THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

16 posts categorized "Landscapes"

20 August 2020

Human maps

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This mountain bears a striking likeness to a sleeping female figure. Isn’t nature wonderful?

https://jmbihorel.myportfolio.com/winter-sleep
Jean-Michel Bihorel, Winter Sleep

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.

Maps_k_top_1_88 detail
Carte de la Lune. De J.D. Cassini, c. 1730. Maps K.Top 1.88.

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.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/caricature-map-of-scotland
Lilian Lancaster, Caricature map of Scotland, c. 1869. Maps CC5 a 227

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.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Montgomery_Flagg_The_World_As_Seen_By_Him_1905_Cornell_CUL_PJM_1148_01_(cropped).jpg
James Montgomery Flagg, A map of the world as seen by him, 1907.

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.

Maps_k_top_16_24_11_tab_end detail
Christopher Packe, A new philosophico chorographical chart of East-Kent..., 1743.Maps K.Top 16.24.11.tab.end.

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebstorf_Map#/media/File:Ebstorfer_Weltkarte_2.jpg
The Ebstorf world map, c. 1300.

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. 

17 July 2020

Maps and photography: a brief history, part 3

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This final chapter discusses a number of cartographic innovations from the middle of the twentieth century onwards that exploited the ability of photographs to capture data - from developments in aerial photogrammetry, through multispectral satellite mapping and surveillance imagery, to the digital map platforms of today.

Technical innovations that had begun during the Second World War soon extended into the civilian sphere with the widespread adoption of aerial photogrammetry by national mapping agencies worldwide – a development that arguably had a greater impact than any other on mapping practices of the twentieth century. New radar surveying techniques allowed air photographs to be pinpointed on the ground more accurately, more economically and over far greater areas than before, bringing vast regions of inaccessible terrain within the mapmaker’s scope for the first time.

Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the whole of the Soviet Union was mapped in this way, resulting in over 300,000 sheets at a scale of 1:25,000. During the same period, the British Directorate of Overseas Surveys also covered over 2.5 million square miles of land, mostly over former British colonies and administrations that had no mapping capability of their own. The image below shows an isolated settlement and nearby areas of subsistence agriculture in eastern Nigeria. Maps made from such images contributed to state economic and social planning initiatives.

Air photograph of Nanguru, Nigeria

Aerial photograph of Nanguru, Nigeria, 1974. Image courtesy National Collection of Aerial Photography.

Mapping vast, sometimes featureless, inland regions led to some eccentric examples of cartography. The following detail is taken from one Australian map sheet that covers more than 2,750 square kilometers of the Great Sandy Desert. Each square is one kilometre on the side. Of the total 3,062 sheets in the series covering the whole country, only half were printed – this sheet was selected for print on account of a single track that meanders briefly along the bottom edge, before diverting back to the adjacent sheet beneath.

Australia 1:100,000 topographic survey, Weenoo Sheet 3256

Detail of Australia 1:100,000 topographic survey, Weenoo Sheet 3256, 1972. BL Maps 90050.(125.).

Widespread use of air photographs also led to security concerns. As part of the British reconstruction effort after the war, the RAF covered the whole of Great Britain with aerial photography in order to assess bomb damage. Between 1945 and 1951 the Ordnance Survey published the photography as OS Mosaics, large-scale rectified photomaps of towns, cities and some rural areas.

After many images had already been published, it was feared that foreign states might benefit from the level of detail of sensitive sites that was revealed. Further editions of the same sites were therefore over-painted before publication in order to remove or disguise these features. The military airfield shown in the image below has been replaced by a fictitious pattern of fields and country lanes in the later version beneath. In 1954 OS Mosaics were removed from sale entirely.

Air photo mosaics of Britain, sheet 26/32 NE, 1946

Air photo mosaics of Britain, sheet 26/32 NE, 1950

Air photo mosaics of Britain, sheet 26/32 NE, 1946 (above), 1950 (below). BL Maps O.S.M. Image courtesy Lie of the Land, pub The British Library, 2001.

An alternative and innovative approach to photomapping was taken in Sweden. From as early as 1935, aerial photography was incorporated into the Ekonomisk Karta land use series. The large-scale photographs provided a base layer onto which topographic, cadastral and land use symbols and colours were added.

Ekonomisk Karta Över Sverige, Sheet 20K7D

Detail of Ekonomisk Karta Över Sverige, Sheet 20K7D, 1959. BL Maps 35290.(48.). Image courtesy Lantmäteriet.

Stereo pairs of air photographs could be made into three-dimensional ‘anaglyph’ images, which were viewed through coloured glasses. Examples of these were created for military planning purposes during the Second World War, such as a German series from 1944 showing the Istrian coastline (held at BL Maps Y.3842.). After the war, the French national mapping agency published a number of anaglyphs in a Relief Form Atlas of 1956. The purpose of the atlas was to teach readers to understand the mapping of a wide variety of landscapes by showing three-dimensional views alongside maps of the same location. The following image of the volcanic cone atop Mount Karthala in the Comoros is striking when viewed through a pair of red and blue 3D glasses.

Anaglyph image of complex crater, Comoros

Map of complex crater, Comoros

Anaglyph image and map of complex crater, Comoros, 1949, in Relief Form Atlas, pub IGN, 1956. BL Maps Ref. 912 1956.

Images taken from aeroplanes were soon joined by those taken from satellites, after the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 sparked the Space Race between themselves and the USA. The speed of technological developments over this period is encapsulated in the three images following. This annotated photograph taken from a military aeroplane in 1936 captures the curvature of the Earth for the first time, and shows the highest point then reached by man.

Photograph showing the curvature of the Earth

The first photograph ever made showing the division between the troposhere and the stratosphere and also the actual curvature of the earth, National Geographic Society, 1936. BL Maps Y.84. Image courtesy Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Only two decades later an unmanned Russian spacecraft, Luna 3, took the first pictures of the far side of the moon as it orbited in 1959. The images were transmitted back to Earth by radio link and published in Moscow the following year in the Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon.

Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon

Atlas obratnoi storony luny [Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon], pub Akademia NAUK SSSR, 1960. BL Maps 29.b.68.

Within the next ten years man too had travelled round the moon. American astronaut William Anders took this iconic photograph, which looks back at the Earth as it rises above the lunar surface – an image of the world that had previously been possible only in the imagination.

Earthrise

Earthrise, 1968. Image © NASA.

Both the Soviet Union and the USA launched military reconnaissance satellites during the early 1960s that were capable of creating high resolution imagery for intelligence and mapping purposes. Civilian satellites followed, perhaps the most successful of which was Landsat, launched by the USA in 1972.

Multispectral satellite imagery became an essential feature of land survey and resource management, leading to a proliferation of thematic maps, and a new category of mapping under the title satellite image maps. The ease with which satellite imagery could track changes over time in the environment also brought new insights to many areas of study, including urbanisation, de-forestation, analysis of weather systems, and ocean dynamics.

Upper Chesapeake Bay satellite image map

Upper Chesapeake Bay satellite image map, second experimental edition, USGS, 1972. BL Maps X.2987. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Nowadays aerial photographs and satellite images are ubiquitous in digital mapping products that have become a common feature of everyday life. 2001 saw the launch of Google Earth, an application in which satellite imagery and aerial photography are draped over digital terrain models to provide interactive three-dimensional map views.

Screenshot showing the Island of Stromboli, Google Earth

Screenshot showing the Island of Stromboli, Google Earth, 2020.

In other applications, maps and photographs are now interchangeable - users can choose between map or satellite viewing modes.

Screenshots taken from Google Maps

Screenshots taken from Google Maps, 2020.

Google Street View, launched in 2007, integrates terrestrial photography and cartography to create a model of the world from a horizontal viewpoint – a mode of representation with antecedents in artworks of former times. In the early 1900s, Eugène Atget started to make images of the older parts of Paris with the intention to record streets and buildings that risked being torn down and re-developed. By 1920 he was able to write, ‘This enormous artistic and documentary collection is now complete. I may say that I have in my possession all of Old Paris’.

