11 May 2022
An early print from the British Library’s map collection is currently on display at the Stadtmuseum Münster in an exhibition entitled Münster 1570: History and stories from the capital of Westphalia.
It shows the Westphalia capital from the south west, with the main churches dominating the skyline and various domestic structures arranged behind the town walls. Outside these walls Hogenberg presents a range of human activity. To the left carts enter the town, whilst to the right in the foreground, figures swim in the River Aa. Some can be seen getting undressed, one needs help in doing so. A dog stands guard over a pile of clothes. This sort of foreground vignette is a typical feature of later 16th century town views, not only entertaining for the viewer but demonstrating that places are about more than their buildings.
As a snapshot of a place at a particular time, the panorama is understandably of great historical value to the town. It was produced only decades after the Anabaptist rebellion of 1534-5, in which a radical reformation sect took over, enforcing religious conformity, seizing possessions and religiously-motivated destruction. The rebellion was eventually put down and the leaders executed, their bodies placed into three iron cages hung on the tower of St. Lambert’s church. The cages, which are still in situ today, are shown in the print just above the lancet windows of the church tower.
Remigius Hogenberg, who produced the print while resident in Münster, presented a proof copy of it to the town council on 26 May 1570. However, this is lost and the British Library’s example, purchased in 1868 from the Berlin book dealer Adolphus Asher, is the only copy known to survive. As well as exhibiting the original, the Stadtmuseum exhibition has skilfully incorporated the image into their design and graphics.
Remigius was born in Mechelen in modern-day Belgium. He was in England by 1572, and alongside other continental artists such as Cornelis de Hooghe and Jodocus Hondius was responsible for producing various engravings there, including maps. For example, Remigius engraved nine of Christopher Saxton’s county maps (see his Lancashire, below), as well as the frontispiece for the 1579 atlas which included them.
Despite Remigius’s fame, he remains arguably less-well known than his engraver-brother Frans (c. 1540-1590). With Georg Braun, Frans produced the first town atlas, the Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, published in Cologne between 1572 and 1617. Among the contents is a smaller and more subdued version of the panorama of Münster, copied from his brother's.
Münster 1570: History and stories from the capital of Westphalia is at the Stadtmuseum Münster until 25 September 2022.
15 July 2021
Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.
What have we added?
So much! Here are some highlights:
Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John Speed, Moses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.
Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
How can you access them?
The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views, was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).
Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy. The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.
Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.
We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.
Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!
In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.
We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at [email protected].
Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.
Now off you go and explore.
31 March 2021
The British Library’s ‘Online Gallery’ was first created in 2004, and over the years a number of galleries containing thousands of maps have been added to it, from the earliest Ordnance Survey maps to Tudor mapping. Each map has its own page with a full description and cataloguing information, a downloadable image, and a larger – though not downloadable - ‘Zoomify’ image.
However, at the end of last year, Adobe ceased to support Flash player and Zoomify became inoperable. For anyone who likes to zoom into a map (about 100% of people who use maps), this is an issue. This is what we’ve done to solve the problem. Firstly, we’ve removed the Zoomify links from the map pages in order to avoid confusion (you can still download a -full-size’ though under 1 MB image for your own use).
For the more heavily used galleries, we’re happy to say that the maps are available – and downloadable - from Wikimedia Commons.
For the Ordnance Surveyor Drawings, the still-active Zoomify link will redirect you straight to the same map on Wikimedia.
The Goad fire insurance maps are all there also.
Only 2,500 George III Topographical Collection maps and views were on the Online Gallery, but you can now enjoy 18,000 of them on Flickr, with even more on the way (you can link through to these images via our catalogue Explore the British Library).
And don’t forget that all of the Online Gallery maps are also available on our Georeferencer (have a go at Georeferencing a few).
For the other galleries such as the Crace Collection of maps of London, we are working to find a way of getting the larger images to you (you can still download smaller images from the existing pages). In due course also, these maps will all make their way onto the Library’s Universal Viewer.
Thanks again for using the Library’s online map resources. And if you get the chance, do drop us a message about the interesting things you’re doing with them.
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.
24 September 2020
UK hydrographic charts published by the British Admiralty in the early twentieth century are notable for the high density of information compressed within their two dimensions, and for the harmonious blend of registers and visual perspectives they incorporate in the pursuit of clarity. Whilst documenting local visual navigation techniques handed down over the centuries, charts from this period also feature networks of lights, beacons and buoys more recently installed around the coastlines of the British Isles.
