Maps and views blog

20 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

17 February 2017

Soviet Military Mapping of the Cold War Era

In this exclusive guest post, map historian John Davies introduces one of the most enigmatic of 20th century map genres.

 'The story of Soviet military mapping is the story of a massive secret project, spanning the fifty years of the Cold War period – from the 1940s to the 1990s – and involving thousands of people. It’s the story of the world’s largest mapping endeavour and, arguably, the world’s most intriguing maps.

 The story of this amazing enterprise has never been told in full in print and the maps themselves have rarely been publicly displayed. One of them, however, the city plan of Brighton on England’s south coast is on show in Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.

 Topographic Maps

The full extent of the project will probably never be known, but it is safe to say that almost the entire land surface of the globe was captured on topographic maps at scales of 1:1 million and 1:500,000. Huge areas of the Americas, Europe and Asia were mapped at 1:200,000 and 1:100,000, whilst maps at scale of 1:50,000 (the same as the familiar Ordnance Survey Landrangers) cover much of Britain and continental Europe. On top of that, the vast territory of USSR itself was mapped at 1:25,000 (the scale of Ordnance Survey Explorer maps) and much even at 1:10,000.

 The topographic maps have sheet boundaries corresponding to lines of latitude and longitude. This means they are non-rectangular, the two sides narrowing towards the top in the northern hemisphere. The sheets are non-overlapping and are identified by a reference number that uniquely identifies the global location and scale of every sheet.

 It works like this: each 1:1 million map is a quadrangle which covers an area of the globe four degrees of latitude deep and six degrees of longitude wide. The latitudinal bands are alphabetic, starting with A at the equator and increasing as you head north; the longitudinal zones are numbered 1 to 60. The Greenwich meridian (longitude 0) defines the boundary between zone 30 and 31; London, at latitude 51, lies in band M (the 13th band, spanning latitudes 48 to 52). London west of Greenwich, therefore lies in quadrangle M-30 and east of Greenwich in M-31.

  01_IMW

International Map of the World nomenclature adopted by Soviet Union, with lettered bands of 4° latitude and numbered zones of 6° longitude

 This convention, known as IMW – the International Map of the World – nomenclature was devised originally by Albrecht Penck at the end of the 19th century and was adopted in 1913 for a proposed international cooperative mapping project.  Although that project fizzled out, the USSR made use of the same convention and did succeed in mapping the whole world by the mid-20th century.

 As you zoom in on a 1:1 million sheet, you get 4 sheets at the larger scale of 1:500,000 (numbered 1-4); 36 sheets at scale 1:200,000 in a 6 by 6 grid (numbered 01-36), and 144 sheets at 1:100,000, in a 12 by 12 grid, (001-144). Zooming further in, for each of these you get 4 sheets at 1:50,000 (numbered 1-4).

 

02_M-31

Part of sheet M-31, scale 1:1 million, compiled 1969, printed 1975, showing the non-rectangular edges, aligned to lines of latitude and longitude.

  03_M-31-1

Part of sheet M-31-1, scale 1:500,000, compiled 1978, printed 1985.

04_M-31-01

Part of sheet M-31-01, scale 1:200,000, compiled 1982, printed 1986. Road distances in km are overprinted in purple.

 

05_M-31-01_reverse

The reverse side of the 1:200,000 series sheets has a comprehensive essay describing the physical, social, economic and industrial importance of the locality, together with a geological sketch map.

 

  06.M-31-013

Part of sheet M-31-013, scale 1:100,000, compiled 1976, printed 1982. Note the M25 under construction.

  07_M-31-013-3

Part of sheet M-31-013-3, scale 1:50,000, compiled 1974, printed 1981. This is the SW quarter of M-31-013. Note the A2 road is also labelled E107 (upper left), a European road number that did not appear on British maps.

 The projection used is the Gauss-Krüger (G-K) projection, based on a regular system of Universal Transverse Mercator projections that each cover a zone 6 degrees wide, with central meridians (axial lines of longitude) at 3 degree intervals. The advantage of this is that it simplifies the depiction of the globe as a flat surface for relatively small areas and allows the use of a rectangular grid within each zone. The grid provides accurate geographic co-ordinates to facilitate precise artillery targeting.

 The security classification depended on the map scale; small-scale maps (1:1 million and 1:500,000) were unclassified; 1:200,000 maps were classified as ‘For Official Use’, as were 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 maps of non-USSR territory. Maps of USSR territory larger than 1:200,000 were classified ‘Secret’.

 City Plans

Even more remarkable than the topographic maps are the city plans. These are known to exist for about two thousand cities worldwide, and there may have been many more. City plans are to a large scale, either 1:25,000 (two-and-a-half inches to the mile) or 1:10,000 (about six inches to the mile), and show an altogether much greater level of detail, including street names and listings of factories and their products, public buildings and transport facilities – even relatively unimportant (certainly non-military) objects such as bus stations and post offices. They are classified ‘Secret’.

 City plans are rectangular, being based on G-K projection with a central meridian near to the city. The sheets themselves vary in size, but are typically about 1,000 mm by 800 mm, and may be oriented as portrait or landscape layout to suit the terrain to be covered. Many cities require several sheets (in Britain, typically two or four; in USA, Los Angeles requires 12 sheets and New York 8). Unlike the topographic maps, in which the coverage is continuous and non-overlapping, city plans are individual, specific sheets, centred on a particular city; in some cases, such as the conurbation of West Yorkshire, the plans of several cities overlap. 

 About 100 British and Irish cities are known to have been mapped in this way, several of them more than once. Halifax, Luton, Cambridge and Cardiff are just some of the places for which maps of the 1970s and again of the 1980s exist. The later editions are entirely new productions, rather than revisions of the originals.

 The coverage of British cities includes not only the major industrial and commercial centres and important seaports and naval bases, but relatively rural and less strategically significant places such as Gainsborough and Dunfermline (although Rosyth Royal Naval dockyard is not far from Dunfermline, it is not included in the map coverage).

 The information depicted on city plans is derived from a wide variety of sources and includes detail not normally seen on local street atlases. For example, the 1990 Brighton 1:10,000 plan seen in Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line shows signals alongside the railway line, annotates the shoreline as having a mean tidal range of 4 metres, differentiates the vegetation types in parks and open spaces and identifies the ownership of facilities such as motor repair depots.

 City plans have a street index, a descriptive essay and a list of ‘important objects’. numbered and colour-coded on the map – purple for administrative buildings. black for industrial and green for items of military importance.

08_London

Part of 1:25,000 plan of London (sheet 1 of 4, compiled 1980, printed 1985) showing colour-code and numbered ‘important objects’. These are listed in the index as:

  1. State Archives [actually Public Records Office]
  2. Treasury
  3. Foreign Office
  4. Ministry of Defence
  5. Government offices
  6. Courts of Justice
  7. Police – Scotland Yard
  8. General Post Office
  9. Radio station BBC
  10. Residence of the Queen and Prime Minister [actually Her Majesty’s Theatre]
  11. Greater London Council
  12. University of London
  13. HQ of the US Navy in Europe [actually American Embassy]
  14. HQ General Staff

 Note also the depiction of tube stations (symbol M), arrows showing direction of flow of the Thames and direction of tides, Kingsway tunnel and symbols indicating lawns in Hyde Park. The river name is in upper case lettering, denoting that the river is navigable. None of this information appears on contemporary Ordnance Survey maps]

  09_Thurrock

Part of 1:10,000 plan of Thurrock (compiled 1974, printed 1977) showing Tilbury docks and the Dartford tunnel

 All the maps described above, the topographic maps and the city plans, were produced by VTU, the Military Topographic Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Army and are headed ‘General Staff’.  They carry in the bottom right-hand corner a print code, defining the map type, when it was printed and at which of the twelve print factories spread across the USSR.  

 How and Why

Two obvious questions spring to mind when looking at these maps. How did they do it? And why did they do it?

Neither has a simple answer.

Copying from Ordnance Survey maps, for example, is an obvious possibility. However, the wealth of information shown far exceeds what could be derived from these.  Analysis of the information shown on Soviet maps and plans proves that the compilers and cartographers had access to a huge range of published maps and guides. They include commercial street atlases, geological maps, transport maps and timetables, trade directories, tourist guides Admiralty charts and many other sources. Although these would have been freely available in Western cities, it is surprising to see just how wide the net was cast and intriguing to consider the process by which material was gathered and transmitted to USSR.

Even more surprisingly, the sources include items which had been published many years previously, resulting, for example, in the maps depicting ferries alongside the bridges that superseded them and long-disused railway lines being shown as operational.

After the launch of Zenit satellites in 1962, aerial imagery became a significant component in the data sources and can be seen in many cases where new roads and housing estates, for example, which had not yet appeared on Ordnance Survey maps, are shown on Soviet maps. Often these have the street names omitted, indicating that the cartographer had only the aerial image to hand and not the latest street directory.

As to why so much time, effort and money was expended on this gigantic project for over fifty years, we can only speculate. The concentration on depicting civil rather than military information suggests that these were intended not as invasion maps, but as necessary tools to manage and control the economic and industrial activity of Western cities after their eventual peaceful conversion to communism. But who can say?

Wasn’t the West doing the same thing during the Cold War?

Of course, mapping the territory of a potential enemy was nothing new and not restricted to the Soviet Union. But during the Cold War, the West, generally, was far more selective about where they mapped and what they showed. Whereas the Soviet Union produced huge numbers of city plans, each of which shows minute detail of all aspects of a city (regardless of military significance), the West tended to focus on places of particular interest – and included on their maps only what was relevant to the purpose.     

10_Soviet_Maribor

 

11_NGA_Maribor

Two views of Maribor, Former Yugoslavia (now Slovenia).

Top, A typical Soviet military city plan, showing as much information as possible (1:10,000, 1975). Below, A greatly simplified plan, produced by USA military, concentrating on the major features. (1:20,000, 1993).]

John Davies is editor of Sheetlines, the journal of Charles Close Society for the Study of Ordnance Survey Maps (www.CharlesCloseSociety.org) and is co-author with Dr Alex Kent of The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World, to be published by University of Chicago Press in September 2017 (http://redatlasbook.com/)

27 January 2017

Cover story

Today we are accustomed to using maps on our mobiles,  tablets and in our cars. The situation was very different a century ago. From roughly the end of the nineteenth century the growth in popularity of outdoor activities such as cycling and rambling and the increasing availability of cars and motorbikes allowed urban dwellers get away from their normal surroundings. In turn this changed the way people enjoyed their free time and how they used maps. It also represented a great business opportunity for map companies.

In this blog I look at the early commercial activities of Britain’s national mapping agency the Ordnance Survey, and how after World War I, it reshaped the way its maps were regarded by the general public through the use of artistic and colourful map covers.

The Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791 but with origins stretching back further. However, it was not until late 1890s that it started to publishing folded maps with covers. The design of these covers was basic: the first design was a title on red cloth card, which was changed to white later on, and still later a simple diagram of the coverage area was included on the cover. These designs were the same regardless of the scale of the map.

These plain map covers contrasted with the products of commercial map firms like Bartholomew and George Philip, whose maps (themselves based on Ordnance survey maps) had appealing and attractive cover designs.

Accordingly, when World War I ended in 1918, Ordnance Survey decided to market their small scale products better in order to increase sales and reach new customers. The attention was directed to map cover design. A professional artist, Ellis Martin, was appointed to create attractive illustrations for their tourist and district maps. Martin joined the Ordnance Survey in 1919. During the years that he was working he raised the standard of map cover art to high levels. 

Pipe man

Ellis Martin, Tourist Map Forest of Bowland. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1934. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(3).

One of his most popular covers depicts a young man smoking a pipe leaning against a fence looking at an Ordnance Survey map. The scene is completed with cyclists, a car and a coach. This cover epitomises the period, emphasising how people from urban areas could enjoy their free time pursuing new leisure activities such as cycling, rambling or motoring with the help of maps. People peruse maps on other covers too, emphasising the universality of map use, maps as the perfect tool to enjoy their day out.

The Chilterns

Ellis Martin, District Map The Chilterns. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1938. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(30).

In another of Martin’s well-known covers we can see a couple walking through a valley. The design is so evocative that it makes you want to buy a map and go there. The inclusion of a woman enjoying outdoor activities illustrates how the role of women in society started changing after the First World War. Women appear in other similar maps cover designs, suggesting a modern touch from Ellis Martin artwork which is absent from other artists of the same period.

These two covers do not depict a particular place and so were used as the covers of maps of different parts of the country.  The next covers were designed for particular places depicting an identifiable landmark or symbol of that place.

Middle Thames

Ellis Martin, Tourist Map The Middle Thames. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1923. British Library Maps 209.d.(30).

The cover for the Middle Thames is one of the best of its kind. It shows the river and elegantly dressed people enjoying boating in lovely weather. The whole picture resembles certain French Impressionist paintings in the use of light and the composition.  The artwork is so enticing that it could almost sell the map on its own!

One of the most unusual of Martin’s covers is the cover of a map of part of Britain produced for the solar eclipse of 27th June 1927. It is a unique and rare cover for a unique and rare event. On the cover the eclipse is depicted in a ghostly landscape in black and grey, which serves to recreate the atmosphere. This cover shows Ordnance Survey’s marketing acumen in taking advantage of the event, publishing a map with limited usability that became a souvenir and collector’s item afterwards.

Eclipse map

Ellis Martin, The Solar Eclipse 29th June, 1927. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1927. Cover not held in The British Library.

 

Roman Britain col

Ellis Martin, Roman Britain. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1924. British Library Maps 1135(45).

Another group of Martin’s covers are the Archaeological & Historical maps series. These include covers such as Seventeenth Century England (1930), Neolithic Wessex (1932) and The Trent Basin (1933). But the one that really stands out from the others is Roman Britain, first published in 1924 and reprinted in full colour in 1979. This is an excellent example of Martin’s attention to detail. This cover took advantage of the growing interest for ancient history in the early twentieth century. It encouraged the public to discover history on their doorstep.

Another great Ordnance Survey artist was Arthur Palmer. His illustrations tended to have an old fashion aura, more reminiscent of the Edwardian era than the roaring twenties when they were created. This can be seen even in the Art-Nouveau calligraphy that he uses, with asymmetric and elongated letters. This gives to his covers a special charm that made them very attractive to the public.

Oban

Arthur Palmer, Tourist Map Oban. Southampton, Ordnance Survey Office, 1920. 

Arthur Palmer had a talent for landscape and architectural illustration. His first cover for Ordnance Survey was of Oban (1920). This cover was part of a series for Scottish tourist resorts. In other covers such as the one for Oxford (1920) and Liverpool (1924) we can see his skill for architectural drawing.

Oxford

Arthur Palmer, District Map. Oxford and district. Southampton, Ordnance Survey Office, 1921. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(18).

After World War II, Ordnance Survey redesigned its covers with designs that reflected the austerity of the post-war years. Since then, map cover designs have been more standard and less artistic and have arguably never again reached the high levels of artistic creativity shown during the inter-war years.

The British Library holds some of these covers. However many of them were discarded at that time. Perhaps it was felt that they were not important from the cartographic point of view with no regard to their artistic value. Nowadays, they have become collectors’ items and the value is arguably as much in the covers than the actual maps.

If you would like to see some of the covers you can contact the Maps Reference Team at Maps. See a number of Ordnance Survey covers on sdisplay in our current exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. 

For further reading:  BROWNE, J. P. (1991). Map cover art. Southampton, Ordnance Survey (Maps Ref. G.2b (36)).

Carlos Garcia-Minguillan

05 January 2017

Old Europe

We are pleased to welcome this guest post from the artist Justine Smith, whose work is included in our current exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.

'In my artistic practice I have always used collage and have been working with money since 1998. The power invested in these pieces of paper is immense, and for me, it is like working with an elemental force which impacts upon us in a political, social and moral level. A banknote can be seen as a little piece of propaganda, a cipher portraying specific aspects of a given state. In my work I appropriate these images and re-contextualize them to my own ends.

Map_world_2

My first Map was Money map of the World 2005 (above), where every country who has a banknote is featured on the map, down to the smallest island State or Protectorate. All my maps are made initially as collages - hand drawn and traced and cut from real banknotes, often taking months to complete.

Map_old_europe

Old Europe” was made in 2007 and is my first and, so far, only map to be made with currencies that at the time of making were no longer in circulation.  It was made as an historical map from the currencies that were in circulation prior to the introduction of the Euro and show the original countries that joined. The Francs, Guilders, Marks, Lira, etc., as with all banknotes, feature imagery that  strongly resonates with respective national identities. This map has a sister map made concurrently called “Euro Europe". It covers the exact same region, but shows the newly formed Eurozone, where all the national borders are gone and the various countries now form a single bloc.

V vggf

It is almost 10 years now since these maps were made and it is surprising to see how quickly things have changed.' 

Justine Smith

19 October 2016

Map Reading in the 20th Century

In the 20th century maps truly arrived at people’s fingertips. People learnt to read maps and to use them for a wide number of pursuits, especially (though not exclusively) finding their way around.

The Ordnance Survey’s National Map Reading Week initiative is motivated by a concern that people have stopped being able to read maps in this age of automatic mapping (where people are instead increasingly read by maps). There is a strong feeling that map-reading should be a basic life-skill. It is a feeling which arose during the early decades of the 20th century  as maps became important tools in education and way-finding, as peoples’ horizons widened to beyond their immediate vicinities, and as mobility, tourism and general ‘open-air culture’ became the norm for much of western society.

Jhjjjjjjjj5-52

Henry James Deverson and Ronald Lampitt, The Map That Came to Life. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1948. Cup.1245.aa.53.   

One of the most celebrated 20th century children’s map reading guides is showcased in our forthcoming exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. Published in 1948, Ronald Lampitt and James Deverson’s The Map that Came to Life follows the story of John and Joanna who use an Ordnance Survey map to walk to town. As they pass over fields, past houses and along footpaths, their surroundings are compared with map adjacent on the same page. The fields turn into contoured blank spaces, houses become black cubes, footpaths dashed lines. Map literacy is acquired by the reader as they accompany the children on their virtual journey, matching map with reality.

2.G70125-5ghghg1

2.G7012likoioi5-51

In The Map that Came to Life the map is portrayed as an objective, precise and above all truthful mirror of nature. And this inherent trustworthiness enabled maps to become important features of the lives of successive generations of people.  Over time maps became able to serve people with growing ease, particularly thanks to automated mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) from the 1990s.

But was this growing ease without cost? The implications of what commentators such as the historian J.B. Harley felt to be a relinquishing of people’s control over maps were voiced even before the end of the century. But the danger that society could forget how to use maps would have been widely viewed as collateral against the massive pace of positive technological change, if it was thought of at all.

Does the mapping impulse lie dormant but still active within society? National Map Reading Week may tell us whether we really want to find out.

13 September 2016

The long search for HMS 'Terror'

45 B20175-13 (1)

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.

36 T00043-52 HRAbove: the men of HMS Resolute entertain themselves with a winter ball and on-ship theatre, from The Illustrated Arctic News [BL: 1875.c.19]. 

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.

 

44 T00043-72 HR (2)

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.

49 B20174-83

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.

[PJH] 

10 August 2016

Hooked on Georeferencing

Georeference NY

Above: a map of Manhattan from the US subset.

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.

Pandora voyage

Above: the route of the Pandora, from the Arctic subset.

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.

[PJH]

03 August 2016

Magnificent Manuscripts Online: Pelagios

Portolano (Egerton MS 2855, f.8r).jpeg

Above: Portolan chart of the North-West coast of Europe, including all of France, the British Isles and Ireland, Grazioso Benincasa [1473, Egerton MS 2855, f.8r]. File at Wiki Commons.

Over the past few years the British Library has been working with the Pelagios project, making innovative use of historic manuscript maps. Meaning ‘of the sea’ the name Pelagios is used as the seas were the highways of the ancient world, much like the Web provides a highway for communication today. A web-based project that facilitates the online linking of data about ancients sites mentioned, for example, in texts, local histories or where archaeological remains have been found. The current phase of Pelagios (in which the Library was involved) will soon be drawing to a close as the next phase, 'Pelagios Commons', begins and runs to December 2017. The Library has contributed digitised materials to phase 3 of this project, predominantly in the form of mappae mundi, itineraries and portolan charts, and these have been digitally annotated to open up the enclosed geographical information to the Pelagios database.

Insularium Illustratum (Additional MS 15760, f.53v).jpeg

Above: A map of England, Northern France, Scotland and Wales from Insularium Illustratum, Henricus Martellus Germanus [1495, Additional MS 15760, f.53v]. File at Wiki Commons.

As you can see, the material provided to Pelagios is something of a treasure trove of manuscript views of the world and the project as a whole is composed of various wonderful resources detailed at Pelagios Commons. Now that our involvement with phase 3 of the Pelagios project is drawing to a close the Library is making the material it contributed to the project available on Wikimedia Commons and (soon) via data.bl.uk. The main root for material held on Commons can be found on the British Library Map Collections category page on Wikimedia Commons, which provides links to the various groups of British Library manuscript materials used in the Pelagios project (although I should note this is a general collections page - so you will not find Ordnance Survey Drawings in Pelagios!). 

File:General chart of the coasts of Europe, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the western coast of Africa south to Cape Negro.- Cornaro Atlas (Egerton MS 73, f.36r).jpeg

Above: General chart of the coasts of Europe, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the western coast of Africa, Cornaro Atlas [1492, Egerton MS 73, f.36r]. File at Wiki Commons.

One health warning about these manuscripts, due to UK copyright law they are technically in copyright until 2039. However, given the age of the manuscripts and their place of production the Library believes it highly unlikely a public domain release will offend anyone; more information can be found here. Copyright notices aside, this is a fantastic resource which we hope you enjoy. If you do dive make sure you clear your diary and sit down with some food to see you through, it's a fascinating collection of material. If you want to know more about Pelagios generally - and perhaps join in - head over to their Commons site. Here you can access online resources that are being developed (using open data methods) to link and explore historical place, as well as participate in various community forums. You can also find more at the Digital Classicist Wiki.  

[PJH]

23 May 2016

Murder and Madness in the Castle: Macbeth’s Inverness

Maps_k_top_50_10_a-004

Above: Inverness Castle before the Jacobite uprisings [BL: Maps K.Top 50.10.a]

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth Inverness Castle is the site of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan, allowing Macbeth to usurp the crown. It is also where Macbeth’s descent into madness plays out, with many key scenes happening within the confines of the castle. As with so many of Shakespeare’s productions the events of Macbeth are, very loosely, based on fact, with historical characters used to drive the dramatic narrative. Much about the actual history of these individuals is different from how Shakespeare’s drama plays out, for example, Duncan was murdered at a much younger age than Shakespeare portrays, but the characters and locations can still be fixed, to some extent, geographically and historically.

Despite this, and somewhat unfortunately, no record remains of Inverness Castle as it was in the time of King Duncan. The fort that existed at this time was razed to the ground in the 11th century and has since been replaced with various structures. That which currently stands in Inverness was built in the nineteenth century in order to replace the castle seen above, constructed in the sixteenth century and destroyed during the Jacobite uprisings. As a result, this is the best source for Inverness Castle’s historic look that exists and, while it may not be the right castle to house the events of Macbeth, a little embellishment never hurt the Bard and so games designers should be able to indulge a little too.

Inverness Castle and the narrative of Macbeth provide rich pickings for video games. Castle based cerebral horrors, filled with mind games and hallucinations, perhaps like the Gamecube’s, Eternal Darkness, are one way a Macbeth inspired game could play out. Indeed, there are so many fantasy-RPG elements to the story of Macbeth, including witchcraft, other-worldly sieges and more, that a journey of character upgrades and branching choices would also fit well (although for the sake of longevity it might be worth making sure the player has to kill King Duncan…). Of course, for those of you who are more excited by the platform genre, the view of Inverness Castle above would also lend itself to a Castlevania or Ghosts n’ Goblins style adventure. The choice is yours.

For some further inspiration you can also look to the Hamlet inspired game, Elsinore, which currently forms part of the Library's Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Do remember though, if you are planning on entering the competition it’s time to get cracking with implementing your designs. The deadline for submission is rapidly approaching, with 1st July only just over a month away. Good luck!

[PJH]

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