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48 posts categorized "Maps"

04 June 2020

The history of cartography: shining a light

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The University of Chicago Press’s History of Cartography project reached another milestone in its 40-year history a few weeks ago, with the publication of volume four: cartography in the European Enlightenment. Congratulations to its editors and contributors.

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Cover image of the History of Cartography volume four (University of Chicago Press), published in 2020

Devised in the late 1970s by the historians JB Harley (1932-1991) and David Woodward (1942-2004), the project envisaged a six-volume history of maps and mapping. Volume one (European prehistory, Classical and medieval mapping) came in 1987, followed by Volume two, the cartography of non-European societies (1992), volume three, the European Renaissance (2007), and volume six, the twentieth century (2015). The final volume, covering the nineteenth century, is in production.

What was so ground-breaking about the project was its aim to understand maps in their contexts, treating them as social objects created by, and in turn influencing, the people and societies who made and used them. This was a ‘between the lines,’ critical history of maps. Shining a light on them. Calling them to account.

With the exception of volume four, the History of Cartography is available as free online PDFs. So if you have the time and space to educate yourself, particularly with reference to the current protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, it’s a good place to start.

For example, you might like to look in colonial maps of the 17th centuries and beyond at the issue of what Harley termed ‘silences’ in maps. Often what is absent from a map can be as insightful as what is actually shown. This is nowhere clearer than in maps of British India and North America, the latter including little or no indication of the slavery upon which colonial institutions were built (I recently referenced this in a discussion of Farrer's map of Virginia, below).

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Virginia Farrer, A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye hills.... 1651. British Library 278.a.3.

You might also wish to look at the Cartography in the Twentieth Century to see how the use of maps by the powerful and privileged often led to greater levels of injustice and inequality.

For example, Jeremy Crampton’s essay on maps and the social construction of race (pages 1232-1237), and particularly Amy Hillier’s summary of the insidious 20th century practice of redlining (pages 1254-1260). Redlining was US location-based housing discrimination which figuratively and literally drew red lines around urban districts that were deemed undesirable to provide housing insurance or mortgages to due to the racial composition of their borrowers and owners. The effect was to drive these areas and the people living in them into the ground.

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Home Owners' Loan Corporation map of Philadelphia, 1936 (Penn University)

Redlining map of Philadelphia, 1936

The practice was outlawed in 1977. But the impact of it, and the racist attitudes at the heart of it, remain prevalent in 2020.

Tom Harper

28 May 2020

Automated text extraction from colonial-era maps of eastern Africa

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After recently completing a pilot course in Computing for Information Professionals at Birkbeck University, I have just released a new dataset containing the text extracted from almost 2,000 colonial-era maps and documents covering eastern Africa. The resource is available now from the Shared Research Repository, and provides access to thousands of names of historical settlements and regions, descriptions of historical land use, topography and vegetation, and notes of ethnographic, military or administrative context.

Detail of a manuscript map of Umkamba Province in Kenya held at the British Library in the War Office Archive

Detail of a manuscript map entitled Masailand held at the British Library in the War Office Archive

Details of 'Umkamba Prov. part of (Central)', 1901 - BL Maps WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54 (above), and 'Masailand', 1901 - BL Maps WOMAT/AFR/BEA/41 (below). Transcribed words have been highlighted.

The resource consists of a downloadable spreadsheet, which lets users browse or search the extracted text. I hope it will be of particular use in identifying and locating place names in eastern Africa during the colonial period, for which there is a gap in current research resources. I’m also hopeful it will facilitate the contribution of these maps to studies of the history of the environment.

The text was harvested from maps and documents that are held at the British Library in the War Office Archive, a collection of over 14,000 mostly unique, hand-drawn items originally kept by the British War Office between c.1880 and 1940 and used to compile printed maps over large parts of the world. They came from a variety of sources, including military surveyors, explorers, missionaries and spies. Generous funding from Indigo Trust recently allowed us to digitise those items relating to eastern Africa.

