agriculture in eastern Nigeria. Maps made from such images contributed to state economic and social planning initiatives.
Aerial photograph of Nanguru, Nigeria, 1974. Image courtesy National Collection of Aerial Photography.
Mapping vast, sometimes featureless, inland regions led to some eccentric examples of cartography. The following detail is taken from one Australian map sheet that covers more than 2,750 square kilometers of the Great Sandy Desert. Each square is one kilometre on the side. Of the total 3,062 sheets in the series covering the whole country, only half were printed – this sheet was selected for print on account of a single track that meanders briefly along the bottom edge, before diverting back to the adjacent sheet beneath.
Detail of Australia 1:100,000 topographic survey, Weenoo Sheet 3256, 1972. BL Maps 90050.(125.).
Widespread use of air photographs also led to security concerns. As part of the British reconstruction effort after the war, the RAF covered the whole of Great Britain with aerial photography in order to assess bomb damage. Between 1945 and 1951 the Ordnance Survey published the photography as OS Mosaics, large-scale rectified photomaps of towns, cities and some rural areas.
After many images had already been published, it was feared that foreign states might benefit from the level of detail of sensitive sites that was revealed. Further editions of the same sites were therefore over-painted before publication in order to remove or disguise these features. The military airfield shown in the image below has been replaced by a fictitious pattern of fields and country lanes in the later version beneath. In 1954 OS Mosaics were removed from sale entirely.
Air photo mosaics of Britain, sheet 26/32 NE, 1946 (above), 1950 (below). BL Maps O.S.M. Image courtesy Lie of the Land, pub The British Library, 2001.
An alternative and innovative approach to photomapping was taken in Sweden. From as early as 1935, aerial photography was incorporated into the Ekonomisk Karta land use series. The large-scale photographs provided a base layer onto which topographic, cadastral and land use symbols and colours were added.
Detail of Ekonomisk Karta Över Sverige, Sheet 20K7D, 1959. BL Maps 35290.(48.). Image courtesy Lantmäteriet.
Stereo pairs of air photographs could be made into three-dimensional ‘anaglyph’ images, which were viewed through coloured glasses. Examples of these were created for military planning purposes during the Second World War, such as a German series from 1944 showing the Istrian coastline (held at BL Maps Y.3842.). After the war, the French national mapping agency published a number of anaglyphs in a Relief Form Atlas of 1956. The purpose of the atlas was to teach readers to understand the mapping of a wide variety of landscapes by showing three-dimensional views alongside maps of the same location. The following image of the volcanic cone atop Mount Karthala in the Comoros is striking when viewed through a pair of red and blue 3D glasses.
Anaglyph image and map of complex crater, Comoros, 1949, in Relief Form Atlas, pub IGN, 1956. BL Maps Ref. 912 1956.
Images taken from aeroplanes were soon joined by those taken from satellites, after the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 sparked the Space Race between themselves and the USA. The speed of technological developments over this period is encapsulated in the three images following. This annotated photograph taken from a military aeroplane in 1936 captures the curvature of the Earth for the first time, and shows the highest point then reached by man.
The first photograph ever made showing the division between the troposhere and the stratosphere and also the actual curvature of the earth, National Geographic Society, 1936. BL Maps Y.84. Image courtesy Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Only two decades later an unmanned Russian spacecraft, Luna 3, took the first pictures of the far side of the moon as it orbited in 1959. The images were transmitted back to Earth by radio link and published in Moscow the following year in the Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon.
Atlas obratnoi storony luny [Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon], pub Akademia NAUK SSSR, 1960. BL Maps 29.b.68.
Within the next ten years man too had travelled round the moon. American astronaut William Anders took this iconic photograph, which looks back at the Earth as it rises above the lunar surface – an image of the world that had previously been possible only in the imagination.
Earthrise, 1968. Image © NASA.
Both the Soviet Union and the USA launched military reconnaissance satellites during the early 1960s that were capable of creating high resolution imagery for intelligence and mapping purposes. Civilian satellites followed, perhaps the most successful of which was Landsat, launched by the USA in 1972.
