10 December 2018
'Atlas: a world of maps in the British Library' is a different sort of atlas to, say, the Times world atlas or the AA motoring atlas, because you would never use it to find your way from A to B or peruse potential venues for your next holiday.
This is largely because the maps in it are mostly pretty old and do not all conform to our modern idea of accuracy.
The most common question people ask me about an old map is “is it accurate?” On such occasions I would like to be able to sound one of those alarms like in the BBC quiz show QI. But to be polite I tend to answer that “it is as accurate as it was possible to be” or “it is accurate for its time.”
Angelino Dulcert (atrib.), [A portolan chart of the Mediterranean Sea (detail)], c. 1339. Add.MS 25691.
Accuracy is relative and incredibly subjective. For example, 14th century 'portolan' sea charts look freakishly accurate because although they are really old we can recognise familiar coastlines in them. Yet if we look more closely, we see that each cape, bay and inlet is exaggerated and distorted in size because – guess what? – the map had to be legible for its user.
William Roy, [A map showing the Trossachs, part of the fair copy of the military survey of Scotland], 1747-55. Maps CC.5.a.441., sheet 15 (part).
William Roy’s map of Scotland of 1747-55 looks very accurate, and indeed is regarded by some as one of the first modern maps and a precursor to the Ordnance Survey, but it hasn’t been geodetically measured, and the sweeping hill forms sit more in the realms of landscape art.
Anon. [Map showing the position of the Indian tribes to the north-west of South Carolina, copied from a painting on deer-skin by an Indian chief, and presented to Sir Francis Nicholson], c. 1719. Add. MS 4723.
The 1719 Native American map of Carolina is woefully inaccurate by these standards, but more accurate than anything else in its description of the complex interrelations between tribes (shown as circles) and European colonial powers (squares).
Few maps produced before the 19th century will pass muster if judged by contemporary standards of mathematical accuracy. But if we judge old maps by contemporary standards we can miss the genuinely insightful perspectives they provide on the periods and people they concerned.
They can also help to shine a light back onto ourselves. For who would have thought that a modern and ‘accurate’ map such as a motoring atlas would exaggerate and distort features such as roads in order for users to read them more clearly?
'Atlas: a world of maps from the British Library' is out now.
16 March 2018
We are pleased to introduce this guest blog post by Dr Dorothea McEwan.
Ethiopia is the product of a long historical process, from the Aksumite empire 2000 years ago, then the introduction of Christianity in the 4th century, the political expansion of various ethnicities, the centuries-long artistic development of rock churches, followed by Portuguese military and Roman Catholic religious intervention in the 16th and 17th centuries, and finally the unification of the country under emperor Tewodros ll (reigned 1855-1868).
Europeans have travelled in the country and written about their experiences adding to this geographical knowledge by drawing maps of the routes of their travels, like the Scotsman James Bruce, who published his account in 1790. In 19th century Europe the growing importance of geography as an academic discipline led many travellers to create maps, which they sometimes complemented with potted histories of the lands, the turbulent political times and customs and mores of the populations.
Map of Axum und Adoa. Add ms 28506, f. 17. This is the Aksum and Adwa Region in Tigre, concentrating particularly on how far the clay plateau extends and on its configuration (shown here in red which is also more or less its natural colour ‘).
One such traveller was the German botanist Georg Wilhelm Schimper (1804-1878), who lived and worked in Ethiopia from 1838 to his death in 1878. He witnessed upheavals and wars, the coronation of Emperor Tewodros II in 1855, married and had children with Ethiopian women, but most notably, he criss-crossed the country to research the flora of the country. He sent the dried botanical specimens back to Germany and France and made a living out of it courtesy of travel associations like the Esslingen Reiseverein which advanced money to Schimper and recouped it from the sale of his dried plant specimens to European herbaria.
When this income dried up, he was lucky enough to be appointed as regional administrator in Enticho, Northern Ethiopia, until 1855. In the 1860s he was engaged in something totally new: because of his detailed knowledge of the plant life in various regions, dependent as this was on the differing soils and rock formations, he proceeded to integrate geological information onto maps that he drew himself, accompanying the maps with plentiful and detailed botanical, geological and geographical observations.
He produced four manuscript maps, held by the British Library at Add. MS 28506. The maps and accompanying commentaries by Andreas Gestrich, Dorothea McEwan and Stefan Hanß have been published by the German Historical Institute London, and are online here. The database presents 221 folios of the original German pages, transliterated in modern German and translated into English, with a fully annotated bibliography and biography of Schimper.
(BL Add ms 28505, f. 86r) This folio is wonderfully illustrated with little sketches of parasols and rain ‘coats’ worn by local people together with the following explanation:
'The Scirpus and Juncus, known as Saddi, usually growing on the banks of brooks or otherwise in quite marshy places, and some slender Cyperus, called Gadima, which grow there too, are used for parasols and shepherds’ cloaks. The parasols are made from the stems of these plants in the following manner: A few inches below the thicker end of a normally three to three and a half ft. long stick or reed, four thin rods are first attached as spokes. Their thickness and length are more or less the same as the whalebone of the parasols of European ladies. Then the stems of these plants are used to weave a small flat disk around these four spokes lying right up against the stick. Next a number of other spokes are woven into this disk, which, in the gaps, gets double stem reinforcement. Now the whole framework is tightly interwoven, snake-like with these stalks.
