26 October 2020
A guest post by Chantelle Richardson, Librarian of the National Library of Jamaica and former Chevening British Library Fellow
Throughout my year at the British Library, I was privy to seeing some amazing resources. One of my projects focused on Non-book Bibliographic materials from Latin America and the Caribbean before 1950. Compiling the list of materials for this project allowed me to view various items related to the Caribbean region. However, my interest piqued when I would see items related to Jamaica, especially maps.
My fascination with maps began when I started working in the Special collections branch at the National Library of Jamaica. Historical maps provide a vivid depiction of what the past looked like. They can be useful for a multiplicity of information needs. Land allocation is one aspect that is of particular interest. Maps can be used to see how communities were structured then and how they are now.
I found that one of the best ways to browse the cartographic holdings at the BL was by using the printed catalogues available in the Maps Reading Room. Though most items can be found on Explore the BL (the online catalogue) I found the printed catalogues useful in helping me to navigate the vast collections. It is therefore good to know that a complete set of metadata relating to one of the Library’s treasure collections, the King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top.) will soon be made available on the BL Shared Research Repository – an ideal tool for browsing which is similar to how you would navigate the printed catalogues.
Interestingly, I found that the BL has maps and other special collection items such as prints like those present in the NLJ collections. The K.Top. Collection is one of the best examples of this.
James Robertson, MAP of the County Of Cornwall, In The Island Of Jamaica. London, 1804. Maps K.Top.123.52.b.11.
The K.Top. Collection features many maps from the Caribbean in general. There are several maps related to Jamaica directly and indirectly. The names of cartographers like James Robertson, Edward Slaney and Nicolaes Visscher popped out as all have holdings in the NLJ collections.
Nicolaes Visscher. Insulae Americanae in Oceano Septentrionali ac Regiones Adiacentes. Amsterdam, 1775. Maps K. Top.123.5.
The coloured Jamaica maps in the K.Top. Collection are particularly interesting. Aside from being appealing to the eye, they give information on the parishes, towns, and counties. Researchers wanting to analyze the division of land in Jamaica from when there were 22 parishes to its 14 now can use the coloured maps as reference.
Another interesting thing about the K.Top. Collection is that it not only has maps related to Jamaica but prints as well. Prints such as The Maroons in Ambush on the Dromilly Estate in the Parish of Trelawney, Jamaica are a good source for researchers who are interested in indigenous groups and resistance.
J. Mérigot, The MAROONS in AMBUSH on the DROMILLY ESTATE in the PARISH of TRELAWNEY, JAMAICA. London, Robert Cribb, 1801. Maps K.Top.123.59.
There are also prints by lithographers like George Robertson and Louis Belanger. These prints are an added benefit of the K.Top. Collection as they help to contextualize what was happening in some of the places identified on the maps. For example, a MAP of the COUNTY of Middlesex, IN THE ISLAND of JAMAICA has an explanation section which I found somewhat depicted in one of Robertson prints A VIEW IN THE ISLAND OF JAMAICA.
James Simpson, MAP of the COUNTY of Middlessex, IN THE ISLAND of JAMAICA. London, 1763. Maps K.Top.123.51.c.2.tab.
Researchers wanting to find a visual representation of rivers, harbours, estates, and aspects of plantation life during the 18th century may find these items useful.
J.B. Harley stated that he saw cartographical mapping of the British Empire as a language of power and not protest. The same could be said of some of the Jamaican maps. To ignore the imperial association of how the maps became a part of the K.Top. Collection would not be an objective stance. Like many of the other Caribbean maps featured in the collection, most of the Jamaican maps were acquired throughout the 16th and 19th century when Britain ruled much of the Caribbean. These maps can be used in research that explores themes like the role of early maps in Britain’s imperialist past, area studies, postcolonial studies, land ownership and geomapping.
With the COVID-19 global pandemic remote access is becoming a major focus for libraries worldwide. Researchers who use both BL and NLJ resources have increased in the demand for digital materials. It was good to see that all the maps relating to Jamaica and the Caribbean from the K.Top. Collection have been digitized and are now openly available worldwide through the BL Explore and Flickr platform.
In the coming months, I plan to input links from the K.Top. maps collection into the NLJ maps catalogue so users will have access to the digitized copies of these resources from our holdings. Having used these resources, I recommend it to all users for academic as well as personal research.
31 July 2020
For centuries scholars speculated about the Earth’s composition with many believing that our planet’s centre was occupied by an eternal inferno. By the mid-17th century geographers were attempting to describe man’s physical environment and maps played an important part in this process. The great minds were interested in and studied simultaneously a wide range of subjects including natural sciences, medicine, philosophy and religion during this era. This universal approach resulted in some rather unusual (even bizarre by today’s standards) theories – a combination of scientific and theological concepts.
