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.
22 October 2020
In this guest blog post, curatorial lead of the King's Topographical Collection cataloguing and digitisation project Felicity Myrone reflects upon the historic cataloguing project.
Visual items such as maps, drawings, prints and plate books are some of the most valuable and vulnerable items in library collections, and yet most are not widely known.
Nineteenth century British Museum catalogues briefly listed K.Top by place depicted. We hope that a wider, fuller and more integrated approach will open up the collection to cross- and interdisciplinary research, now possible from home, worldwide.
Taking catalogue records from 1829
Since 2013 16,226 K.Top prints and drawings and 12,149 maps have been catalogued as single records. Just 400 maps await full cataloguing; while this is work in progress there will be some duplication and anomalies on Explore.
How did we get here?
Peter Barber established the project while Head of Cartography and Topography at the British Library. Many other past and present colleagues have supported it, not least Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Hugh Brown, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.
We began cataloguing in 2013, Peter asking me to oversee views and my colleague Tom Harper to oversee maps. We appointed Alex Ault (happily still with us, now in Modern Manuscripts) and Mercedes Ceron for prints and drawings, and Kate Marshall and Magdalena Kowalczuk for maps.
As Peter retired in 2015 I became curatorial lead of the project, and cataloguers from then on mastered describing both visual and cartographic materials, on a bibliographic system (MARC records on Aleph). Overcoming the challenges this sets has been one of the greatest learning curves for the Library. We then appointed Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Mercedes Ceron (again), then Rebecca Whiteley, and later Marianne Yule, working with successive project officers Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale and Tamara Tubb.
All were appointed on short term contracts funded by generous donations. The department became a hive of activity, ever ready to adapt to unfamiliar materials and systems and coach each other, and produced an average of 15 records a day each while finding time to contribute to other Library work. It was truly inspiring to oversee a team with knowledge beyond place to include costume, natural history, anatomical art, architecture and antiquarianism.
The collection is presented as plate books, atlases and single sheets mounted into large albums by place depicted: it can be tricky to remember that an item related to the one you are cataloguing is found elsewhere, possibly in an item that you or your colleague looked at days or months ago. As the cataloguing and digitisation progressed making these connections became easier, but there will inevitably be data we have missed.
It has also been particularly rewarding to work with PhD students: Jeremy Brown, who undertook a collaborative PhD on Italian maps in the collection and later worked as a cataloguer, Fred Smith, who also joined as a cataloguer having undertaken a PhD placement cataloguing an album of Charles I’s prints, and Emily Roy whose PhD placement involved analysing, visualising and digitally mapping the new K.Top metadata.
Many thanks too to MA students from UCL and Leicester University, Xiaojun Xie, Disi Wu and Yiyun Gong, who joined us on work placements and provided valuable assistance to the project. Xiaojun processed our digital images, and Disi and Yiyun helped with cataloguing and georeferencing
The project overlaps and coincided with the publication of a catalogue raisonné of the Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. By permission of the Warburg and Royal Collections and the hard work of Victoria Morris in converting the records to MARC, we now also feature Mark McDonald’s full and expert cataloguing of all of Cassiano dal Pozzo’s prints at the British Library.
We hope that our new records and images will highlight the visual resources we hold as a global resource and the potential in revisiting and cataloguing images in greater detail than is usually attempted in a library environment.
Felicity Myrone, Lead Curator, Western Prints & Drawings
16 October 2020
We have just released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III for you to peruse and study.
As far as private and royal map collections go, the K.Top is one of the most well-known and best preserved of those assembled before the mid-19th century. It's also one of the more unusual and idiosyncratic due to its inclusion of a variety of other items besides maps and views (collectively known as 'ephemera.'). And it has an interesting custodial history following its presentation in the 1820s. Here are ten things you may not know about it.
1. A single piece of acquisition evidence survives for the collection, an invoice for a map of New Hampshire of 1761 (Maps K.Top 120.25) made out by the mapmaker Thomas Jefferys to the King's advisor the Earl of Bute.