Automated extraction of the text was carried out using the Google Vision API, which found a total of 633,451 pieces of ‘text’ on the maps. However, after the majority of erroneous results or results that were not useful had been cleaned out, the final dataset was reduced to 317,133 transcriptions. These are sorted alphabetically and displayed in an Excel spreadsheet, shown in the following screenshot:

Detail of resource providing text extracted from maps held at the British Library in the War Office Archive

The order in which the pieces of text were transcribed from the maps was retained in the second column of the spreadsheet so that, if the spreadsheet is re-ordered by that column, each word can also be seen in its original context – for example, the text in the screenshot below can be read from top to bottom (‘The topography has been supplied...’):

Detail of resource providing text extracted from maps held at the British Library in the War Office Archive

The spreadsheet enables a user to identify the image in which any piece of text appears, and links to a geographical search interface for the archive, shown below, which in turn provides links to high-res versions of the images and their catalogue records on the BL website. The combination of these resources lets users identify each piece of text and see it in context on the face of the map.

Geographical search interface for maps held at the British Library in the War Office Archive

The maps are drawn in a wide variety of different hands, and the text often overlaps or is written over background features, making automated transcription tricky. Some errors do remain - for example, where individual characters have been incorrectly transcribed within words, though the words themselves should still be identifiable. In addition, not all words appearing on the maps were captured.

The resource came about after I was fortunate enough to join a cohort of colleagues from the British Library and the National Archives attending the pilot postgraduate course at Birkbeck. After speed-learning Python and SQL coding languages in the first term, I then focussed on the development of a software tool that enlists the Google Vision API to auto-transcribe text found on maps. Once made, I set it to work harvesting words found on the eastern Africa maps.

I am very grateful to BL Digital Curator Nora McGregor, who set up and coordinated the initial pilot (now launching this autumn as an Applied Data Science Postgraduate Certificate), to the Institute of Coding, who funded it, and to BL managers for allocating study time during work. This project would also not have been possible without Indigo Trust, whose generous funding to conserve, catalogue and digitise War Office maps over the last five years has made them accessible to the world online, and enabled further initiatives such as this.

Nick Dykes

26 May 2020

Thomas Tuttell: a most unfortunate mapmaker

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You may have seen one of the British Library’s historic globes included in a ’curators on camera’ feature on social media recently. 

It's the unique surviving example of a celestial globe published by Thomas Tuttell (1674-1702) in London  in 1700, one of a number of globes we've recently digitised and turned into interactive 3D models for the web.

Tuttells celestial globe-Maps-G53-resized
Thomas Tuttell, [32 inch celestial globe], 1700. BL Maps G.53.

Thanks to the research of Ashley Baynton-Williams and Laurence Worms (whose indispensable reference work on British Map Engravers  was published in 2011) we have some compelling insights into the life and appearance of its creator.

Thomas Tuttell was a versatile craftsman, publisher, surveyor, mathematician and instrument maker, a polymath in today's eyes but something which then was pretty standard given that it all came together under the canopy of popular science. Tuttell, along with a number of other London practitioners, made a living thanks to a new enthusiasm for compasses, quadrants, measuring devices, maps, globes, calendars and mathematical guides. His terrific trade card, below, presents his wares, including what is very probably our celestial globe.

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Trade card of Thomas Tuttell

Trade card of Thomas Tuttell [London, c. 1700].  1934-123. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

But was Tuttell any good? Not everyone thought so, particularly a rival mapmaker Robert Morden, who described him in 1702 as “a late upstart Hydrographer who never did, nor ever knew how to project or draw a map or sea-chart”. He would say that though, wouldn't he. London mapmakers loved insulting their rivals. We can balance Morden's opinion with the one of John Lenthall, who described the ‘Late ingenuious Mr Tuttell’ in his 1717 reissue of a set of mathematical cards first produced by - yes - Thomas Tuttell. 