Cabaret ‘Au Port-Salut’ by Eugène Atget

Cabaret ‘Au Port-Salut’ by Eugène Atget, 1903. Image courtesy Bibliotèque historique de la Ville de Paris.

Half a century later, American artist Ed Ruscha created an artwork entitled Every Building on the Sunset Strip by fixing a camera onto the back of his truck and driving up and down as it took pictures on a timer. His intention was to recreate the experience of moving through the landscape.

Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha

Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha, 1966. Image courtesy National Gallery of Australia.

Google Street View now also employs cameras fixed to cars, or strapped to pedestrians’ backs, to create strips of 360-degree images stitched together. The artistry and focus on aesthetic have been lost in these pictures made by machines, but those qualities have been replaced by functionality. Google’s georeferenced, navigable imagery allows users to search and interact with a vast database of (mainly business) information. The corner building shown below, tagged so that one can choose to see the menu or make a booking at the restaurant within, is the same as that in the Atget photograph from 100 years before.

Screenshot taken from StreetView

Screenshot taken from Google Street View, 2020.

The perceived realism of digital maps and photographs makes them particularly persuasive. However, two posts reproduced from Twitter, below, document conflicting facts about the shooting down of an American drone by Iranian forces in June 2019. The first, published by US Central Command, shows the drone flying through international, not Iranian, airspace when it was hit, while the second image, posted the following day by the Foreign Minister of Iran, shows the drone in a different location, within Iranian airspace.

Screenshot of Image posted by US Central Command on Twitter

Screenshot of Image posted by US Central Command on Twitter, 2019.

Image posted by Foreign Minister of Iran on Twitter

Image posted by Foreign Minister of Iran on Twitter, 2019.

This incident reminds us that the latest generation of maps and images remains as susceptible as any before to manipulation or exploitation.

Today more than ever, maps and photographs go hand-in-hand in our ceaseless attempts to capture, model, and mould the world around us.

Nick Dykes

09 June 2020

Maps and photography: a brief history, part 1

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Since the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the camera’s ability to record and document its surroundings has made it a natural partner of the mapmaker. From the beginning, photographers recorded landscapes in the manner of artists’ topographical views, providing ‘scientific’ perspectives to complement the view from the map. Subsequently, photographs became integral to the mapmaking process – by capturing data that is incorporated into maps, or by transformation into maps themselves. Cameras also recorded the methods, tools and people employed in making maps; and in the world of art, photographers showed the influence of cartography’s ordered aesthetic.

Aerial photograph by Robert Petschow

A Crossing of the Single Track Sandau-Schonhausen Railway Line and the Main Berlin-Hannover Line, by Robert Petschow, in Das Land der Deutschen, 1933. BL General Reference Collection J/X.802/4246.

With the help of items held in the British Library collection, this first of three articles provides a brief introduction to the varied uses of photography in and around mapping up to the 1930s.

In 1855 photographer and army officer Linnaeus Tripe was included amongst the members of a diplomatic mission sent from the Government of India to Upper Burma. Here he fulfilled instructions to record the country and the people of the region by making over 200 architectural studies and landscape views. Many of his photographs appeared in the official published account of the mission (BL General Reference Collection 2354.h.7.), where they accompanied sketches, watercolours and maps to form an important record of the region that was little known by outsiders at the time.

Photograph of Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Burma by Linnaeus Tripe

No. 107. Rangoon. Shwe Dagon Pagoda, by Linnaeus Tripe, 1855. BL Photo 61/1(107).

In the same period, photographers were employed for the first time by the British Ordnance Survey. Colonel Sir Henry James, Superintendent of the OS, introduced photography into the process of map production in 1855, and encouraged a role for photography in the recording of objects of antiquity, which he saw as integral to the wider work of survey and mapping. In 1864 he ordered the Survey of Jerusalem, where surveyor-photographer James McDonald of the Royal Engineers made 87 photographs showing various views of the Holy City. The images were published in their own separate volume of the official report (BL Maps 30.e.19.).

