THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

11 posts categorized "Landscapes"

11 November 2016

Colouring maps for adults

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Adult colouring books. Leave it to the kids? Whether you’re addicted to them, or bamboozled by their appeal, they’re probably here to stay. Adult colouring atlases (currently for sale in the British Library shop) are particularly interesting, and not so peculiar as you might think because before printed colour came in during the late 19th century, by hand is exactly how maps were coloured.

It wasn’t so usual to use colouring pencils in, say, the 18th century. Instead it was usually a water-based paint such as watercolour or the thicker gouache which could provide a brighter and smoother finish.

Page80+81Daniel Stoopendaal after Isaac de Moucheron, 'Plan or View of Heemstede in the province of Utrecht'. Amsterdam: [N. Visscher], ca. 1700. Maps C.9.e.9.(25.).

There were certainly expert map colourists, for example the artist who coloured prints such as the one above from the British Library's sublime 18th century Beudeker Atlas (online version here). Something to aspire to, colouring book enthusiasts.

But colouring maps wasn’t as glamorous a pastime as you may think. There are rumours, for example, that among others the 19th century London mapmaker John Tallis used child labour for the colouring of his maps. Looking closely at the outline colour in the map below, I think we can all agree that a gold star was probably not so forthcoming.

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John Tallis, 'North America'. From Tallis's Illustrated Atlas and Modern History of the World. London, 1851. Maps 5.e.25.

So when you next find yourself daydreaming as you delicately shade pale pink just the right side of a printed line, spare a thought for those browbeaten children who would likely have had at least 50 atlases to complete before bedtime.

Our exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is now open. 

19 October 2016

Map Reading in the 20th Century

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In the 20th century maps truly arrived at people’s fingertips. People learnt to read maps and to use them for a wide number of pursuits, especially (though not exclusively) finding their way around.

The Ordnance Survey’s National Map Reading Week initiative is motivated by a concern that people have stopped being able to read maps in this age of automatic mapping (where people are instead increasingly read by maps). There is a strong feeling that map-reading should be a basic life-skill. It is a feeling which arose during the early decades of the 20th century  as maps became important tools in education and way-finding, as peoples’ horizons widened to beyond their immediate vicinities, and as mobility, tourism and general ‘open-air culture’ became the norm for much of western society.

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Henry James Deverson and Ronald Lampitt, The Map That Came to Life. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1948. Cup.1245.aa.53.   

One of the most celebrated 20th century children’s map reading guides is showcased in our forthcoming exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. Published in 1948, Ronald Lampitt and James Deverson’s The Map that Came to Life follows the story of John and Joanna who use an Ordnance Survey map to walk to town. As they pass over fields, past houses and along footpaths, their surroundings are compared with map adjacent on the same page. The fields turn into contoured blank spaces, houses become black cubes, footpaths dashed lines. Map literacy is acquired by the reader as they accompany the children on their virtual journey, matching map with reality.

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In The Map that Came to Life the map is portrayed as an objective, precise and above all truthful mirror of nature. And this inherent trustworthiness enabled maps to become important features of the lives of successive generations of people.  Over time maps became able to serve people with growing ease, particularly thanks to automated mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) from the 1990s.

But was this growing ease without cost? The implications of what commentators such as the historian J.B. Harley felt to be a relinquishing of people’s control over maps were voiced even before the end of the century. But the danger that society could forget how to use maps would have been widely viewed as collateral against the massive pace of positive technological change, if it was thought of at all.

Does the mapping impulse lie dormant but still active within society? National Map Reading Week may tell us whether we really want to find out.

22 September 2016

A Journey to Bookland

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The British Library has recently acquired a most appropriate addition to its map collection: a map of ‘Bücherland’ (Bookland), designed and drawn in 1938 by the German painter and illustrator Alfons Woelfle (1884-1951).

1 Karte des Bücherlandes

Karte des Bücherlandes

Woelfle’s map was specifically inspired by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf’s fantasy map of an Empire of Love, ‘Das Reich der Liebe’, issued in 1777 to advertise Breitkopf’s method of printing maps with moveable type. Woelfle used the more conventional form of lithography, but took Breitkopf’s model of creating a fantasy land where the geographical features have an allegorical significance.

2 Reich der Liebe 116.l.31.

Reich der Liebe. From Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf,  Beschreibung des Reichs der Liebe, mit beygefügter Landcharte (Leipzig, 1777) 116.l.31]

Together with his publisher, Georg Heimeran, Woelfle clearly had a wonderful time creating Bücherland, which represents the writing, printing, publishing, selling and reading of books through its witty geography. He also added decorative flourishes typical of Baroque design, such as the draped female figure in the bottom left-hand corner holding an open book.

3 Bücherland figure

The capital of Bücherland is Officina (‘Printing-House’), in the Vereinigte Buchhandelsstaaten (‘United States of Bookselling’). A separate plan of Officina appears in the top right-hand corner of the map, highlighting such sights as the Boulevard of Mass Editions, the elegant Quarter of Publishers’ Villas and what is, perhaps surprisingly, the only Library in Bücherland. Outside the city the pirate publishers have their building plots.

4 Bücherland Officina detail

To the south lie Recensentia, where book reviewers no doubt lurk in the Critical Woods, and Makulatura, the region of waste paper, with its Pyramids of Forgotten Books and where even the Dramatic Volcano is extinct. By contrast, the lyre-shaped southernmost province of Poesia, just below the Tropic of Literature, boasts Blooming Meadows of Fantasy and a Laurel Heath; some fortunate travellers may even scale the Foothills of the Classics to reach the Summit of Fame, although the less lucky could find themselves sinking in the Gulf of Disappointments to the west or wrecked on the Cape of Failed Hope to the east.

5 Bücherland Poesia detail

Bücherland Poesia detail

Straddling the border of Poesia and the neighbouring Leserrepublik (‘Republic of Readers’) are Castle Platitude and the Commonplaces. Having safely avoided them, travellers can wade through the Erotic Swamp to the Plantations of Bestsellers, and visit such features as the Lake of Popular Editions, the Tents of the Book Clubs and the Urban Literature Mines. However, presumably off-limits to visitors, in the middle of the Republic lies the Forbidden Province – perhaps an allusion to the fate of the many books and authors banned under the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

6 Bücherland Verbotene Provinz

Bücherland Verbotene Provinz

In the hills on the northern border of the Leserrepublik are the Caves of Bookworms; the map shows a giant worm emerging from one of them. Beyond is the northernmost region of Bücherland, where the Paper River rises at the Fount of Knowledge and travels through the Cellulose Woods, and the Lake of Ink, past the dangerous Ravine of Misprints, eventually reaching Officina and flowing out past Fort Censorship and the Lighthouse of the Publishers’ Association into the Sea of New Publications.

7 Bücherland bookworm

Bücherland bookworm

Finally, those wishing to visit Bücherland’s islands can choose between Treasure Island of Adventure Stories and the little archipelago comprising the islands of Unica (with its Bay of Ephemera), Rara and Curiosa.

Although the world of books has changed in may ways since 1938, travellers in the Booklands of today will still find much to guide and entertain them in Woelfle’s map.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies