27 April 2016
Those of you who have used the British Library's Georeferencer in the past will know that it has an interesting quirk; you don't get to choose the map you are working on. This was added to the design for good reason, to make sure even the difficult maps in the selection get worked on, but it also has disadvantages. You see, the random pool is quite small, around 30, and doesn't change unless a map is georeferenced; this means that, with a challenging set of maps like those currently in the program, the same unpopular maps can just keep circling around until someone bites the bullet and gets that map pinned down. All of which means, it can become a bit of a drag for even the most devoted Georeferencers.
Thankfully, some of our wonderful volunteers have worked on creating a solution to this problem. A new page on Wiki Commons now lists all the maps requiring georeferencing by their rough location (i.e. a country) or some other subject marker (such as the map being about 'anthropology'). Next to each subject line is a link saying 'to georef', click on this and your route to selecting material to work on in the Georeferencer begins. All you need do from here is click on a map on the Flickr page you have been directed to and on the map’s page click the ‘View this map on the BL Georeferencer service’ link. You are now at the Georeferencer interface for this map, simply log in and continue the georeferencing process as normal.
Above: a view of the 'Anthropology and Ethnology' subset page.
Using this process you can continue to find, select and georeference maps of your choosing, working your way through an entire list or flitting from one subject to the next. The choice is yours. Since I last wrote we've progressed up to 27% of the maps from the current batch georeferenced, that's a whopping 13,434 maps! Plus, all this data is now being ingested into the Library's catalogues and should be available on the public interface soon.
As I always say when I close these posts, if you've not started working on the georeferencer yet please do come and have a go. Now is a better time than ever to start.
08 February 2016
Above: A map from Henry Francis Abell's, History of Kent, as overlaid by the Georeferencer.
With 2016 well underway it is a great pleasure to see work on the 50,000 maps held in the Georeferencer continuing apace. It looks like our volunteers were very busy over Christmas and the numbers processed have jumped, heading well beyond the 20% mark with a total of 11,644 now georeferenced. I must confess I had intended to provide a festive post to showcase some of our more wintry maps but in the excitement of the run up to Christmas completely forgot to post it. And so the Georeferencer’s yuletide treats have to pass unmarked – until next year.
For today’s post I’ve been paying more attention to the UK maps being worked with in the Georeferencer. These make up a significant proportion of the content being processed and the UK is the densest area of pinned maps both for this element of the project and the Georeferencer work as a whole. Having recently moved to Kent I decided to have a dig around the maps pinned here, hoping to find some interesting items. This turned out to be a success but not in the way you would necessarily expect.
The above map comes from Henry Francis Abell’s, History of Kent, with original sketches and maps which, as you can see, makes a significant amount of of the ‘new maps and illustrations’ contained in the work. The only issue is that Abell had previously published a children’s history of Kent which contained exactly the same map and now the Georeferencer hosts them both side by side, highlighting Abell’s recycling of old map plates. Aside from being an insight into a slightly disingenuous writer or publisher’s practice of selling books these two maps open a door on a much wider practice of nineteenth century illustration production.
The BL 1 Million stream of images, from which this map is pulled, have allowed digital humanities researchers to analyse the content in various ways, comparing and contrasting images with each other. One of these researchers, Mario Klingemann, (recently awarded a BL Labs prize for his work) noted the prevalence of reproducing and slightly amending previously published illustrations in order to drive down the cost of production for publishers. In short, what Abell is up to with his maps was a relatively well established nineteenth century practice, especially where cheaper books were concerned.
Above: Map of the Railroads of England designed for Edward Churton's, The Rail-Road Book.
One other item worth drawing attention to is this railroad map of Great Britain, which I stumbled across while looking for interesting maps of Lancashire. It reminded me that one of our volunteers, Susan Major, has recently published a work on railroad history - and you won’t be surprised to hear that Susan georeferenced this particular map for the Library. That’s all for this particular georeferencer update, there is more to come about the project and work of our volunteers in March. In the meantime, if you are new to the Georeferencer and would like to get involved, you can find out more here.
10 November 2015
Most of you know the British Library and a dedicated group of volunteers have, for the last few years, been plugging away at georeferencing maps from across the Library’s collections. The most recent, and rather large, set of maps has been carved out of the cache of Library images held on Flickr and now our volunteers are working their way through over 50,000 maps in need of georeferencing. Thanks to the work of our dedicated georeferencers things are progressing well, with over 9,000 maps referenced so far but for those of you interested in getting involved there are still plenty of opportunities for you to do so.
Above: the geographical spread of the maps georeferenced so far.
As you can see above, the georeferencing done so far has already dealt with maps from an impressively wide geographical area. In fact, there are now so many maps available I'm going through them and picking out some that strike me as particularly interesting. The below map of the expedition of Baron Adolf Eric Nordenskiӧld into the interior of Greenland is from a publication about his 1883 trek to understand more about the continent, it's also one of my favorites from the current georeferenced batch. The map almost made it into the Library’s recent Lines in the Ice exhibition as Nordenskiӧld encountered what he thought was a new mineral, Kryokonite, but which turned out to be coal dust deposited by snow. In short, Nordenskiӧld found some of the earliest evidence of the global circulation of pollutants – he just didn’t know it yet.
Above: map of Baron Adolf Eric Nordenskiӧld’s 1883 Greenland expedition. See in Georeferencer.
For completely different reasons I’m also very keen on the two following maps, depicting late nineteenth century Niagara Falls (both sides) and Melbourne at a similar time. It’s not so much the content of the original maps as their situation on the contemporary Google Map which interests me here as both now form small parts of sprawling urbanised areas. Niagara Falls has not developed in the same manner as Melbourne, which grew explosively in the late twentieth century, but both maps and their background say a lot about twentieth century urban development.
Above: Niagara Falls, Canada and U. S. A., published 1886. See in Georeferencer.
Above: Melbourne, Australia, published 1888. See in Georeferencer.
It is these sorts of historical nuggets and contemporary juxtapositions which make the BL Georeferencer so interesting and if this whets your appetite to get involved I have good news, there are still plenty of maps left to work with. You can find out more about the process of signing up and working with the material here. Another gem to come out of the work of our volunteers’ work is the availability of these maps through the wonderful Old Maps Online. This has been available through a web browser for some time but it now comes to you in a mobile phone app too.
There is more information about the app and its uses via this press release from the Old Maps Online team and it is well worth a read. For the purpose of this blog the most pertinent thing to point out is that the maps you reference from the current cache of material will also be available, in the palm of your hand, through this app. The bonus feature of the Old Maps Online app is that you can now find maps about where you are, wherever you are, so long as you have your phone, a signal and (especially if you are outside of your home country) a suitable mobile data package.
This means that if you go for a walk, say, on the Downs of Kent you can open the app and see georeferenced material about your location originating from the British Library, and other institutions who have taken part in the project. All this while stood in a field, a bog, a forest or a town. Have a go, it really is great fun.
02 September 2015
The British Library is pleased to have a number of of maps and views currently on display in a special exhibition at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at Boston Public Library. These maps, which come from the King's Topographical and RUSI collections, were digitised and catalogued thanks to a project involving the Leventhal Map Center and generous private sponsors. The exhibition is entitled 'We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence,' and we are delighted to host this guest blog post about the display by Allison Lange.
In late April 1775, twenty-five-year-old British Lieutenant Richard Williams left Europe for Boston to take part in the American war. The battles of Lexington and Concord earlier that month had prompted British troops to retreat to the city, which was soon surrounded by American soldiers. Williams landed in Boston in June, and—despite the circumstances—he was glad to be there. He declared in his diary, “the Land was a pleasing object after six weeks of absence from it.”
Williams’s duties were tied to the land. As a cartographer and artist, he mapped the area for military and political leaders to study. The British Library’s map collection includes several pieces of his work that offer unique, beautiful views of life during the siege.