Photograph of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, by James McDonald

West entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, by James McDonald, 1864. BL AdF72/27947 (27b).

The first recorded photographs taken from the air also date from this early period. In 1858 French photographer Nadar took pictures of Paris from a hot air balloon tethered near the Arc de Triomphe. Oblique views obtained in this way from balloons or from cameras tethered to kites were sometimes labelled to identify streets and landmarks, arguably making these the earliest photomaps, but of higher value to cartographers were images taken from cameras that pointed vertically down to earth. Cecil Victor Shadbolt made the first such photograph of the UK still in existence, from a hot air balloon over Stamford Hill, London on 29 May 1882.

Aerial photograph by Cecil Victor Shadbolt

An aerial view showing Stonebridge Road, Stamford Hill, and Seven Sisters Curve, part of the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction Railway, taken from 2000ft, by Cecil Victor Shadbolt, 1882. Image courtesy Historic England Archive.

The British Library holds another of Shadbolt’s aerial photographs, made in 1884 over Blackheath (BL Maps C.44.d.49.).

By the turn of the twentieth century, rockets were also employed to carry cameras into the air. Even pigeons were fitted with miniature cameras, a technique first demonstrated in 1907. Soon after, aeroplanes joined this list, offering a more stable and controlled platform for airborne cameras.

Photograph of a pigeon with German miniature camera

Pigeon with German miniature camera, during the First World War. Wikipedia.

After the outbreak of the First World War, these methods were used for reconnaissance purposes, gathering intelligence about enemy trenches or build-ups of troops and artillery, and became of major importance in the planning of engagements. Mosaics of overlapping images were put together to cover entire trench systems.

WW1 air photo mosaic

Map. No. 5522. Air photo mosaic sheet 36 I 26. Image courtesy Imperial War Museum. © IWM Q 47658.

The need to revise and re-draw maps led to the development of systematic aerial survey techniques. During the course of the war, the major combatant nations employed a variety of methods - optical techniques involved projecting aerial photographs onto existing maps and tracing points from one to the other, while graphical methods allowed points to be plotted from perspective grids that were drawn onto and correlated between the images and the existing maps.

The high value placed on the contribution of aerial survey to the war effort is indicated by the sheer volume of images made - in the first nine months of 1918, British forces alone took over five million aerial photographs. They could be processed and delivered in under one hour from the time the pictures were taken.

WW1 aerial photograph

Reserve Army Front: vertical of Thiepval village, and German front-line and support trenches, while undergoing bombardment by British artillery. Image courtesy Imperial War Museum. © IWM Q 63740.

Attempts were also made to transfer to vertical imagery a set of techniques previously developed for horizontal imagery – terrestrial photogrammetry, as it was known, utilised overlapping pairs of horizontal views taken from the ground in combination with stereoplotting devices to recreate and plot the landscape. However, the trials met with little success, as inconsistencies in the angles of the vertical images could not be eliminated.

Terrestrial photogrammetry continued to be used and developed after the war. The glass plates shown below carry overlapping negative images taken by British surveyors during the Iraq-Turkish Boundary Survey of 1927, and were made with a photo-theodolite, in which a camera was inserted into the surveying instrument.

Glass plates used in terrestrial photogrammetry

Glass plates made by the Iraq-Turkish Boundary Commission using the Wild photo-theodolite, 1927. BL shelfmark not yet allocated.

Despite the high costs associated with aerial survey, the technique brought with it significant advantages over traditional land-based methods. The images below, made by the Anglo-Italian Somaliland Boundary Commission in 1929, demonstrate its use in mapping large areas of inaccessible terrain. However, aerial surveys supplemented, rather than replaced land parties, who still surveyed control points onto which the imagery was to be fixed. In this early example they even constructed marks on the ground to guide the flights taking photographs above.

Aerial photographs of Somalia boundary

Vertical aerial photographs made by the Anglo-Italian Boundary Commission, 1929. BL WOMAT/ADD/87/1/7.

The image above demonstrates the complexities involved in identifying and interpreting features from the air. The following British War Office lecture slide from around the same era provides guidance in the art of black and white aerial photo interpretation.

Glass slide with photo interpretation guidance

Detail of Air Photographs, General Idea of Relative Depth of Tone, glass lantern lecture slide from the British War Office, c.1930. BL shelfmark not yet allocated.

The aesthetic of aerial photography soon spread into wider culture, and was taken up by European artists such as Robert Petschow and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy with an art movement called New Photography. The patterned and grid-like images represented their ideas around the influence of mechanisation on society at the time, and held out the hope of finding a new, ‘objective’ way of viewing the world.

Parking Lot in Chicago, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Parking Lot in Chicago, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1938. Image courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

The next article will continue this story through the Second World War...

Nick Dykes

28 April 2020

Another big list of where to find British Library maps online

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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

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Collections_of_the_British_Library

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

800px-Ordnance_Survey_Drawings_-_Reading_(OSD_126)
Robert Dawson, [Ordnance Surveyor Drawing of part of Berkshire], 1809. Maps OSD 106 

 

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

Lossy-page1-509px-Insurance_Plan_of_Sunderland;_sheet_7_(BL_148844).tiff
Charles C. Goad Ltd., Insurance plan of Sunderland, sheet 7, 1894. Maps 145.b.12.(8.).

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

https://www.qdl.qa/en/search/site/?f%255B0%255D=document_source%3Aarchive_source&f%5B0%5D=source_content_type%3AMap

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

https://collections.leventhalmap.org/collections/commonwealth:hx11xz34w

Commonwealth_hx11xz37q_access800
Daniel Patterson, Cantonment of His Majesty's forces in North America... 1766. Add.MS 11288

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

https://mapwarper.h-gis.jp/maps/tag?id=british+library

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

https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/browse/Charts_Maps_British_Library.aspx

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. 

Flickr maps

https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums

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

https://maps.nls.uk/roy/

Roy composite
William Roy [A section of the military survey of Scotland], 1747-1755. Maps CC.5.a.441. 

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.

Tom Harper

21 April 2020

A View of the Open Road

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During the current pandemic, the next best thing to heading outdoors is (of course) to lose yourself in the printed landscapes of maps instead. In our London flat last weekend, I couldn’t help reaching for my Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets of the English Lakes and tracing the routes of Easter walks in years gone by.

Although busy depicting roundabouts and service stations, road maps and atlases also give us armchair explorers a flavour of the landscapes, the countries and the times we move through in our mind’s eye.

This example from the United States comes from a time when the American highway map was at its peak, when the automobile was an icon of progress, and state departments and commercial oil companies handed out road maps in their millions, free of charge.

A road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

The back of a road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

Front and back of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967. Held at State Archives of North Carolina

While useful to many, these maps were also the vehicles for carefully chosen images and text promoting industry, nature, social progress and Christian values. A Motorist’s Prayer on this sheet begins, ‘Our heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing as we take the wheel of our car...’

A detail of the back of road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map, showing a man working in an industrial control room to illustrate the labor force

Detail of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967

A similar agenda is found on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where a Soviet regional map from the same year focussed on places and monuments of revolutionary history, industrial mines (asbestos, brown coal, gypsum...), pine forests and swan nesting sites.

A detail from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

A detail of the list of symbols from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

Details from map of Orenburg Oblast, GUGK, 1967. BL Maps 35885.(63.)

Industrial prowess is emphasised again in the strong design on the cover of this regional atlas.

The cover of an Atlas of Orenburg Oblast published in 1969

Atlas of Orenburg Oblast, 1969. BL Maps 54.e.48.

But unlike in Britain or America, the Soviet general public had no large scale Ordnance Survey or US Geological Survey maps to turn to for raw topographical detail. These were restricted to the military. Even generalised maps were deliberately distorted during the 1970s to make them harder to use for navigational and targeting purposes, should they fall into the wrong hands.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, restrictions on sophisticated military mapping were relaxed, and elements of larger scale maps made their way into practical road atlases, amongst other products, for the general public. The evolution of these maps from military specification to a hybrid form more closely resembling the typical road map can be traced over the following years.

Details of two Soviet/Russian topographic maps of Orenburg published in 1987 and 2003

Left: Detail from Topographic map of the world at scale 1:200 000 produced by the Soviet Army General Staff, Sheet NM 40-2, 1987. BL Maps Y.1575.

Right: Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast, one of the Road Atlases of Russia series published by Roskartografia, 2003

In the road atlas on the right new colouring distinguishes road types and routes, and makes them more prominent while rivers fade away, and symbols are added to indicate petrol stations, medical facilities, museums and places of interest.

Detail of a topographic map of Orenburg published in 1987 by the Soviet Army General Staff

Detail of Sheet NM 40-2, Soviet Army General Staff, 1987

Detail of a Russian road atlas map of Orenburg published in 2003

Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

Precise bridge dimensions and maximum loads have been removed, though contours and direction of river flow remain, and the close mesh of the military grid has been replaced by a broad system of squares that correlates with the place name index at the back.

The cover of the Orenburg Road Atlas published in 2003

Cover of Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

At last the landscape was revealed, and civilians could take to the open road better equipped.

And who knows, perhaps even now fingers are tracing imaginary routes from armchairs throughout Russia...

 

Nick Dykes

Further reading:

Denis Wood and John Fels, Designs on Signs/Myth and Meaning in Maps, in Cartographica vol 23 no 3, 1986, pp 54–103.

Zsolt G. Török, Russia and the Soviet Union, Fragmentation of, in The History of Cartography, vol 6, University of Chicago Press, 2015, pp 1376-1379.

Alexey V. Postnikov, Soviet Cartography, 1917-1991, in Cartography and Geographic Information Science vol 29(3), 2002, pp 243-260.

10 December 2018

Accuracy? Do me a favour!

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'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.”

Additional_MS_25691
Detail of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea from a sea chart of 1339.

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.

ROYYYYYYYYYY
The Trossachs, from William Roy's map of Scotland of between 1747 and 1755,

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.

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A map showing the position of the Indian tribes to the north-west of South Carolina from around 1719.

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.

Tom Harper

04 April 2018

Shipwrecks and Piracy: John Rocque’s 1750 Map of Rome, part two

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In my last blog I noted how John Rocque’s 1750 map of Rome could be considered both a personal memento for the grand tourist who likely commissioned it – Sir Bourchier Wrey – as well as a useful map for travellers.

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John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.

My post today will look at events surrounding the production of Rocque’s map of Rome. The ensuing story reveals this London mapmaker to be a rather ruthless opportunist…

 

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

In 1748 the Italian cartographer Giambattista Nolli produced a landmark map of Rome. It came in two sizes: a monumental twelve-sheet map entitled Nuova Pianta di Roma, and a reduced single-sheet version called La Topografia di Roma. Scholars sometimes refer to them respectively as the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola for short, and copies of both can be found in King George III’s Topographical Collection.

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Giambattista Nolli, La Topografia di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.a.

The incredible detail of Nolli’s Pianta grande ensured that it was still being used in some form for over 200 hundred years.[1] The story abroad, however, was another matter entirely: in terms of sales, it was a bit of a flop. Among the reasons for this disappointing turnover, at least in Britain, was the quick-witted John Rocque.[2]

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

As was common in the eighteenth century, Nolli and his associate Girolamo Belloni attempted to raise funds for the project by seeking advance subscribers.[3] Nolli handled the domestic sales (i.e. the Papal States), while Belloni was responsible for international sales. To this end Belloni travelled across Europe from 1747 to 1756.

Before publication Belloni procured a meagre 59 subscribers abroad. Though we don’t know exactly how many of those came from London, the figure for Paris, by comparison, was 6. By the end of 1756 Belloni recorded that he had sold a grand total of 459 copies abroad. This was a rather disappointing return for a project so long and so dear in the making.

Despite this, the popularity of the map in London was high, relative to other European cities, perhaps reflecting Rome’s status in Britain as the Grand Tour capital. It might have sold even better still, were it not for John Rocque.

Among the first shipments sent out around May 1748 was a batch of 48 maps (or 56, according to a second note) en route to London that were lost in a shipwreck.

Belloni, it seems, did not react quickly enough to this setback, but Rocque did. For in 1750, after a fairly brisk turnaround, Rocque published his own map of Rome, a compilation of the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola.[4] Even though Rocque did credit Nolli in his title, this was bare-faced plagiarism designed to capitalise on Belloni’s slowness in supplying the London map market.

Seeing an example of Nolli’s map in 1750, the artist Canaletto, in London at that time, remarked: “many gentlemen have already been provided with it by another hand”.[5] Though it is far from explicit, Canaletto was surely referring to Rocque, since he was the only mapmaker who had made a copy by this date.

Thus with a keen eye for an opportunity, John Rocque stole a march on his rivals: what was Nolli and Belloni’s loss was his gain. The eighteenth-century map market could be a ruthless place.

 

[1] In fact, it formed the base of plans of the city by the Italian government until the 1970s, see Ceen, Allan, ‘Nuova Pianta di Roma Data in Luce da Giambattista Nolli l’Anno MDCCXLVIII’, http://nolli.uoregon.edu/nuovaPianta.html.

[2] The details of the history of Nolli’s map come from Bevilacqua, Mario, Roma nel Secolo dei Lumi: Architettura, erudizione, scienza nella Pianta di G.B. Nolli «celebre geometra», (Naples: Electa Napoli, 1998), especially pp. 49-52.

[3] For more information about the subscription model, see Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The commerce of cartography: making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 84-90.

[4] There is some uncertainty among map historians concerning how long it took to prepare copperplates for printing, with estimates ranging from a few days to many months. Contrast, for example, Pedley (2005), pp. 53-56, and Carhart, George, ‘How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Map? A Consideration of Craft Practices’, in Imago Mundi, Vol. 56, No. 2 (2004), pp. 194-197.

[5] “essendo già stati provisti molti Signori Personaggi da altro mano”. My translation; see Bevilacqua (2005), p. 52.

27 January 2017

Cover story

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Today we are accustomed to using maps on our mobiles,  tablets and in our cars. The situation was very different a century ago. From roughly the end of the nineteenth century the growth in popularity of outdoor activities such as cycling and rambling and the increasing availability of cars and motorbikes allowed urban dwellers get away from their normal surroundings. In turn this changed the way people enjoyed their free time and how they used maps. It also represented a great business opportunity for map companies.

In this blog I look at the early commercial activities of Britain’s national mapping agency the Ordnance Survey, and how after World War I, it reshaped the way its maps were regarded by the general public through the use of artistic and colourful map covers.

The Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791 but with origins stretching back further. However, it was not until late 1890s that it started to publishing folded maps with covers. The design of these covers was basic: the first design was a title on red cloth card, which was changed to white later on, and still later a simple diagram of the coverage area was included on the cover. These designs were the same regardless of the scale of the map.

These plain map covers contrasted with the products of commercial map firms like Bartholomew and George Philip, whose maps (themselves based on Ordnance survey maps) had appealing and attractive cover designs.

Accordingly, when World War I ended in 1918, Ordnance Survey decided to market their small scale products better in order to increase sales and reach new customers. The attention was directed to map cover design. A professional artist, Ellis Martin, was appointed to create attractive illustrations for their tourist and district maps. Martin joined the Ordnance Survey in 1919. During the years that he was working he raised the standard of map cover art to high levels. 

Pipe man

Ellis Martin, Tourist Map Forest of Bowland. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1934. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(3).

One of his most popular covers depicts a young man smoking a pipe leaning against a fence looking at an Ordnance Survey map. The scene is completed with cyclists, a car and a coach. This cover epitomises the period, emphasising how people from urban areas could enjoy their free time pursuing new leisure activities such as cycling, rambling or motoring with the help of maps. People peruse maps on other covers too, emphasising the universality of map use, maps as the perfect tool to enjoy their day out.

The Chilterns

Ellis Martin, District Map The Chilterns. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1938. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(30).

In another of Martin’s well-known covers we can see a couple walking through a valley. The design is so evocative that it makes you want to buy a map and go there. The inclusion of a woman enjoying outdoor activities illustrates how the role of women in society started changing after the First World War. Women appear in other similar maps cover designs, suggesting a modern touch from Ellis Martin artwork which is absent from other artists of the same period.

These two covers do not depict a particular place and so were used as the covers of maps of different parts of the country.  The next covers were designed for particular places depicting an identifiable landmark or symbol of that place.

Middle Thames

Ellis Martin, Tourist Map The Middle Thames. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1923. British Library Maps 209.d.(30).

The cover for the Middle Thames is one of the best of its kind. It shows the river and elegantly dressed people enjoying boating in lovely weather. The whole picture resembles certain French Impressionist paintings in the use of light and the composition.  The artwork is so enticing that it could almost sell the map on its own!

One of the most unusual of Martin’s covers is the cover of a map of part of Britain produced for the solar eclipse of 27th June 1927. It is a unique and rare cover for a unique and rare event. On the cover the eclipse is depicted in a ghostly landscape in black and grey, which serves to recreate the atmosphere. This cover shows Ordnance Survey’s marketing acumen in taking advantage of the event, publishing a map with limited usability that became a souvenir and collector’s item afterwards.

Eclipse map

Ellis Martin, The Solar Eclipse 29th June, 1927. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1927. Cover not held in The British Library.

 

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Ellis Martin, Roman Britain. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1924. British Library Maps 1135(45).

Another group of Martin’s covers are the Archaeological & Historical maps series. These include covers such as Seventeenth Century England (1930), Neolithic Wessex (1932) and The Trent Basin (1933). But the one that really stands out from the others is Roman Britain, first published in 1924 and reprinted in full colour in 1979. This is an excellent example of Martin’s attention to detail. This cover took advantage of the growing interest for ancient history in the early twentieth century. It encouraged the public to discover history on their doorstep.

Another great Ordnance Survey artist was Arthur Palmer. His illustrations tended to have an old fashion aura, more reminiscent of the Edwardian era than the roaring twenties when they were created. This can be seen even in the Art-Nouveau calligraphy that he uses, with asymmetric and elongated letters. This gives to his covers a special charm that made them very attractive to the public.

Oban

Arthur Palmer, Tourist Map Oban. Southampton, Ordnance Survey Office, 1920. 

Arthur Palmer had a talent for landscape and architectural illustration. His first cover for Ordnance Survey was of Oban (1920). This cover was part of a series for Scottish tourist resorts. In other covers such as the one for Oxford (1920) and Liverpool (1924) we can see his skill for architectural drawing.

Oxford

Arthur Palmer, District Map. Oxford and district. Southampton, Ordnance Survey Office, 1921. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(18).

After World War II, Ordnance Survey redesigned its covers with designs that reflected the austerity of the post-war years. Since then, map cover designs have been more standard and less artistic and have arguably never again reached the high levels of artistic creativity shown during the inter-war years.

The British Library holds some of these covers. However many of them were discarded at that time. Perhaps it was felt that they were not important from the cartographic point of view with no regard to their artistic value. Nowadays, they have become collectors’ items and the value is arguably as much in the covers than the actual maps.

If you would like to see some of the covers you can contact the Maps Reference Team at Maps. See a number of Ordnance Survey covers on sdisplay in our current exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. 

For further reading:  BROWNE, J. P. (1991). Map cover art. Southampton, Ordnance Survey (Maps Ref. G.2b (36)).

Carlos Garcia-Minguillan