2. The collection includes many official and governmental maps (such as this map of part of the coast of New England) which were presumably lent to the King for consultation but for one reason or another not returned.
3. The bulk of the collection of single-sheet maps and views are contained in 250 massive guard volumes that were created in the 1960s.
4. The collection is a distinct part of the larger King’s Library, but a number of volumes were separated from it and are now housed in the King's Library proper. Other items also found their way into the Western Manuscripts collection and the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings.
5. 'Top' stands for 'Topographical'. There’s also a Maritime (also in the British Library) and a Military collection (part of the Royal Collection in Windsor). However and most helpfully, the Topographical Collection also contains sea charts and military charts.
6. The king is rumoured to have kept the maps adjacent to his private chambers in Buckingham Palace.
7. Prior to 1828 the collection was given a geographical arrangement, which involved dismembering and redistributing of the contents of bound atlases including at least two Italian made-to-order atlases of the 16th century.
8. It includes the largest atlas in the world up to 2012, the Klencke Atlas.
10. A number of maps thought to be by the 16th century Flemish mapmaker Abraham Ortelius, including this map of Ancient Britain, were recently discovered to be late 17th century pirated copies after Ortelius, probably by the English mapmaker John Overton (see the notes to Maps C.49.e.74 for further information) .
13 October 2020
Today we release 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III into the public domain.
The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV. This is the first of two planned image releases.
For the first time, anybody who wishes to can remotely view, search, research and enjoy one of the world’s richest and most varied public collections of the history of place.
The idea of remote or virtual travelling is a particularly common one today thanks to the seamless interfaces of online map viewer that simulate the idea of airborne travel and evoke the excitement of discovery. However, the idea of virtual travel has a long history, and is well illustrated by the travel-averse king who resided in his palaces and viewed the world through his collection of maps and views. This is the Google Earth of the late 18th century and the journeys it can take you on are no less informative, intriguing, and instructive of the many facets of past eras.
What is K.Top?
The King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) is one part of the Geographical Collection of King George III (the other parts are the Maritime and Military collections). The nucleus of the collection was assembled from 1660, but added to considerably after 1760 by the king’s librarians and agents. The collection was presented to the British Museum (from 1973 British Library) as a distinct part of the King's Library in 1823,. For more on the history of the collection see this post by Felicity Myrone.
What is in it?
It’s probably easier to list what isn’t in this collection. It totals around 40,000 printed and manuscript maps, views, charts, texts, architectural plans, prints, atlases and ephemera. The collection is arranged geographically, with around 40% dedicated to the British Isles, one third covering the Europe of the Grand Tour, and 10% for British areas of influence such as North America, the West Indies and India.
What themes does it include?
Too many to mention, but here’s a sample: landscape, tourism, antiquarianism, architecture, rural life, fine art, agriculture, medieval and church studies, urban planning and development, industrialisation – canals and transport, military history, the history of collecting, the history of cartography, the Grand Tour, royal palaces and stately homes, science and invention, the history of exploration, American Independence.
As a product of the 16th-19th centuries, the collection is also associated with imperialism, and the role of maps in facilitating imperialist activities both practically and ideologically. We hope that the release of this material will facilitate research and greater understanding of these aspects of the past.
How can I access it?
18,000 images are available via the file-sharing site Flickr, which you can find here https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157716220271206
Images from the collection are also tagged George III Topographical Collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/georgeiiitopographicalcollection
There are links to full Marc cataloguing records on Explore the British Library. To view a digital image from the catalogue record on Explore, select 'I Want This' and then 'View Online Digital Item.'
How about georeferencing?
Glad you asked. For those of you who like a challenge, we have made all of the maps from this release available on our Georeferencer Tool. See how you get on with geolocating the maps. Some will be easier than others.
What can I do with the images?
You are free to study, enjoy, download and remix these images as you see fit. When doing so, please bear in mind any potential cultural or other sensitivities associated with them. Importantly, we’d really like to know what you are doing with the images so please let us know @BLMaps or by emailing [email protected], we’d love to hear from you.
Who do we have to thank?