Whether Tuttell was a genius or an upstart, we do know that he was both very resourceful and unbelievably unlucky.

Tuttell label detail Maps G 53
A detail of Maps G.53 showing the label of Thomas Tuttell

In the first instance, Tuttell didn't actually make the globe himself. A man called Joseph Moxon did, around 50 years earlier. What Tuttell did was cut out a lozenge-shaped piece of paper bearing his name and imprint and stick it over Moxon's name appearing on the globe he had acquired the rights to. The globe was and is an extremely proficient piece of British cartography and craftsmanship - indeed it was the first British-made celestial globe to have been produced in over half a century. Why try and improve an already excellent product? It made good business sense.

Secondly, Tuttell is undoubtedly one of the most unfortunate mapmakers we know of. For example, in June 1692 he advertised in The Post Boy for the return of his distance-measuring instrument called a waywiser (the wheeled object illustrated in the centre foreground of his trade card) that he’d lost or had purloined on the road between Barnet and St. Alban’s. Now, a waywiser isn’t an inconsiderable object in size and heaviness. Very unlucky indeed.

Tuttell also has the tragic accolade of being one of very few mapmakers to have died whilst actually in the process of making a map. He very unfortunately drowned in the River Thames around Dagenham at around 10am on 22 January 1702 whilst surveying on behalf of the Admiralty. He was only 28 years old.

We actually also have a description of poor Tuttell, from a note placed in The Post Boy by his widow Mary requesting the return of his body: ‘He was of a Middle Stature, fair light Hair but his Head newly shaved, his Coat a Grey Cloath napped, trimmed with black Buttons, his Waistcoat Gray, Breeches a light Colour; and his Linnen marked with a red T.’

A portrait of the young mapmaker, recently deceased.

20 May 2020

Columbus - Mapping the New World

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The 20th of May marks the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ death, a man whose name is immediately associated with early transatlantic voyages of exploration and discovery. When Columbus set off on his quest to establish the western sea passage to the East Indies he encountered entirely new lands. During his four expeditions he explored parts of the Caribbean including the Bahamas, Cuba, and Jamaica as well as the Central America coastal areas, claiming all of the encountered lands for the Spanish crown.

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Map of the Americas featuring full length portraits of Columbus and other explorers, published in Americæ pars sexta. Siue Historiæ ab Hieronymo Bēzono... Frankfurt, 1596. G.6634.(1.). 

The age of exploration coincided with the invention of movable type printing in Europe and the last quarter of the 15th century saw the development of map printing which prompted an explosion in map production. The two commonly used techniques of printing maps in the 16th century were woodcut and copper engraving. This allowed for maps to be produced on a much larger scale reaching a broader audience like never before. Thanks to the wider circulation of printed maps and atlases the knowledge was no longer restricted to elite circles and news about the newly discovered lands quickly spread across Europe.

A unique example of what is believed to be the first printed world map showing any part of America is held within the British Library’s map collections. Designed by Giovanni Matteo Contarini and engraved by Francesco di Lorenzo Rosselli this extraordinary map incorporates Columbus’ discoveries made during his voyages to the New World. North America is depicted as a part of Asia extending across the North Atlantic, with the northern coast of South America delineated in detail and the West Indies identified as the Spanish discoveries of Columbus.

Maps C.2.cc.4

Mundu [sic] spericum ... by Rosselli and Contarini, the first known printed world map showing America. Florence or Venice, 1506. Maps C.2.cc.4.

The printed cartographic depictions of the New World were soon incorporated into atlases and produced in large numbers. Martin Waldseemüller's Tabula Terre Nove issued in the Strasbourg Ptolemy edition of 1513 is one such example. The map shows a land mass with a defined eastern coastline and the unexplored interior of the New World left blank. The Caribbean islands including Isabella (Cuba), Spagnolla (Hispaniola) and Jamaiqua (Jamaica) are depicted in detail although exaggerated in size.

1513 Maps C1d9

Map of the New World by Waldseemüller published in Claudii Ptolemei viri Alexandrini... geographie opus novissima traductione e Grecorum. Strasbourg, 1513. Maps C.1.d.9.

The process initiated by Columbus started a sequence of ‘voyages of discovery’ and not surprisingly was followed by the extensive exploration of the western hemisphere by other European nations venturing out in hope of establishing their colonies resulting in further mapping of the New World.

Sketchy maps displaying basic information were quickly surpassed by more detailed ones (although not necessarily accurate in modern terms) as the exploration and conquest of the newly discovered land progressed. A wealth of information gathered during these early expeditions provided mapmakers with enough detail to allow them to draw new maps and update the already existing ones. 

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Occidentalis Americæ partis, vel, earum Regionum quas Christophorus Columbus primu[s] detexit Tabula Chorographica published in de Bry's Americæ pars quarta. Frankfurt, 1594. G.6628.(1.).

The European audiences were eager to learn as much as possible about the New World and there was a huge demand for written works on the subject. A very popular and influential series on voyages published by Theodor de Bry was richly illustrated with engravings based on the original watercolours by John White (which he drew during the 1585 expedition to Roanoke Island). Maps often incorporated images of indigenous people and their customs, flora and fauna in parts where geographical detail was lacking. This shaped the view the general public had on these distant exotic lands.

Sloane MS 1622_1622_f14v_15r

Virginia. Discovered and discribed by captayn John Smith 1606, graven by William Hole. ca. 1612. Sloane MS 1622, f.14v-15r

Nowadays Columbus is considered a controversial figure but his achievements transformed the world.

14 May 2020

T.E. Lawrence’s maps of the Hejaz

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In the vaults of the British Library, amongst sheets in the ‘War Office Archive’ once used to make and revise military maps, lie a handful of sketches and notes made by that iconic figure of the First World War, T.E. Lawrence. These documents provide an insight into exploration mapping of their time, and express some of the character of the man who made them.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia after the film about him of the same name, was renowned for his part in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Perhaps less well known was his earlier role stationed in Cairo with the Arab Bureau, where he was responsible for maps supplied by the Survey of Egypt.

Towards the end of 1915, when a Turkish invasion of Egypt seemed likely, Lawrence was put in charge of gathering information concerning the Hejaz railway, a Turkish line built to connect Damascus in the north with Medina in the south.

A contemporary map shows existing pilgrimage routes from the coast to the southern end of the railway.

Outline map of Hejaz

Outline Map of Hejaz, in Handbook of Hejaz, 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/16/12. Image available from Qatar Digital Library

In December 1916 Lawrence drew the following sketch on headed notepaper bearing the name, ‘Arab Bureau, Savoy Hotel, Cairo’. The sheet depicts the region between Yenbo on the coast (‘Yambo El-Bahr’ on the sheet above) and the railway, and provides corrections for a sheet of the existing 1:500,000 scale map series (GSGS 4011). Lawrence appears to make the recording of place names a priority - he takes care to list each of the four springs at ‘Sueig’ and the five springs at ‘Sueiga’, while the pencilled detail of the topography is in places hard to make out.

Sketch map of Yenbo made by T.E. Lawrence

Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1916.

Lawrence was said to have an eccentric appearance, but an incisive mind – epithets which might also describe his mapmaking. By the high standards of military cartography, this and other sketches appear roughly drawn, or perhaps hastily made, and bear signs of Lawrence’s own quixotic and sometimes rebellious nature, as we shall see.

But they undoubtedly contributed to the correction of major inaccuracies on the maps available at that time. Lawrence would also have been aware that a skilled cartographer could make a fair copy from sketches such as this. The following sheet was traced from an original by Lawrence.

Tracing of sketch map made by T.E. Lawrence

Womat. Arabia. 29(c), 1918.

On the back of the Yenbo sheet, two small sketches provide corrections to a region lying closer to Medina, while a separate note describes a stretch of Wadi Ais in characteristically poetic terms - ‘For the first 20 or 30 miles its course is E. with a trifle of South in it’.

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

Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1916.

Another sheet bears a sketch of three villages at Um Lejj, situated on the coast between Yenbo and Wejh to the north. His short visit there, alighting briefly from HMS Suva in January 1917, is described in his personal account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The sketch bears the same date as his visit, and appears on the back of naval signal notepaper.

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

Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.

Lawrence takes the opportunity to note ‘New names’ for a revised map, and also provides, for the military cartographer who will receive it, an ironic description of the symbols he has drawn – ‘The three dots are the 3 villages of Um Lejj: the other things are palm-trees and hills. The trees are not really a mile high.’

By early 1917 Lawrence had left the Arab Bureau and was leading attacks himself on the Hejaz railway, in a British campaign to restrict Turkish forces stationed in Medina. The sheet below covers an area between the coastal settlement at Wejh and the railway - a mountainous region of desert that Lawrence crossed on camel-back before attacking the railway twice, first at Abu El Naam, and then at Madahrij. A powerful account of the expedition appears in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Sketch map of Hejaz made by T.E. Lawrence

Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.

The sheet itself was made a month later, and bears the date 8.5.17 - the day before he set off on his epic and well-known march across the desert to make a surprise attack from inland on Turkish-held Aqaba.

The map is supplemented with information from reconnaissance work he had carried out in the days before with members of the Royal Flying Corps, and its purpose again is to provide corrections to an existing sheet of the GSGS 4011 series. However, the brief compilation note near the upper right corner reports the uneven quality of his mapping resources – ‘Map compiled from compass bearings, camel time, & aeroplane observations.’

Detail of sketch map of Hejaz made by T.E. Lawrence

Detail of Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.

Despite the undoubted value provided by Lawrence’s corrections, the limitations of the map series as a whole were acknowledged. Foreign Maps, a US Army Technical Manual made after World War Two, comments, ‘The numerous warning notes appearing on the sheets regarding internal inconsistencies and the lack of adequate control emphasise the unreliability of the series.’

The longer-lasting value of the sheets lies in Lawrence’s documentation of place names as reported to him by local inhabitants. Lawrence has divided this last map with red ink into five regions, within which place names are listed by feature type – hills, valleys, plains, water and railway stations – providing a checklist for the subsequent mapmaker.

Detail of sketch map of Hejaz made by T.E. Lawrence

Detail of Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.

Later, his publisher queried the multiple spellings of place names found in the text of Revolt in the Desert, an abridged version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom - to which Lawrence replied, ‘I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the [transliteration] systems are.’

Distaste for such systems aside, you can’t help but feel that his maps belie a linguist’s care for words, recorded faithfully, but variously as his informants pronounced them.

These sheets are in line to be catalogued and digitised by the Partnership between the British Library and the Qatar National Library, and will become available for your enjoyment from the Qatar Digital Library.

Nick Dykes

07 May 2020

Antarctica: A brief history in maps, part 2

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Part 1 of this map tour ended with a late nineteenth-century depiction of the Antarctic that, whilst recognisable to us in the present day, was still substantially blank.

The updated chart below was made twelve years later by the same cartographer, J.G. Bartholomew. The most significant additions include the label ‘Antarctica’ on the continent itself, and the depiction of ‘schemes for Antarctic exploration’ proposed by Sir John Murray. Murray was a pioneering oceanographer, who was strongly engaged in the promotion of a new age of exploration in the far south. The map assists his cause: the route of a proposed British expedition leads across the landmass from one side to the other, and a wide ring around the continent is labelled, ‘Area for Bathymetric Research, to be surveyed by ships during winter’.

The wide extent of ‘Observed pack ice’, which is coloured green, is not credible for that time, and the choice of shade lends a more benign aspect to those regions than they deserved. This is a persuasive map that exaggerates the extent of current knowledge, and downplays the difficulties involved in completing the picture.