A model of the Earth showing network of fire channels connecting surface features with inferno located in the centre. Systema ideale pyrophylaciorum subterraneorum, quorum montes vulcanii, veluti, spiracula quædam existant. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1, pp.180-181
One such fascinating work held by the British Library is Mundus Subterraneous (Subterranean World) compiled by the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. Published in 1665 in two volumes this pioneering work on the physical geography of the Earth fully embraced the comprehensive scholarship approach. Mundus Subterraneous was intended as a compendium of universal knowledge. Now it is not only a brilliant example of the range of scientific subjects of interest that a 17th century scholar would undertake, it more importantly demonstrates that around this time maps were recognised as a powerful scientific tool. In order to support his complex theories Kircher included in his work a series of maps providing an explanation of terrestrial phenomena. He based his thesis on various sources ranging from the classical authors and travel accounts including those sent by missionaries in the Andes in South America, as well as his own observations. His first hand investigation of the about-to-erupt Vesuvius crater demonstrates he was not just a typical armchair scholar, he actually had an inquisitive mind and whenever possible took the opportunity to expand his knowledge.
Systema ideale quo exprimitur, aquarum per canales hydragogos subterraneos ex mari et in montium hydrophylacia protrusio, aquarumque subterrestrium per pyragogos canales concoctus. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1, pp.174v-175
Tabula geographico-hydrographica motus oceani, currentes, abyssos, montes ignivomos in universo orbe indicans, notat hæc fig. abyssos montes vulcanios. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1., pp. 124v-125
Kircher’s spectacular work contains maps which along with recognisable geography display some unusual features. In his vision of the surrounding world he considered the Earth as the centre of the Universe. In order to explain the surface features and geographical configurations observed in different parts of the world he proposed the existence of a network of subterranean communications – a system of channels which allow flow of the three elements: water, air and fire. Several maps in his work depict the Earth’s interior showing these underground structures.
Hydrophylacium Africæ precipuum, in Montibus Lunæ Situm, Lacus et Flumina præcipua fundens. ubi et nova inventio Originis Nili describitur. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., pp.72-73
Typus hydrophylacii intra Alpes Rhæticas, quod fundit totius Europæ celebrrima flumina ; uti patet. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., p.70
The subjects explained in the accompanied cartographic material include the underground distribution of fire, the mechanics of volcanos and the existence of hot springs. The maps in Kircher’s book also depict the subterranean origin of lakes and rivers, and the circulation of water in oceans including the currents and whirlpools (providing the Norwegian maelstrom and the whirlpools in the Polar Regions as examples).
Descriptio Vorticis Norvegiæ et Bothniæ eorumqe mirabilium effectuum, quos in fluxu et refluxu operantur. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., p.152
Poli Arctici constitutio. Amstelodami,1665. 505.ee.4., p.160
With its bold new scientific theories and the beautifully engraved maps Mundus subterraneus was a huge success and was re-published several times. Kircher’s work popularised the use of cartographic materials in publications on natural sciences and influenced the development of the Earth sciences including geology, hydrology and geophysics.
14 May 2020
In the vaults of the British Library, amongst sheets in the ‘War Office Archive’ once used to make and revise military maps, lie a handful of sketches and notes made by that iconic figure of the First World War, T.E. Lawrence. These documents provide an insight into exploration mapping of their time, and express some of the character of the man who made them.
Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was renowned for his part in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Perhaps less well known was his earlier role stationed in Cairo with the Arab Bureau, where he was responsible for maps supplied by the Survey of Egypt.
Towards the end of 1915, when a Turkish invasion of Egypt seemed likely, Lawrence was put in charge of gathering information concerning the Hejaz railway, a Turkish line built to connect Damascus in the north with Medina in the south.
A contemporary map shows existing pilgrimage routes from the coast to the southern end of the railway.
Outline Map of Hejaz, in Handbook of Hejaz, 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/16/12. Image available from Qatar Digital Library
In December 1916 Lawrence drew the following sketch on headed notepaper bearing the name, ‘Arab Bureau, Savoy Hotel, Cairo’. The sheet depicts the region between Yenbo on the coast (‘Yambo El-Bahr’ on the sheet above) and the railway, and provides corrections for a sheet of the existing 1:500,000 scale map series (GSGS 4011). Lawrence appears to make the recording of place names a priority - he takes care to list each of the four springs at ‘Sueig’ and the five springs at ‘Sueiga’, while the pencilled detail of the topography is in places hard to make out.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1916.