This example, first surveyed and published through the Hydrographic Office in 1847, shows the bays of Long Island and Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland with information updated to 1909.
Detail of Admiralty Chart 2129, Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland, 1909. BL Maps SEC.1.(2129.)
As the seabed rises towards land, the approaching navigator is assisted by depth soundings, and abbreviations that tell the composition of the seabed at each point – sand, shells, gravel... The original measurements were taken with a sounding line marked along its length in fathom intervals, that was dropped over the side of the survey vessel. The lead plummet at its end was covered with sticky pitch or tallow that brought up a sample of the sea floor beneath.
Some of these data points cluster around and almost interfere with the map title. Navigators would use these measurements to inform the plotting of their routes and, by dropping their own sounding lines, would attempt to pinpoint their location.
Along the bottom edge of the sheet, a sketch testifies to a tradition of visual navigation techniques that have persisted even through the introduction of electronic aids later in the century. ‘View A’ provides a perspective in silhouette of the entrance to Skull Harbour, and demonstrates how Cosheen Crag in the foreground should be lined up with Barnacleeve Gap on the horizon in order to avoid rocks at Castle Ground on the way in. This horizontal view nestles on the page between the scale bar and a compass rose, while further soundings caught in-between call for a vertical viewpoint.
The correct angle of approach to Skull Harbour is also marked with a line across the chart. A number of other sightlines bisect the chart at various points, guiding seafarers past areas of danger.
More recent networks of buoys, beacons and lights also appear - in an update to earlier editions a light has been added at the western entrance to Baltimore Harbour. The chart indicates a wide arc facing southwards and out to sea from which the light appears white, and the crossover point upon entering the harbour from which the same light shows red.
For a distance inland, just enough of the topography - relief, landmarks, buildings and communications - is provided that might be of use to a vessel and her crew, before the detail gradually rubs to a blank on the chart.
The visual attraction of these sheets lay in the skill of the production draughtsmen whose finished drawings were transferred to copperplate for printing. From the late 1960s a programme of modernisation was introduced to update Admiralty Charts with metric units, simplified lettering and colour washes – a palette of blues for different water depths, and buff for the land – a style that persists to this day.
07 July 2020
Welcome to Group three of the British Library's world map world cup competition, where you get to select our favourite historic world map for us.
This group contains some astonishing artefacts from the last one thousand years, and I'm happy to provide further information on them to help you make up your mind.
When you have done so, vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps). The two maps with the most votes will go through to the quarter finals on Friday.
1. The Anglo-Saxon World Map. Drawn in Canterbury between 1025 and 1050 (Cotton MS Tiberius B.V.).
For a world map containing such a quantity of information, the Anglo-Saxon world map is extraordinarily early. Much of this information relates to the Roman world: key walled towns such as Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, the Pillars of Hercules at the bottom edge marking the limit of the world as known to Europeans, and lines marking the division of Roman provinces. Its genesis is possibly the first century map ordered by Julius Caesar. At any rate, the people who made the map would have felt themselves still to be living in the great Roman era.
Link to digitised copy: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Cotton_MS_Tiberius_B_V/1
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 Martellus world map. Drawn by Henricus Martellus Germanus in Florence, around 1490 (Add. MS 15760).
Henricus Martellus, or to give him his proper name Heinrich Hammer's world map is very similar to the 2nd century geographical picture presented by Claudius Ptolemy (see group one). But there are some updates. For example, Scandinavia appears, as do features taken from an account of the journey of Marco Polo. But the most momentous update is the one that shows the Indian Ocean not as an inland sea, but open, with the southern tip of South Africa navigable. Martellus knew this, because Bartholomeu Dias had sailed around it in 1488. The effect was to contest the hallowed ancient perception of the world, literally cutting part of the map's border away in the process.
Link to digital copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/world-map-by-henricus-martellus
Further reading: Nathalie Bouloux, ‘L’ Insularium illustratum d’Henricus Martellus’ in The Historical Review 9 (2012).