So very many people. Here goes:
Generous trusts and individuals including the American Trust for the British Library, Art Scholars Charitable Trust, Blue Rubicon, Viscountess Boyd Charitable Trust, Christies Education, Coles Medlock Charitable Foundation, Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Dunard Fund, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, Englefield Charitable Trust, Edward and Dorothy Cadbury Trust, Hadfield Trust, John R Murray Charitable Trust, Ken Biggs Charitable Trust, Samuel H Kress Foundation, Langtree Trust, London Historians Ltd, London Topographical Society, Maunby Investment Management Ltd , PH Charitable Trust, Peck Stacpoole Foundation, Pitt Rivers Charitable Trust, Reed Foundation, Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Swinton Charitable Trust, Trefoil Trust, Turtleton Charitable Trust, Cyrus Alai, Caroline and Peter Batchelor, Michael Buehler, Tom Boyd, Richard H Brown, Claire Gapper, William B Ginsberg, Jaime Gonzalez, Martin Halusa, Jerome S Handler, Peter Holland, Tina Holland, Arthur Holzheimer, J Michael Horgan, John Leighfield, Norman Leventhal, Sri Prakash Lohia, Tom and Hilary Lynch, Lynda Partridge, Robert E Pierce, Carolyn Ritchie, David Rumsey, J T Touchton, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Peter A Woodsford and others who wish to remain anonymous.
Dedicated project staff Felicity Myrone, Hugh Brown, Alex Ault, Mercedes Ceron, Kate Marshall, Magdalena Kowalczuk, Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Rebecca Whiteley, Marianne Yule, Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale, Tamara Tubb, Fred Smith, Jeremy Brown and Emily Roy.
Also very dedicated British Library colleagues Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Gethin Rees, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.
And finally, none of this would have been possible without the efforts of Peter Barber, Head of British Library Map Collections until his retirement in 2015, in promoting the research value, relevance and importance of the King’s Topographical Collection to existing and new audiences.
20 August 2020
This mountain bears a striking likeness to a sleeping female figure. Isn’t nature wonderful?
It’s actually an artwork called ‘Winter Sleep’ by the digital artist Jean-Michel Bihorel. But so good is the artist’s rendering that this realistic and authentic image provides the suggestion in the viewer’s mind that the image may be an actual aerial view.
Bihorel’s work sits in a long tradition of human figures in maps. Most obviously, there are parallels with the hidden female profile contained in the lunar map of the French astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini in 1680. The face is supposed to be Cassini’s wife.
There is a quirkiness to the practice, which we also see in ‘metamorphic’ maps (for which there is a long tradition) in which geographical shapes are metamorphosed into human figures – Lilian Lancaster’s stock-in-trade.
A similar double-take to Bihorel's work is present in the romantic postcard by James Montgomery Flagg, reflecting upon how the ardent sees the face of their loved one everywhere, even in the map.
There's a deeper tradition behind Bihorel's work as well, which is what makes it such a robust piece of work. ‘Petrification’, or the turning of humans into stone, is a relatively common end to many mythological tales, and commonly used in medieval legends to explain away human-looking rocks and hills.
Referencing human characteristics in maps was an entirely appropriate way of reflecting upon the intuitive, emotional and spiritual synergy between people and places.
Christopher Packe’s geological and topographical map of eastern Kent of 1743 makes the analogy between streams, rivers and valleys, and the circulatory system of the human body.
Finally, the lost Ebstorf world map presents the Christian doctrine that God is one with the world (with additional reference to the act of transubstantiation) by showing God/Christ's head, hands and feet as part of the map.
28 April 2020
In a previous blog I described the best free-to-access digitised British Library maps available on the Library’s own site. But there are more. Lots more!
Where we’ve worked with other institutions, organisations and individuals on digitisation, we’ve been pleased for those institutions to host the resulting content on their own sites. Often, the maps we’ve provided form a subset of a wider collection drawn from a range of other sources. So it isn’t just about the spirit of collaboration, but the enormous research benefits to be drawn from a broader and more integrated picture.
In the fullness of time you can expect to see this content also hosted on the BL's Universal Viewer. For now, here are some of the riches and where to find them.