These stalks are first stripped of their green outer skin, making the whole thing look like a white shade. These parasols are called Zelal here, meaning ‘shade’, and are very much in use by women as well as by men. As these parasols cannot be folded they have to be carried around even when it is cloudy or in the evening at dusk. These parasols are the same size as the parasols carried by European ladies, but they are not slightly curved. They have an almost completely flat, horizontal parasol top.
Typha, and the larger Cyperus (Doguale) are also used, just like the Scirpus and Juncus stalks, for this purpose and for making shepherds’ cloaks. It would be impossible to find a better or simpler coat to protect you from the rain. The green outer casing of the stalks of these reed-like plants are left on, and then they are woven into a shape like the guardhouses of European soldiers on individual sentry duty. This kind of reed coat, like a roof, reaching to the knees and repelling rain quite well, is called Gassa, and is only used by shepherd boys. In the cold highlands of Semien, shepherds often wear sheepskins, like other adult country folk.'
You can access George Wilhelm Schimper in Abyssinia: Observations on Tigre, go to http://exist.ghil.ac.uk:8079/Schimper/biography.html
12 May 2017
The first atlas of England and Wales was published in 1579. It is a landmark in the cartography of Britain, containing maps of the counties of England and Wales by the mapmaker Christopher Saxton, engraved mostly by Dutch artists but also the odd Englishman such as Augustine Ryther.
The maps are believed to have been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state William Cecil Lord Burghley during the 1570s. Its purpose was security, defense and administration during a period of internal intrigue and international instability, notably tension with Catholic Spain.
Burghley's own copy of the atlas, held in the British Library (Royal MS.18 D.III.) contains his notes identifying Catholic families and potential justices of the peace. Shannon and Winstanley suggested the author of one of the atlas's maps of Lancashire to be none other than Francis Walsingham's cryptographer Thomas Phelippes.
England had enemies indeed during the 1570s, and war would break out with Spain in 1585. So why, by contrast to the atlas's larger scale county maps of snug and safe Monmouthshire and Leicestershire did Saxton provide only a puny small scale map for vulnerable south east England?
Christopher Saxton, Cantii, Southsexiae, Surriae et Middlesexiae comitat. London, 1576. British Library Maps C.3.bb.5.
In 1801 again under threat of war, this time with France, the Ordnance Survey made sure Kent was mapped before anywhere else.
William Mudge / Ordnance Survey, The county of Kent, with part of the county of Essex. London: William Faden, 1801 (1809). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
Peter Barber pointed out that the elaborate decoration of Saxton's south east map could not distract from the fact that it wasn't really fit for purpose. Barber also suggested the most likely reason for the rather pathetic map: Saxton was skint, short on funds and economising on engraving and production costs.
War isn't really the best time to be scrimping and saving, and it is around the time of the south east map (dated 1576) that a new paymaster, Thomas Seckford, was drafted in by Burghley to see the production through.
The eventual Spanish invasion was defeated in 1588. Then there was plenty of money to commission extravagant celebratory copper engraved maps of the English victory over the Armada.
Robert Adams, [The British Isles with the route of the Spanish Armada] from Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio. Anno Do. MDLXXXVIII. R. Adamo authore. A. Ryther sculpsit. London, c. 1590. British Library Maps C.3.bb.5
A set of these Armada engravings is bound up with another of the British Library's copies of Saxton's atlas (Maps C.3.bb.5), believed to belong to James I. The rest is history.
30 January 2017
Watch out for two new treasures from our map collection which went on display last week in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. The new arrivals are two original manuscript maps – A correct outline of Scotland (Maps CC.5.a.223.) and Spain and Portugal (Maps CC.5.a.227.) both drawn by Lilian Lancaster (1852-1939) who was also known under her married name, Tennant.
Lancaster's maps on display in the Treasures Gallery
Lancaster wasn’t a professional mapmaker, far from it! She was a successful Victorian actress associated with the Haymarket Theatre. She “got into mapmaking” in her teenage years when she decided to amuse her ill brother and sketched a series of twelve humorous maps of the European countries. Her designs were appreciated for the wittiness and the ability to capture the imagination of adult and young audiences and were published in Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries issued by Hodder & Staughton in 1868.
Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries, London: Hodder & Staughton, 1868. British Library Maps 12.d.1.
Playful and at the same time educational, her anthropomorphic designs easily stuck in the memory and helped juvenile audiences become more familiar with the shapes of the represented countries. Lancaster’s maps whilst teaching geography also incorporated important events or significant political figures introducing elements of history and was recognised as a fun didactic tool. A good example of this is a map of Italy from the Geographical Fun in which the Apennine Peninsula is represented as Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian politician and great patriot who fought for the unification of Italy (achieved in 1871). He is depicted in the symbolic red shirt (reference to the volunteer forces which followed Garibaldi during the Mille expedition), holding what appears to be a hat with word “LIBERTY” written across it.