3. Chinese globe, by Manuel Dias and Niccolo Longobardo. Made in Beijing in 1623 (Maps G.35.)
This earliest surviving Chinese globe was constructed in Beijing by Italian Jesuits, most probably for a scholarly audience, in order to demonstrate geodetic principles such as longitude, latitude, meridians and parallels. Much of the globe, including large passages of text, derives from the giant world map by Matteo Ricci of 1602. But if you want to show things relating to the spherical nature of the earth, you really need a sphere in order to do it properly, hence the globe.
Geodesy had been known in China well before Europe, and we know that globes were also constructed before his one (though they have not survived), but such things were not part of Chinese culture at this time. The 'gift' of scientific enlightenment was used as a Trojan horse by the Jesuits to impose their religion upon China.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/chinese-terrestrial-globe
Further reading: Wallis, Helen and E.D. Grinstead, ‘A Chinese Terrestrial Globe A.D.1623’ in British Museum Quarterly, XXV (1962).
4. World map by Antonio Sanches, drawn in Lisbon in 1623 (Add. MS 22874)
This is an extraordinarily beautiful, large world map, emphasising coasts and navigational features. Delicate and elegant, blues and golds, painted and coloured with consummate skill. This indicates that it was not intended to go on board a ship. It presents the Portuguese view of the word, celebrating Portuguese influence well beyond Iberia with the Quinas (Portuguese arms) stamped upon areas as far afield as South America and China. The map also contains a significant (to say the least) quantity of religious imagery, the spread of Catholicism being a pillar of this world view, and violently enforced. Ironically, given the confidence this map oozes, by 1623 Portuguese dominance in world affairs was being increasingly contested by that European upstart, the Dutch.
Further reading: Portuguese Cartography in the Renaissance in The history of cartography volume three: cartography in the European Renaissance (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010).
07 May 2020
Part 1 of this map tour ended with a late nineteenth-century depiction of the Antarctic that, whilst recognisable to us in the present day, was still substantially blank.
The updated chart below was made twelve years later by the same cartographer, J.G. Bartholomew. The most significant additions include the label ‘Antarctica’ on the continent itself, and the depiction of ‘schemes for Antarctic exploration’ proposed by Sir John Murray. Murray was a pioneering oceanographer, who was strongly engaged in the promotion of a new age of exploration in the far south. The map assists his cause: the route of a proposed British expedition leads across the landmass from one side to the other, and a wide ring around the continent is labelled, ‘Area for Bathymetric Research, to be surveyed by ships during winter’.
The wide extent of ‘Observed pack ice’, which is coloured green, is not credible for that time, and the choice of shade lends a more benign aspect to those regions than they deserved. This is a persuasive map that exaggerates the extent of current knowledge, and downplays the difficulties involved in completing the picture.
South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine 1898 p 572. BL Maps 162.
It worked! The ‘Heroic Era of Antarctic Exploration’, a twenty-year period of extensive activity and research on the continent, began in 1901 with the departure of the British National Antarctic (‘Discovery’) Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott. The map below documents the work of the expedition from 1902-04, and shows the extent of surveys carried out in the course of ‘Sledge Journeys’. The small-scale inset in the upper right corner shows the track of Scott’s first attempt towards the pole itself, and his furthest point south.
Map showing the work of the National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-3-4. BL Maps 88710.(8.)
George Mulock, the expedition geologist, carried out a detailed survey of the area around the winter quarters in McMurdo Sound, shown here in large scale. In common with most Antarctic mapping of the period, this sheet was published as an accompaniment to the official expedition account. Locations of camps and a handful of sightlines, used in the construction of the map, are included; regions are coloured to show geology, and contour lines capture relief. Features named on the map for the first time include ‘Mount Discovery’ and the ‘Royal Society Range’, and a 'Camel’s Hump’ outcrop lies beside ‘Cathedral Rocks’.
Map of the district near the ‘Discovery’ winter quarters, 1906. BL Maps X.11702.
The British Antarctic (‘Nimrod’) Expedition 1907-09, led by Ernest Shackleton, claimed a new furthest south, and became the first to reach the magnetic south pole. The treks of both parties are documented on the sheets below, Shackleton’s extended journey trailing down towards the geographic pole on the left, while the route of the South Magnetic Polar Party appears on the right. The arbitrary location of the wandering magnetic pole is given an appropriate spot in the extreme top left corner of the sheet.
Southern Journey Party [left] and South Magnetic Polar Party [right], in the Geographical Journal 1909 Vol 34 no 5. BL Maps 159.
