THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

4 posts categorized "Humanities"

14 May 2020

T.E. Lawrence’s maps of the Hejaz

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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, known as Lawrence of Arabia after the film about him of the same name, 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

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.

Sketch map of Yenbo made by T.E. Lawrence

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.

Tracing of sketch map made by T.E. 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’.

Sketch map of Bir Derwish made by T.E. Lawrence

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.

Sketch map of Um Lejj made by T.E. Lawrence

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.

Sketch map of Hejaz made by T.E. Lawrence

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 sketch map of Hejaz made by T.E. Lawrence

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 sketch map of Hejaz made by T.E. Lawrence

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.

Nick Dykes

21 April 2019

Two recent flight-related additions to the Map Collection

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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.

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Map showing the frequency of thunderstorms during the month of June on the England-Egypt section of the England-India airship route in 1926.

Maps X.12816.

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…

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The cover image of 'The Pilots’ Free Flight Atlas - Eastern Hemisphere', 2009.

Maps 2019.a.24.

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.

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Detail of a map entitled 'Climate/Winds in Europe, North Africa, Middle East', 2009

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.

 

Nick Dykes

Project Manager, Modern Maps

 

19 April 2019

British Empire maps of Africa added online

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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.

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A map showing the Position held by the enemy near Belfast, South Africa, in August 1900

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.

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A picture of a gun emplacement in South Africa
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An image of a gun emplacement

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.

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A map showing the road from Komati Poort To Messangire

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.

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An image of the geographical search page for the War Office Archive maps

 

Nick Dykes

Project Manager, Modern Maps

 

27 September 2017

Maps in GCSE resource cupboards

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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?

Cotton aug 1.ii.21

[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.