Lawrence was said to have an eccentric appearance, but an incisive mind – epithets which might also describe his mapmaking. By the high standards of military cartography, this and other sketches appear roughly drawn, or perhaps hastily made, and bear signs of Lawrence’s own quixotic and sometimes rebellious nature, as we shall see.
But they undoubtedly contributed to the correction of major inaccuracies on the maps available at that time. Lawrence would also have been aware that a skilled cartographer could make a fair copy from sketches such as this. The following sheet was traced from an original by Lawrence.
Womat. Arabia. 29(c), 1918.
On the back of the Yenbo sheet, two small sketches provide corrections to a region lying closer to Medina, while a separate note describes a stretch of Wadi Ais in characteristically poetic terms - ‘For the first 20 or 30 miles its course is E. with a trifle of South in it’.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1916.
Another sheet bears a sketch of three villages at Um Lejj, situated on the coast between Yenbo and Wejh to the north. His short visit there, alighting briefly from HMS Suva in January 1917, is described in his personal account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The sketch bears the same date as his visit, and appears on the back of naval signal notepaper.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
Lawrence takes the opportunity to note ‘New names’ for a revised map, and also provides, for the military cartographer who will receive it, an ironic description of the symbols he has drawn – ‘The three dots are the 3 villages of Um Lejj: the other things are palm-trees and hills. The trees are not really a mile high.’
By early 1917 Lawrence had left the Arab Bureau and was leading attacks himself on the Hejaz railway, in a British campaign to restrict Turkish forces stationed in Medina. The sheet below covers an area between the coastal settlement at Wejh and the railway - a mountainous region of desert that Lawrence crossed on camel-back before attacking the railway twice, first at Abu El Naam, and then at Madahrij. A powerful account of the expedition appears in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
The sheet itself was made a month later, and bears the date 8.5.17 - the day before he set off on his epic and well-known march across the desert to make a surprise attack from inland on Turkish-held Aqaba.
The map is supplemented with information from reconnaissance work he had carried out in the days before with members of the Royal Flying Corps, and its purpose again is to provide corrections to an existing sheet of the GSGS 4011 series. However, the brief compilation note near the upper right corner reports the uneven quality of his mapping resources – ‘Map compiled from compass bearings, camel time, & aeroplane observations.’
Detail of Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
Despite the undoubted value provided by Lawrence’s corrections, the limitations of the map series as a whole were acknowledged. Foreign Maps, a US Army Technical Manual made after World War Two, comments, ‘The numerous warning notes appearing on the sheets regarding internal inconsistencies and the lack of adequate control emphasise the unreliability of the series.’
The longer-lasting value of the sheets lies in Lawrence’s documentation of place names as reported to him by local inhabitants. Lawrence has divided this last map with red ink into five regions, within which place names are listed by feature type – hills, valleys, plains, water and railway stations – providing a checklist for the subsequent mapmaker.
Detail of Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
Later, his publisher queried the multiple spellings of place names found in the text of Revolt in the Desert, an abridged version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom - to which Lawrence replied, ‘I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the [transliteration] systems are.’
Distaste for such systems aside, you can’t help but feel that his maps belie a linguist’s care for words, recorded faithfully, but variously as his informants pronounced them.
These sheets are in line to be catalogued and digitised by the Partnership between the British Library and the Qatar National Library, and will become available for your enjoyment from the Qatar Digital Library.
21 April 2019
Today’s commercial pilots are well equipped to detect and fly over or around meteorological obstacles such as thunderstorms that lie in their path, so that as passengers behind we are rarely troubled by them. But imagine if you were flying in an airship of the 1920s instead. We recently added to the BL Collection a map designed for just that – Map showing the frequency of thunderstorms during the month of June on the England-Egypt section of the England-India airship route.
The map was made at the British War Office in 1926 and is a product of the Imperial Airship Scheme, a Government initiative of the 1920s to create a commercial airship route between Britain and the furthest parts of the Empire. The sheet shows three alternative routes for comparison, concluding that the most western and southerly of the three is the least likely to encounter difficulty.
The thought of negotiating thunderstorms at all in an England-India airship is frankly terrifying, and despite the careful planning evidenced by this sheet, the initiative came to a tragic end when one of the airships designed to fly the route crashed in France on its maiden voyage overseas in 1930.
Far more re-assuring is this recent donation to the BL. The Pilots’ Free Flight Atlas - Eastern Hemisphere, is a colourful collection of topographical mapping of Europe, South-East Asia and the Middle East overlaid with aeronautical information – radio beacons, airspace reservations, waypoints, airfields and runway lengths…
A number of thematic pages include political maps, a star chart and a sheet entitled Climate/Winds in Europe, North Africa, Middle East showing the main wind directions and strengths in January and in July alongside bar charts giving precipitation and temperature data for selected locations throughout the year.
Detail of ‘Climate/Winds in Europe, North Africa, Middle East’ Maps 2019.a.24. page 8
Not being an aviation expert I don’t know the frequency with which commercial pilots might turn to this volume in-flight, but as a layman I am re-assured by the detailed information it provides, and the calm and efficient manner in which it is conveyed on backgrounds of natural greens and blues. Not to mention the section on Dos and Don’ts during Thunderstorm Avoidance – ‘Avoiding thunderstorms is the best policy’ remains as true as ever.
Project Manager, Modern Maps
19 April 2019
Around the turn of the 20th century the British War Office in London maintained a library of original, mostly hand-drawn mapping that covered large parts of the world where detailed and reliable surveys were not otherwise available. The maps were gathered from a rich variety of sources including military expeditions, boundary commissions, explorers, travellers, missionaries and spies, and they were used by the War Office for making and revising official printed products.
The maps are now held at the British Library in the 'War Office Archive', and generous funding from Indigo Trust has allowed us to continue cataloguing, conserving and digitising portions relating to Africa, where the archive provides unique details of settlements, populations, communications and land-use immediately before and during the period of European settlement.
Most recently we have digitised maps relating to the former Transvaal Colony, including sheets made during the South African War, also called the Second Boer War. 'Survey of Position Held by Enemy near Belfast. August 1900’ was made in the days following the Battle of Bergendal, the last pitched battle and a turning point in the war. The map is hand-drawn to a high standard, perhaps in anticipation of reproduction and publication, but this appears to be a unique copy.
Detail of 'Survey of Position Held by Enemy near Belfast. August 1900’ WOMAT/AFR/TRA/23
Gun emplacements and rifle pits are shown in red, alongside detailed contour work and rock drawings. Plans and profiles of enemy gun positions are provided around the sides of the map.
Details of WOMAT/AFR/TRA/23
In a less finished style, but with no less detail, is the following ‘Road Sketch’ from 1906, which shows a 200-mile stretch of the boundary between present-day South Africa and Mozambique. It too is made with an eye on military logistics, and provides details of terrain and road conditions, availability of food and water, and the characteristics and numbers of personnel at forts along the route. All of which provides rich data for present-day researchers.
Detail of ‘Road Sketch From Komati Poort To Messangire’ WOMAT/AFR/TRA/47
There are now a total of 1,840 map images from the archive available to view on the BL website or to download from Wikimedia, covering large parts of eastern and southern Africa. The catalogue records and images can also be browsed from the geographical search page, shown below.
Project Manager, Modern Maps
27 September 2017
Yesterday I gave a keynote presentation at the RGS-IBG Schools event 'Looking ahead at GCSE geography and history: getting the best results' with the Historical Association.
If you did a Venn diagram of history and geography you’d get a historic map, and the purpose of my presentation was to convince geography and history teachers of the value of historic maps for their resource cupboards.
My general argument was that maps have always had an important role in education, pre-dating the modern subject of geography by a good few centuries. During the 19th century, when geography acquired its modern identity, maps were there as geography's handmaiden, supporting it and pushing its agenda.
Today, maps are perhaps less central to geography education than they were a century ago. Other sources are as heavily used, and maps may not be perceived as the pure scientific communication models that 1960s geographers were trying to develop, or as versatile as GiS.
But maps can still be useful in enabling an appreciation of current trends in geography - an awareness which is surely essential if you’re a geography teacher and student. In the later 19th century it was physical and commercial geography to equip British Geographer-in-chief Halford Mackinder’s ‘future inheritors of Empire.’ As to the increase in prominence of fieldwork in the new GCSE Geography syllabus, is there an echo of the 'Nature Study' trend emphasised over a century ago?
[A hand-drawn map of Ireland, around 1540] British Library Cotton MS Augustus I.ii.21.
For history students, the Historical value of maps has always been obvious. This English-produced map of Ireland from around 1540 (south at the top, Dublin and the Shannon appearing mid-way up on the left) may be inaccurate because it exaggerates the size of area of the English Pale, and has some settlements larger than others. But doesn’t that enable us to see into the mind of the English crown, and get an insight into their strategies, their fears, their blind spots? As a historical source: solid gold.
There are thousands of freely available digital historical maps online as context for geogrpahical trends, and as historical sources. If you're a teacher, stick a few in your cupboard. Have a few more on us.