THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

2 posts categorized "Central Asia"

21 April 2020

A View of the Open Road

Add comment

During the current pandemic, the next best thing to heading outdoors is (of course) to lose yourself in the printed landscapes of maps instead. In our London flat last weekend, I couldn’t help reaching for my Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets of the English Lakes and tracing the routes of Easter walks in years gone by.

Although busy depicting roundabouts and service stations, road maps and atlases also give us armchair explorers a flavour of the landscapes, the countries and the times we move through in our mind’s eye.

This example from the United States comes from a time when the American highway map was at its peak, when the automobile was an icon of progress, and state departments and commercial oil companies handed out road maps in their millions, free of charge.

A road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

The back of a road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

Front and back of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967. Held at State Archives of North Carolina

While useful to many, these maps were also the vehicles for carefully chosen images and text promoting industry, nature, social progress and Christian values. A Motorist’s Prayer on this sheet begins, ‘Our heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing as we take the wheel of our car...’

A detail of the back of road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map, showing a man working in an industrial control room to illustrate the labor force

Detail of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967

A similar agenda is found on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where a Soviet regional map from the same year focussed on places and monuments of revolutionary history, industrial mines (asbestos, brown coal, gypsum...), pine forests and swan nesting sites.

A detail from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

A detail of the list of symbols from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

Details from map of Orenburg Oblast, GUGK, 1967. BL Maps 35885.(63.)

Industrial prowess is emphasised again in the strong design on the cover of this regional atlas.

The cover of an Atlas of Orenburg Oblast published in 1969

Atlas of Orenburg Oblast, 1969. BL Maps 54.e.48.

But unlike in Britain or America, the Soviet general public had no large scale Ordnance Survey or US Geological Survey maps to turn to for raw topographical detail. These were restricted to the military. Even generalised maps were deliberately distorted during the 1970s to make them harder to use for navigational and targeting purposes, should they fall into the wrong hands.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, restrictions on sophisticated military mapping were relaxed, and elements of larger scale maps made their way into practical road atlases, amongst other products, for the general public. The evolution of these maps from military specification to a hybrid form more closely resembling the typical road map can be traced over the following years.

Details of two Soviet/Russian topographic maps of Orenburg published in 1987 and 2003

Left: Detail from Topographic map of the world at scale 1:200 000 produced by the Soviet Army General Staff, Sheet NM 40-2, 1987. BL Maps Y.1575.

Right: Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast, one of the Road Atlases of Russia series published by Roskartografia, 2003

In the road atlas on the right new colouring distinguishes road types and routes, and makes them more prominent while rivers fade away, and symbols are added to indicate petrol stations, medical facilities, museums and places of interest.

Detail of a topographic map of Orenburg published in 1987 by the Soviet Army General Staff

Detail of Sheet NM 40-2, Soviet Army General Staff, 1987

Detail of a Russian road atlas map of Orenburg published in 2003

Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

Precise bridge dimensions and maximum loads have been removed, though contours and direction of river flow remain, and the close mesh of the military grid has been replaced by a broad system of squares that correlates with the place name index at the back.

The cover of the Orenburg Road Atlas published in 2003

Cover of Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

At last the landscape was revealed, and civilians could take to the open road better equipped.

And who knows, perhaps even now fingers are tracing imaginary routes from armchairs throughout Russia...

 

Nick Dykes

Further reading:

Denis Wood and John Fels, Designs on Signs/Myth and Meaning in Maps, in Cartographica vol 23 no 3, 1986, pp 54–103.

Zsolt G. Török, Russia and the Soviet Union, Fragmentation of, in The History of Cartography, vol 6, University of Chicago Press, 2015, pp 1376-1379.

Alexey V. Postnikov, Soviet Cartography, 1917-1991, in Cartography and Geographic Information Science vol 29(3), 2002, pp 243-260.

10 January 2017

'Lhasa Englishman First'

Add comment

One of the first users of the new telegraph office in Lhasa was Brigadier-General George Pereira, who despatched this short message on 17th October 1922, in the course of an heroic journey undertaken in poor health at the age of 57.

As British Military Attaché in China from 1905 to 1910, George Pereira travelled widely throughout the country collecting geographical intelligence (much of which survives as maps in the War Office Archive at the British Library). Following his subsequent posting to Europe, he resigned his commission and returned to China as a civilian, journeying from Peking (Beijing) to north-west China, also to the region bordering on Burma, returning across southern China to Foochow (Fuzhou).

The First World War saw him back into the army as Lieutenant-Colonel. He saw active service on the Western Front, and retired with the rank of Brigadier-General at the end of the war.

In 1920 Pereira returned to China to pursue his lifelong ambition to journey to Lhasa. At the age of 55, and in failing health, he undertook his final, remarkable journey from Peking to India via Tibet, then back into China from Burma. Although he reached Lhasa he did not complete the return journey: having become seriously ill he died in October 1923 in western Szechwan (Sichuan) where he was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Tatsienlu (Kangding).

He was not the first Englishman in Lhasa, as his telegram might imply, but he was the first to arrive after travelling through China, rather than the shorter route from India. The only other Europeans who had achieved this feat were Vincentian Fathers Huc and Gabet in 1846.

Cj1
B. Gen. G. Pereira’s route from Chamdo [昌都] to Lhasa [拉薩]. Sept. – Oct. 1922. Maps WOMAT/RAS/CHI/460/1/12/1

The map shown here is one of a contemporary set of 24 finely executed sheets covering this last journey, traced by M.I.4 (Geographical Section, General Staff) from sketches received from Brigadier-General Pereira. The maps show the wealth of local information systematically recorded by Pereira along the route.

From the War Office Archive, received from the War Office/Ministry of Defence in 1964 and 1989. The archive, covering the period 1890-1940, comprises manuscript material used for the compilation of strategic and tactical cartographic intelligence product. There are 1,428 archival files made up of 7,253 map sheets and 5,015 pages of text.

Anselm Crispin Jewitt