The day after his arrival, Williams took stock of Boston. He went to Beacon Hill to view the rebellious colonists surrounding the peninsula. “Boston is large & well built, tho’ not a regular laid out town,” he concluded. Williams thought the area had seen better days “before the present unhappy affairs” when “it was livly [sic] and flurishing [sic].”
[Richard Williams] (active 1750-1776), 'A Plan of Boston and its Environs Shewing the True Situation of His Majesty’s Troops and Also Those of the Rebels, Likewise All the Forts, Redoubts and Entrenchments Erected by Both Armies.' 1775. Manuscript, pen and ink and watercolour. British Library Add.MS. 15535.5.
Williams used his view from Beacon Hill for his maps and sketches. He likely drew the Plan of Boston and its Environs Shewing the True Situation of His Majesty’s Troops, which is part of the British Library’s map collection, from this spot. The map depicts the positions of the British and American troops in October 1775. Fortifications were colored yellow for the rebels and green for the British. Camps, like the one on the Boston Common, are red.
Richard Williams (active 1750-1776), 'A View of the Country Round Boston, Taken from Beacon Hill…Shewing the Lines, Redoubts, & Different Encampments of the Rebels Also Those of His Majesty’s Troops under the Command of His Excellency Lieut. General Gage, Governor of Massachuset’s Bay.' 1775. Manuscript, ink and watercolour. British Library Maps K.Top 120.38.
In addition to this map, Williams captured the landscape with watercolors like A View of the Country Round Boston, Taken from Beacon Hill. He sketched Boston’s churches and homes and documented the British camps that had transformed the city into a military base. At the bottom of the scene, Williams included a key to identify fortifications like Castle Williams and the “Redoubts of the Rebels.”
British military and political leaders commissioned maps like these to gain a better sense of the Revolutionary War. Williams drew his Plan of Boston and sent it to London, where it was printed less than two weeks before the British evacuated the city on March 17, 1776. He also sent his watercolor view, one in a series, to London. This piece eventually made its way into the British Library’s King George III’s Topographical Collection.
After evacuating Boston and sailing for Nova Scotia, Williams became ill and abruptly stopped writing in his diary. He returned to England, where he died on April 30, 1776. Although he died young, the unique views he left behind offer valuable insights into life during the siege.
For the first time, the British Library has loaned these items for display in the city that Williams captured on paper. Williams’ work is featured in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s exhibition at the Boston Public Library. The exhibition, We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, uses maps to explore the events that led thirteen colonies to forge a new nation. We Are One demonstrates that maps, from Williams’s plan to early maps of the new nation, were central to the revolutionary process. The exhibition features maps as well as prints, paintings, and objects from the Leventhal Map Center’s own collection and those of twenty partners, including the Library of Congress, William L. Clements Library, and John Carter Brown Library. Explore geo-referenced maps from the exhibition here.
The exhibition will be on display at the Boston Public Library through November 29, 2015. We Are One then travels to Colonial Williamsburg from February 2016 through January 2017 and to the New-York Historical Society from November 2017 through March 2018.
The Leventhal Map Center also hosts the NEH-funded American Revolution Portal database. Researchers can access maps from the American Antiquarian Society, British Library, Library of Congress, and other institutions in one search. Users can download images for research and classroom use.
Access these resources and learn more about We Are One here
Allison K. Lange, PhD
25 March 2015
We have 50,000 maps online that we ask you - the public - to identify the geographical location of. The BL Georeferencer release is now live at
“A plan of the city of Stockholm” published in 1802, overlaid on current Google mapping
Using the BL Georeferencer online application, you will be presented with a historic map from a 19th century book; by finding the location on a modern map or imagery alongside, the old map is “georeferenced”, and can be overlaid and interacted with in your browser (as above).
This is our largest release of maps yet, and will be a formidable task to complete, so any amount of help you can offer us will be gratefully received!