Multispectral satellite imagery became an essential feature of land survey and resource management, leading to a proliferation of thematic maps, and a new category of mapping under the title satellite image maps. The ease with which satellite imagery could track changes over time in the environment also brought new insights to many areas of study, including urbanisation, de-forestation, analysis of weather systems, and ocean dynamics.
Upper Chesapeake Bay satellite image map, second experimental edition, USGS, 1972. BL Maps X.2987. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
Nowadays aerial photographs and satellite images are ubiquitous in digital mapping products that have become a common feature of everyday life. 2001 saw the launch of Google Earth, an application in which satellite imagery and aerial photography are draped over digital terrain models to provide interactive three-dimensional map views.
Screenshot showing the Island of Stromboli, Google Earth, 2020.
In other applications, maps and photographs are now interchangeable - users can choose between map or satellite viewing modes.
Screenshots taken from Google Maps, 2020.
Google Street View, launched in 2007, integrates terrestrial photography and cartography to create a model of the world from a horizontal viewpoint – a mode of representation with antecedents in artworks of former times. In the early 1900s, Eugène Atget started to make images of the older parts of Paris with the intention to record streets and buildings that risked being torn down and re-developed. By 1920 he was able to write, ‘This enormous artistic and documentary collection is now complete. I may say that I have in my possession all of Old Paris’.
Cabaret ‘Au Port-Salut’ by Eugène Atget, 1903. Image courtesy Bibliotèque historique de la Ville de Paris.
Half a century later, American artist Ed Ruscha created an artwork entitled Every Building on the Sunset Strip by fixing a camera onto the back of his truck and driving up and down as it took pictures on a timer. His intention was to recreate the experience of moving through the landscape.
Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha, 1966. Image courtesy National Gallery of Australia.
Google Street View now also employs cameras fixed to cars, or strapped to pedestrians’ backs, to create strips of 360-degree images stitched together. The artistry and focus on aesthetic have been lost in these pictures made by machines, but those qualities have been replaced by functionality. Google’s georeferenced, navigable imagery allows users to search and interact with a vast database of (mainly business) information. The corner building shown below, tagged so that one can choose to see the menu or make a booking at the restaurant within, is the same as that in the Atget photograph from 100 years before.
Screenshot taken from Google Street View, 2020.
The perceived realism of digital maps and photographs makes them particularly persuasive. However, two posts reproduced from Twitter, below, document conflicting facts about the shooting down of an American drone by Iranian forces in June 2019. The first, published by US Central Command, shows the drone flying through international, not Iranian, airspace when it was hit, while the second image, posted the following day by the Foreign Minister of Iran, shows the drone in a different location, within Iranian airspace.
Screenshot of Image posted by US Central Command on Twitter, 2019.
This incident reminds us that the latest generation of maps and images remains as susceptible as any before to manipulation or exploitation.
Today more than ever, maps and photographs go hand-in-hand in our ceaseless attempts to capture, model, and mould the world around us.
08 July 2020
We have come to the fourth and final qualifying group of our British Library world map world cup, and in it we have four extraordinary and breathtaking examples of cartography from between the 11th and 20th centuries. I hope the following descriptions, links and images will provide you with what you need to make your difficult choice.
Vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps). The top two maps will go through to the quarter finals tomorrow, Friday July 10th.
1.Beatus of Liébana world map. Drawn in Burgos, Spain, between 1091 and 1109 (Add.MS 11695)
The 15 surviving 'Beatus' maps are included in textual commentaries on the Apocalypse of St John (from the New Testament Book of Revelation) written by the Spanish theologian Beatus of Liébana (fl.776–86). The British Library’s example, arguably more powerful and brooding than the others, is a diagrammatic image with powerful pictorial elements. These include fishes swimming in the sea encircling the world, the‘molehill’ mountains and the unforgettable image of the Garden of Eden at the top of the map, in the east. It was produced in northern Spain (in the monastery of San Domingo de Silos) in around 1109, and as a result reflects Islamic pictorial influences that had spread from northern Africa.