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition was the first to reach the geographic south pole, arriving on 14 December 1911. In events that are now well-known, Scott’s British Antarctic (‘Terra Nova’) Expedition arrived at the pole just five weeks later to find that they had been defeated. The entire polar party perished on their return and were not found for another eight months. In this short period Amundsen published an account of his own expedition, which featured this expressive sketch map depicting his route to the polar summit at the top of the page. With the fate of Scott’s party unknown, only the ‘Base of Scott’s Expedition’ is marked at the foot of the route previously followed by Shackleton.
Approximate Bird's-Eye View, Drawn from the First Telegraphic Account, in The South Pole 1912, opp p 32. Image courtesy Wellesley College Library. Rare Books 2370.f.13.
The routes of both explorers are honoured on a map published by Stanfords before 1921. The larger shaded region of the continent is unexplained, but would appear to indicate areas observed or surveyed. However, this would greatly exaggerate the area known at the time, and requires another explanation.
Shortly before this map was produced, Great Britain had asserted her claim over Antarctic territory lying in a sixty-degree arc between 20 and 80 degrees West (beneath South America), and by 1923 the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was stating his ambition that the whole of the continent should be incorporated into the British Empire. A look at some of the sub-regions incorporated in the shaded area – Victoria Land, King George V Land, King Edward VII Land – gives a clue that perhaps this sheet emphasises the ‘Britishness’ of these areas for an audience that was supportive of her territorial ambitions.
The Antarctic Regions, . BL Maps 88710.(13.)
On 1 December 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed into effect by twelve nations, who set aside all territorial claims on the continent in pursuit of peaceful scientific collaboration. The map below, made two years previously for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, still shows the continent sliced into national sectors, and yellow shading indicates ‘Areas explored or seen by man’.
A thick red line passing across the continent through the pole indicates the planned route of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which, over the summer season of 1957-8 became the first expedition to cross the continent from one side to the other.
The map also shows a network of proposed scientific bases, to be established during the International Geophysical Year 1957-8, a major scientific project featuring collaboration between East and West during the Cold War. At the pole itself the names of Amundsen and Scott are joined by that of American naval officer Richard E Byrd, who flew an aeroplane over the pole for the first time in 1929, and was one of the first to bring aerial survey techniques to the mapping of Antarctica.
The Daily Telegraph Map of Antarctica, . BL Maps 88710.(57.)
From the 1960s onwards, satellites were employed in mapping the vast areas of the continent still unknown, and in 1972 the Soviet Union incorporated Antarctica into a series map of the world for the first time. This map of the pole is sheet number 234 of the Karta Mira series. Shades of purple indicate fluctuations in the height of the polar plateau.
Karta Mira 1:2,500,000 sheet 234, 1972. BL Maps 920.(494.)
In the early 1990s the British Antarctic Survey was one of the founding partners involved in a collaboration between 11 nations to create a seamless digital map of the continent, by digitising existing maps and satellite images. The BAS sheet below takes its topographical detail from this Antarctic Digital Topographic Database, which is updated every six months. Since the 1960s, radio echo sounding techniques have been deployed to calculate the thickness of ice sheets, and the inset on the lower left shows the relief of the rock surface that lies beneath the ice.
Antarctica, 2015. BL Maps X.13411.
The United States produces another data model of the continent. This sheet is a print-out of a digital image made by the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other partners, who employed a Blue Waters supercomputer to process data derived from high-resolution satellite imagery. The underlying dataset is described as ‘a high-resolution, time-stamped digital elevation model for the Antarctic ice sheet’.
The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (cartographic), 2018. [Shelfmark yet to be allocated]
These last two maps reflect the switch made by cartography to digital data from the latter part of the twentieth century, and aptly conclude this brief history of the mapping of Antarctica.
21 April 2020
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.
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...’
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.
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.
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.
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 Sheet NM 40-2, Soviet Army General Staff, 1987
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.
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...
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.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Remigius Hogenberg's view of Münster
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- Maps on the British Library's Online Gallery: update
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- Admiralty Charts: good design in the analogue age
- World Map World Cup: Group 3
- Antarctica: A brief history in maps, part 2
- A View of the Open Road
- British Empire maps of Africa added online
- Accuracy? Do me a favour!