17 February 2015
Without looking, you can’t know what’s there. That was our experience locating maps amongst the one-million British Library images released to the public domain. We had not guessed that 50,000 images of maps were lurking there. So how were they singled out?
Answer: with the help of our friends (the crowd!) using several methods.
Semi-manually: A dedicated team of volunteers looked at individual images and applyied the tag “map” on flickr. The work was organised using a synoptic index in Wikimedia Commons, providing a systematic method of looking at each volume and tracking shared progess. Over 29,000 map images were identified in this way.
The British Library hosted a one-day event, in concert with Wikimedia UK, to which volunteers were invited to kick-start the effort. In between working, the 30 participants enjoyed tours and talks from speakers representing online mapping efforts, including OpenStreet Map and Stroly. The day’s activities were captured in Gregory Marler’s engaging description, Lost in Piles of Maps, and a series of photographs from ATR Creative.
Ongoing crowd activity
The bulk of the work took place online over the next two months. With the wiki tools built by J.heald to guide and coordinate contributions, 51 volunteers approached the work, book by book, often focussing on geographic areas of interest. Together, they made short work of what was a huge task; 28% of the books were completed after the first 72 hours; 60% were reviewed in the first 20 days; after five weeks over 20,000 new maps were found in 93% of the source volumes.
But surely maps can be identified automatically? It’s true that well before the organised effort just described, one user produced algorithm-guided tags for this image set, which resulted in the addition of well over 15,000 map tags.
By the end of December 2014, every image in every book had been reviewed, and between the manual and automatic tagging, over 50,000 maps had been found. Since then, we have been working to clean up the data, including reviewing rogue tags, rotating images, splitting maps, and removing duplicates, to derive a final set of data. Next step: georeferencing.
04 November 2014
Online participation in the Maps Tag-a-thon, launched 31 October with an event here at the Library, is open! We invite remote enthusiasts to get involved in the tagging so that maps can be identified and then georeferenced so as to offer full geo-functionality (public domain!). The aim to is to find every map from amongst the million images.
Nearly 33% of the books have been reviewed, with over 6,000 maps found, since Friday - that's only five days! If you can join us in this amazing effort, have a look at the instructions on Wikimedia Commons.
A report on the event will come soon, but I wanted to flag up this opportunity. Thanks to all the help from the British Library Digital Research Team, OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia Commons!
29 September 2014
Maps are still hidden in amongst the million images on Flickr, and we want to find them!
You are invited to the British Library for a day-long digital maps tag-a-thon event on Friday 31 October. The main activity will be reviewing Library images in Flickr to identify those that are maps. Once we have the maps consolidated, they can be included in the next round of BL Georeferencer, which will place them to their geographic location, increasing findability and allowing overlays on modern mapping. Register to attend here!
Above is one example of what can be discovered. This map of Cerro de Pasco in Peru is from a 1868 book. The volume was scanned and images released on Flickr; this one was tagged "map", and so was included in the last round of BL Georeferencer. Sure, that effort was successful, but it has been estimated that there are 10,000 more maps in Flickr that we do not know about! We need help finding them.
Participants do not need to possess technical knowledge, but rather an interest in historic maps and a desire to bring them to life digitally. We are lucky to have experienced wiki-editors who will be present on the day to edit the wiki, answer questions, and update our statistics online. (Jheald provides a explanation of the technical process he designed and how it will work.)
Other activities are planned for the day, including a visit to the Maps area, brief updates on digital activities, and a look at the Gothic exhibition. See the event details and full agenda and registration here.
This is a joint event sponsored by the British Library Labs project and supported by OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia UK. I hope to see plenty of map aficionados and BL Georeferencer participants there as well, and I encourage our Maps and Views blog readers to attend!
Maps and views blog recent posts
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer
- Maps on the British Library's Online Gallery: update
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- Goad Maps on Layers of London
- Another big list of where to find British Library maps online
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps
- Hooked on Georeferencing
- Less of a Random Mapper: a new feature for Georeferencer
- Money for old charts: printing maps in the nineteenth century