Link to digitised example: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/beatus-world-map
Further reading: Peter Barber, 'Medieval world maps; in Paul Harvey, The Hereford World Map: medieval world maps and their contexts (London: British LIbrary, 2006).
2. The Contarini-Rosselli world map. Engraving, published in Florence in 1506 (Maps C.2.cc.4).
This is the earliest surviving printed map to show any part of the Americas. It was published in Florence in 1506, only a decade or so after Christopher Columbus's first voyage in 1492. The map, which is by the Venetian Giovanni Matteo Contarini and Florentine Francesco Rosselli, has been celebrated for its American content ever since this only known copy was purchased by the British Museum in 1922. But it is an extremely early and partial glimpse of eastern America: Newfoundland and Labrador are shown cemented on to Kamchatka, Cuba and Hispaniola are floating next to Japan, and South America is joined to the vast Southern Continent.
Link to digital copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/first-known-printed-world-map-showing-america
3. Aḍhāīdvīpa. Painted in Rajasthan in 1830 (Add.Or. 1814).
This is a map showing the structure of the world of Jainism, a religious system founded in northern India in the sixth or seventh century BCE. The map, which is in Sanskrit, was painted onto cloth in Rajasthan in 1830, and like many of the European medieval mappamundi, it illustrates a fusion of human and sacred geography. At the centre is the recognisable, terrestrial world of people (Mount Meru is at the centre, as it is in the Korean Ch’ ōnhado maps). Surrounding it is the spiritual world: green concentric-ringed continents illustrated by lunar symbols and separated by fish-filled oceans, beyond which is the outer land of the jinas or prophets.
Link to digital copy: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_Or_1814
Further reading: Joseph E. Schwartzburg, 'Cosmological mapping' in The history of cartography volume two, book one: cartography in the traditional Islamic and South Asian societies (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994).
4. Self determination world map, by F. Klimesch. Published in Berlin in around 1919 (Maps CC.5.b.29).
The only 20th century world map to make it into our World Map World Cup competition (not that there aren't many great 20th century world maps, just a mere 16 places to fill), is a German map produced in the wake of the peace treaties following the defeat of Germany and the end of the Great War, 1914-1918. It shows the victorious allies Britain, France, Russia and the USA as soldier figures, holding leashes attached to their respective national beasts. These beasts have been placed over the colonies they controlled.
The title explains why: 'What would be left of the entente if it made serious the right of self-determination of their own people and let go of the reins!' The map calls out the Allies' decision to confiscate German colonies under the principle of 'self determination,' but to retain theirs regardless. Given the century-long process of decolonisation that ensued, and ensues, the map is profoundly and powerfully prescient.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/was-von-der-entente
06 July 2020
Hello and welcome to Group two of our British Library world map world cup.
In every world cup there tends to be a group of death. This group is the football equivalent of Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain all together. So I hope the following descriptions, links and images will provide you with what you need to choose between them.
Vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps). The top two maps will go through to the quarter finals on Friday.
1. Vesconte-Sanudo Mappamundi.
Drawn in Venice or Genoa in around 1325 (Add. MS 27376*).
This map is an extraordinary hybrid between a traditional 'mappamundi' and a portolan or sea chart. It was drawn by the Genoses chartmaker Pietro Vesconte to illustrate Marino Sanudo's mysteriously-titled book 'Secret book of the Faith of the Cross.' The book was presented to Pope John XX in order to persuade him to give his blessing to a Christian Crusade to invade the Holy Land. Other maps in the book illustrated the route to the Holy Land and the goal of the proposed mission: Acre and Jerusalem.
The world map is particularly clever because, most unusually, it consciously played down Christian iconography in order to present the Pope with an image of Christianity in crisis.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/liber-secretorum-fidelium-crucis-by-marino-sanudo
2. World map by Pierre Desceliers, 1550.
Drawn in Dieppe, 1550 (Add.MS 24065).
Descelier's map is perhaps the crowning achievement of the Dieppe School of French chartmakers; a large planisphere focused upon navigational information (it has dual orientation indicating that it was to be viewed upon a table) but also corresponding to the idea of a visual encyclopedia of everything occurring in the world. The map contains the arms of Henri II of France and the Duc de Montmorency and could have been owned by either. Of particular interest is its depiction of areas of North America then only recently encountered by Jacques Cartier and the unusual arrangement of South East Asia and Australasia entitled Java La Grande that would flummox Europeans up to and beyond the journeys of James Cook two centuries later,
Further reading: Sarah Toulouse, 'Marine cartography and navigation in Renaissance France' in The history of cartography volume three, part two: cartogrpahy in the European Renaissance (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007).
3. Joan Blaeu world map, 1648.
Engraving on 21 sheets, printed in Amsterdam, 1648 (Maps KAR.(1-2.).).
Blaeu's gargantuan map is regarded as the high water mark of Dutch cartography, and that's saying something given the quality of 17th century Netherlands cartography. There are two main reasons for this high regard. Firstly, the technical skill and artistry involved in creating such a high-quality printed map over 3 metres wide. The second is the range and quantity of first-hand geographical information it shows. Blaeu was chief cartographer of the Verenig Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), charged with compiling charts from the latest information gathered from company ships. Instead of secreting this commercially sensitive information like the Portuguese and Spanish did, Blaeu stuck it on a publicly available map. For the Dutch, nothing was more important than business.
The map was used as the model for the giant floor mural of Amsterdam Town Hall. There are a small number of copies still in existence, this one was owned by Charles II.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/klencke-atlas
Further reading: Commercial Cartography and Map Production in the Low Countries, 1500–ca. 1672 in The history of cartography volume three: cartograpy in the European Renaissance (part two).
4. Ch’ ōnhado (Map of All Under Heaven), c. 1800.
Woodcut, printed in Seoul (Maps C.27.f.14.)
This incredible map, which is part of a set of maps showing the world and regions of Korea, is one of select group of Korean world maps produced during the late 18th and 19th centuries. They show the world oriented to the east and centred upon East Asia. Look carefully and you can make out the eastern coast of China, Beiing a large red symbol, with the yellow river and Great Wall nearby. The rest of the world are scattered islands on the periphery. These maps were far more basic than earlier Korean-produced maps, and it has been suggested that one of their intended audiences was tourists.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/cheonhado-world-map
Further reading: Gari Ledyard, 'Cartography in Korea' in The history of cartography volume two book two: cartography in the traditional east and East Asian societies (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994).
04 July 2020
World maps are amazing things for their ability to conceptualise the earth and capture it in miniature. Of course, this comes at a price. World maps, perhaps more than any other 'image,' are powerful and subjective. Each one contains a particular world view, and throughout history they, or rather their makers, have tended use them to impose their views upon others. Who is at the world's centre? Who is relegated to the margins? Who is shrunken in size, and who is removed from the map all together?
So it's a strange quirk of history that during the 20th century, that most antagonistic of eras, the world map came to be seen as a symbol of co-operation, togetherness, shared heritage and environmental awareness (thanks in no small part to NASA's famous 1968 Earthrise photograph of our vulnerable planet hanging in the void). As a result, a world map is now capable of saying “we’re all in it together”. It’s World Population Day on Saturday 11 July, so let's attempt to reclaim some of that spirit.
I'd like to invite you to help us choose the British Library’s favourite world map. Over the next week I’m going to introduce sixteen of the most extraordinary and groundbreaking world maps from between the 11th and 20th centuries, carefully selected from the British Library’s collection of over 4 million maps.
The maps will be arranged into 4 groups, with one Twitter poll per day (Monday to Thursday) deciding which two maps from each group will go through to the quarter finals on Friday. The semi finals and final poll will happen on Saturday, and we’ll think up something special for the winner. Follow us @BLMaps, hashtag #BLWorldMapWorldCup.
What selection criteria might you use? Well, did the map capture some signal shift in civilisation? Is it unique, beautiful, technically accomplished or cleverly made? Or do you just like it because you like it? That’s valid too.
Hopefully through this just-for-fun competition it will be possible to appreciate the history of a world of multiple viewpoints; and, though it won't be easy, to begin to rediscover ones which have been erased.