Map of Italy by Lilian Lancaster published in Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries, London: Hodder & Staughton, 1868. British Library Maps 12.d.1.
Interestingly, unlike other anthropomorphic maps by Lancaster, the British Library’s watercolour map of Spain and Portugal is drawn to scale with the latitude and longitude grid inserted. The geography is fairly accurate with the main rivers and mountain ranges labelled. The Iberian Peninsula is illustrated as an arena with Portugal and Spain portrayed as a matador and bull. The matador is dressed according to bullfighting tradition and is wearing black hat with white shirt and narrow red necktie showing under an elaborately embroidered suit. The knee-high stockings and flat black zapatillas complete the outfit. The scene captures the moment the matador thrusts his sword at the bull. The animal appears exhausted, bleeding from wounds caused by two banderillas (arrows used in bullfighting) sticking out of its shoulders.
Lilian Lancaster, Spain and Portugal. Late 19th c. British Library Maps CC.5.a.227.
The fight scene refers to the turbulent political situation in the Iberian Peninsula in the 19th century. The loss of the colonies in the New World, a series of civil wars and several revolutionary attempts against the government left both countries weakened and vulnerable.
Lancaster also drew her inspiration from folktales and mythology. Another map on display in the Treasures Gallery, is the allegorical map of Scotland which incorporates the image of Dick Whittington and his Cat dancing in a meadow.
Lilian Elizabeth Lancaster, A correct outline of Scotland by Lilian Lancaster, designer of Geographical Fun. After 1869. British Library Maps CC.5.a.223.
Closer examination reveals incredible attention to detail – a fairy and wild flowers (including thistles, the Scottish national symbol) illustrate the Outer Hebrides whilst the Scottish Highlands are shown with a cherub carrying a bow and off shore islands depicted as mice and rats.
In the later stage of her life Lancaster, now working under her married name Tennant, designed further set of maps. They accompanied Stories of Old a collection of popular tales and fables by Elizabeth Louisa Hoskyn and published by Adam and Charles Black in 1912.
Stories of Old, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1912. British Library Maps 22.a.68.
The theme of every map follows the story of the country with a historical or mythological character set within an outline map. In this series Scotland takes the shape of Robert the Bruce and the Spider. England is depicted as St. George and the Dragon, France with the heroic Joan of Arc and Germany features the Pied Piper of Hammelin.
Map of Scotland by Lilian Tennant [Lancaster] published in Stories of Old, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1912. British Library Maps 222.a.68.
10 January 2017
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.
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
05 January 2017
'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.
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.
“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.
It is almost 10 years now since these maps were made and it is surprising to see how quickly things have changed.'
21 December 2016
The Ancient Mappe of Fairyland was published in London in 1918. It shows a vivid fantasy island inhabited by a riotous range of make-believe characters from Peter Pan and Puss-in-Boots to Hansel, Gretel and Three Blind Mice. You can see the original map in our current map exhibition, as well as viewing a larger online version here.
But why does Santa Claus not appear on the map? The answer, of course, is that unlike these fantastical characters, Santa is emphatically REAL.
However, since every fantasy contains a hint of reality, and to honour Fairyland's mapmaker - the appropriately named Bernard Sleigh - here is Santa, instated on the map in the icy north where he belongs.
With festive greetings from everyone here at the British Library's Map Library.
08 December 2016
One of the key exhibits in Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line - in fact one of the key maps of the 20th century - is a world map of 1942 by MacDonald Gill. Called 'The "Time and Tide" map of the Atlantic Charter', the map was published (in Time and Tide magazine) to commemorate the signing of a wartime agreement between Britain and the United States of America in August 1941.
MacDonald Gill, The "Time and Tide" Map of the Atlantic Charter.London, 1942. British Library Maps 950.(211.).
The treaty, which was agreed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt on a warship moored off Newfoundland, set out their aspirations for a post-war peace, including self-determination and global economic freedom. This symbol of friendly co-operation between Britain and the USA was designed as a threat to the Axis powers, for the USA was not at that time at war with them. The 'special relationship' dates from here.
The map brilliantly illustrates a world, unified under the sun and with images of trade and prosperity. It is a post-war Utopian vision that has been made possible by the treaty.
MacDonald Gill, ' The Atlantic Charter', 1942. Private collection.
MacDonald Gill was a highly successful British illustrator who produced work for customers as varied as London Transport, the Tea Market Expansion Board, Cable & Wireless Ltd., and St. Andrew's church, Sunderland.
He was a particularly skillful draftsman, as visitors to Drawing the Line can see from today when the original pen sketch for the Atlantic Charter replaces the printed version on display. As Gill experts Caroline Walker and Andrew Johnston have noted, Gill seems to have applied ink directly to the paper without any need for preparatory sketches or guide lines, and there isn't a smear of Tippex in sight.
Even more amazingly, the drawing has original signatures of Churchill and Roosevelt pasted onto it.
Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is open until 1 March.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- 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!
- Georg Wilhelm Schimper in Abyssinia: a new online resource