Wikimedia Commons Collections
There’s a ton of British Library content on Wikimedia Commons which is great because of the open access nature of the site and its clear usage terms. Maps are included in a range of categories, including the Off the Map videogame competition and Images Online (the British Library’s commercial imaging site). But the main category, labelled maps collections, contains 28,000 images. Three main ones are
Ordnance Surveyor drawings - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Ordnance_Survey_Drawings
These 321 maps are some of the earliest works by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, which was formally established in 1791 to map southern England in response to the threat of invasion from France. The phrase ‘scope-creep’ is something of an understatement when applied to the OS, whose work continues to the present day. These large ‘fair drawings’ are the maps produced by the earliest Ordnance Surveyors of parts of England and Wales from the 1790s to the 1840s, and it’s from these that the one inch to the mile ‘Old Series’ printed maps were derived. The maps were received in 1958. For close, local work, there’s really nothing better than these for the period.
Goad fire insurance maps - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Goad_fire_insurance_maps_from_the_British_Library
Charles Goad’s maps are incredible windows into Britain’s urban past – stupidly detailed late-19th and early 20th century maps of various towns produced in order to assist the calculating of fire insurance risk. To do this, the maps included not only tell us the shapes and forms of buildings, but what they were made of, and who was using them and for what. Over 2,500 here for you to savour. Goad mapped other world cities including a large number of Canadian towns.
War Office Archive - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:War_Office_Archive_%E2%80%93_East_Africa
Thanks to the Indigo Trust, over 1800 East Africa maps and materials from the wider WOA have been digitised and placed here for your study and enjoyment. They’re also georeferenced. Hurrah!
Maps of Qatar and the Middle East
Through the Library’s partnership with the Qatar National Library, over 1300 maps of the area, drawn mostly from the India Office Records, have been catalogued and uploaded onto their digital library portal.
American Revolutionary War Maps
In collaboration with the Norman Leventhal Map and Education Center at Boston Public Library, 377 maps of North America and the West Indies from the American Revolutionary War Era were digitised and placed on the Center’s educational site. Ten other partners including the Library of Congress also contributed material. The British Library's contribution includes maps from the King’s Topographical Collection and Royal United Services Institute, which itself contains maps from the collection of Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797), commander-in-chief of British forces during the Seven Years’ War.
Japanese produced historic maps
We digitised all of our pre-1900 maps of Japanese origin thanks to a wonderful collaboration with Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. And what a collection – over 300 maps drawn from the Map Collection, the Western Manuscripts Collection, and Asian and African Studies Collection. Some of these maps arrived from earlier private libraries including the Engelbert Kaempfer and Philipp Franz von Siebold Collections. Some of them are very big indeed. You can access these maps through the Ritsumeikan University MapWarper portal.
Maps of Singapore and South East Asia
The five-year project between the British Library and National Library of Singapore, generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, enabled us to digitise and upload 300 maps onto the NLB Singapore’s web portal. These cover Singapore and its wider geographical context.
In 2013 the British Library Labs’ Mechanical Curator project placed 1 million British Library images onto Flickr. They are images drawn from books digitised as part of the Microsoft Books project, and include an enormous wodge of maps (‘wodge’ in this sense meaning tens of thousands of maps). See this individual album containing over 25,000 maps https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157648036792880
These are the maps which are currently being Georeferenceed via the Library's Georeferencer tool http://britishlibrary.georeferencer.com/start
The Roy map of Scotland
And finally, just one map, but a very large and important one. This is the fair copy of General William Roy’s (1726-1790) map of Scotland produced between 1747 and 1755. The map is a landmark in British mapping for applying military surveying methods to a very large area, and is regarded as the precursor to the Ordnance Survey. It’s also highly regarded artistically, since it includes the hand of celebrated watercolour artist Paul Sandby (1731-1809). The map is part of the Kings Topographical Collection, having formed part of the collection of the Duke of Cumberland.
We’re delighted for the National Library of Scotland to host this map on their website, given its signal national importance. And they do a very good job of it too, with a superb interface and numerous layers, including a 3D one.
I hope you find something here to interest and inspire you – and I’d be very glad to learn of any comments or questions you have, either by commenting here or on Twitter at @BLMaps.
23 April 2020
Here at the British Library we’ve been digitising our maps and making them available for over two decades now. Consequently, there’s a wealth of fantastic and inspiring free-to-view historic maps on the web. In addition to ever-increasing quantities of maps on our own platforms, our digitised maps are also hosted by other cultural institutions, organisations and individuals with whom we’ve been pleased to collaborate.
This seemed like as good a time as any to pull a load of them together and let you know about them.
So, in this first of two posts, here are a few of the places on the British Library’s site where you can find digitised maps, and upon finding them, use them escape to the ends of the earth (or the end of your street) from the comfort of your own home. Enjoy.
3D virtual globes
We just did this, and we hope you like it. 3D virtual models of 10 of our historic globes from the 17th - 19th centuries with thanks to our Digitisation Services and digitisation company Cyreal. Another 20 will be added over the coming months.
The British Library’s Georeferencer isn’t strictly a collection of maps, since it draws its 56,000-odd maps from a variety of places (including the below sources). But you can definitely search for maps in it, for example by using this crazy map with all of the georeferenced maps located on it. Zoom in for it to make more sense, and find the area you’re interested in.
900 or so images, many of them maps from the King’s Topographical Collection, illustrating a series of new and repurposed articles on the subject of illustrating place. The project was generously funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The Finnis Scott Foundation, Marc Fitch Fund and Coles-Medlock Foundation.
20th century maps
Here are round a hundred maps from articles produced as part of our 'Mapping the twentieth century: drawing the line' exhibition.
The British Library’s Online Gallery was set up through the Library’s ‘Collect Britain’ project in the early noughties. There are thousands of maps on here, and although the Zoomify and browse facilities are no longer functioning (we’re in the process of migrating this stuff onto a new platform) there are still some great maps here, such as
The Crace collection of maps of London
One of the finest collections of historic maps of London anywhere, collected by a commissioner of London’s sewers and George IV’s interior decorator. Around 1200 maps from between around 1550-1850, digitisation generously funded in part by the London Topographical Society. Crace’s collection of London views are held by the British Museum.
All the maps from the Online Gallery are also available (in higher resolution) alongside maps from other collections via the Old Maps Online portal (with its fun geographical search tool). https://www.oldmapsonline.org/
Turning the Pages
This is another older British Library resource but it has a couple of really choice atlases in it. Are there any more choice atlases than Gerhard Mercator’s hand-made Atlas of Europe of 1570 (which contains the only two surviving maps drawn by the man himself)? Or one of the volumes from the famous multi-volume Beudeker Atlas containing maps and views of Dutch stately homes from the 17th and 18th centuries.
A number of maps and atlases held in the Western Manuscript collection have been digitised and found their way onto the Digitised manuscripts page. If you know what you're looking for you can search by pressmark. Or you can search by keyword (i.e. maps, plans etc.) if you're just browsing.
Many highlights reside here, including the late 16th century Burghley-Saxton atlas (containing the first printed county maps of England and Wales in proof) at Royal MS 18.DIII http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_18_d_iii
Explore the British Library
The British Library's principal online catalogue does include thumbnail images for a tiny number of maps, but coverage is extremely uneven and the resolution of images is variable (to get a larger image for non commercial use, click on the map's title included in the right hand part of the details section). You may be lucky - for example if you're interested in Jacques Callot's map of the 1627 siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
In a later blog I'll be listing non-British Library platforms and sites where you can find free-to-access British Library digitised maps. But in the meantime, I hope this keeps you busy.
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.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- The new Roy Military Survey Gazetteer
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- One-Fifth of the World's Surface
- Maps on the British Library's Online Gallery: update
- A medical man maps Kent
- Pandemic maps: science, size and simplicity
- King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
- The King’s Topographical Collection wonders
- Maps of Jamaica in the K.Top. Collection
- Cataloguing the King’s Topographical Collection