11 June 2020
Exactly 250 years ago today Captain James Cook ‘discovered’ the Great Barrier Reef the hard way when his ship Endeavour ran into it on the 11th June 1770 and nearly sank. The Reef is located in the Coral Sea off the north-eastern coast of Australia and stretches some 2,300 km (over 1,400 miles). This unique marine ecosystem is the world’s largest structure made of living organisms which UNESCO declared a protected World Heritage Site in 1981.
Detail from Part of the southern Hemispher[e] showing the Resolutions track through the Pacific and southern ocean’ by Joseph Gilbert taken during Captain James Cook's voyage in the Resolution through the Pacific and Southern Oceans (1772-1775) showing the coast of Australia with the Great Barrier Reef depicted as unconnected shoals and small islands. Add MS 15500, f 1
Maps and charts drawn by Captain James Cook can be found among the British Library’s collections as well as other documents related to his voyages, including Endeavour’s log book. According to the captain’s log on Monday 11 June 1770 the conditions were good with ‘fine weather and smooth sea’. Cook was aware of underwater obstacles and was cautiously navigating through the maze of rocks and shoals recording depth soundings regularly, when suddenly just before 11pm the ship collided with a rock (which he later realised was a bank of coral).
Detail from the Captain’s log dated 11th June 1770 reporting the incident (folio 125r). Log-book of the Endeavour, Lieutenant James Cook, Commander, from May 1768 to July 1771, Add MS 8959, f. 125r
After 23 long hours of desperate attempts to re-float the ship (including throwing cannons, iron and stone ballast, casks, even oil jars, overboard to lighten the vessel) Cook and his crew finally managed to get Endeavour off the reef. They made their way to shore where on the banks of the river at the site of modern Cooktown repairs were carried out.
A chart of part of the sea coast of New South Wales, on the east coast of New Holland, from Cape Tribulation to Endeavour Straits; drawn by Lieut. James Cook, 1770. Second image: detail showing the locations of the incident and a makeshift harbour on the Endeavours River. Add MS 7085, f 39
Cook never fully realised the vastness of the Great Barrier Reef, nevertheless the maps and charts compiled during his voyages were extremely detailed and provided the basis for further exploration of the Australian coastal waters. They were gradually improved upon through painstaking surveys carried out over the following years by various Admiralty captains and naval officers. A series of navigational charts produced by the Hydrographic Office covering the region were constantly updated and reissued with corrections well into the 20th century. Sir David Attenborough recalls using Cook’s charts as late as the 1950s when sailing parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
Chart of the Northern part of the Great Barrier Reef including Torres Strait & yt adjacent coast of New Guinea published in A sketch of the physical structure of Australia..., 1850. 10491.e.18
Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reefs ... from the surveys of Captains Flinders, P.P. King, Blackwood, Owen Stanley and Yule, 1802-50 ; the outer detached reefs, and line of Great Barrier Reefs from Captain Denham, R.N. 1858-60 compiled in the Hydrographic Office by Mr. F.J. Evans, 1860. Maps SEC.14.(2763, 2764.) Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is home to the richest biodiversity on Earth providing feeding grounds, nursery areas and living space to countless marine species. The Reef is incredibly important not only to the oceanic life, it also helps to shield coastal ecosystems by reducing erosion and absorbing wave energy during storms and hurricanes. In recent years alarming reports about the impact that climate change has had on the Reef highlight issues such as rising sea temperatures, pollution and bleaching factors contributing to coral damage, ultimately leading to gradual languishment and death of portions of the Reef.
Maps play an incredibly important role in environmental projects and conservation initiatives which rely on the most up to date data and work closely with mapping agencies surveying the ocean floor which help scientists to understand and address the issues posed by the challenges climate change.
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.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Bushfire maps of Australia
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- Maps and photography: a brief history, part 3
- World Map World Cup: Group 4
- World Map World Cup: Group 2
- Help us choose the British Library's favourite world map
- Great Barrier Reef ‘discovery’
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps