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.