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine 1898

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine 1898 p 572. BL Maps 162.

It worked! The ‘Heroic Era of Antarctic Exploration’, a twenty-year period of extensive activity and research on the continent, began in 1901 with the departure of the British National Antarctic (‘Discovery’) Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott. The map below documents the work of the expedition from 1902-04, and shows the extent of surveys carried out in the course of ‘Sledge Journeys’. The small-scale inset in the upper right corner shows the track of Scott’s first attempt towards the pole itself, and his furthest point south.

Map showing the work of the National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-3-4

Map showing the work of the National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-3-4. BL Maps 88710.(8.)

George Mulock, the expedition geologist, carried out a detailed survey of the area around the winter quarters in McMurdo Sound, shown here in large scale. In common with most Antarctic mapping of the period, this sheet was published as an accompaniment to the official expedition account. Locations of camps and a handful of sightlines, used in the construction of the map, are included; regions are coloured to show geology, and contour lines capture relief. Features named on the map for the first time include ‘Mount Discovery’ and the ‘Royal Society Range’, and a 'Camel’s Hump’ outcrop lies beside ‘Cathedral Rocks’.

Map of the district near the ‘Discovery’ winter quarters, 1906

Map of the district near the ‘Discovery’ winter quarters, 1906. BL Maps X.11702.

The British Antarctic (‘Nimrod’) Expedition 1907-09, led by Ernest Shackleton, claimed a new furthest south, and became the first to reach the magnetic south pole. The treks of both parties are documented on the sheets below, Shackleton’s extended journey trailing down towards the geographic pole on the left, while the route of the South Magnetic Polar Party appears on the right. The arbitrary location of the wandering magnetic pole is given an appropriate spot in the extreme top left corner of the sheet.

Maps showing Southern Journey Party [left] and South Magnetic Polar Party [right], in the Geographical Journal 1909 Vol 34 no 5

Southern Journey Party [left] and South Magnetic Polar Party [right], in the Geographical Journal 1909 Vol 34 no 5. BL Maps 159.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition was the first to reach the geographic south pole, arriving on 14 December 1911. In events that are now well-known, Scott’s British Antarctic (‘Terra Nova’) Expedition arrived at the pole just five weeks later to find that they had been defeated. The entire polar party perished on their return and were not found for another eight months. In this short period Amundsen published an account of his own expedition, which featured this expressive sketch map depicting his route to the polar summit at the top of the page. With the fate of Scott’s party unknown, only the ‘Base of Scott’s Expedition’ is marked at the foot of the route previously followed by Shackleton.

Approximate Bird's-Eye View, Drawn from the First Telegraphic Account, in The South Pole 1912

Approximate Bird's-Eye View, Drawn from the First Telegraphic Account, in The South Pole 1912, opp p 32. Image courtesy Wellesley College Library. Rare Books 2370.f.13.

The routes of both explorers are honoured on a map published by Stanfords before 1921. The larger shaded region of the continent is unexplained, but would appear to indicate areas observed or surveyed. However, this would greatly exaggerate the area known at the time, and requires another explanation.

Shortly before this map was produced, Great Britain had asserted her claim over Antarctic territory lying in a sixty-degree arc between 20 and 80 degrees West (beneath South America), and by 1923 the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was stating his ambition that the whole of the continent should be incorporated into the British Empire. A look at some of the sub-regions incorporated in the shaded area – Victoria Land, King George V Land, King Edward VII Land – gives a clue that perhaps this sheet emphasises the ‘Britishness’ of these areas for an audience that was supportive of her territorial ambitions.

Map of the Antarctic Regions 1921

The Antarctic Regions, [1921]. BL Maps 88710.(13.)

On 1 December 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed into effect by twelve nations, who set aside all territorial claims on the continent in pursuit of peaceful scientific collaboration. The map below, made two years previously for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, still shows the continent sliced into national sectors, and yellow shading indicates ‘Areas explored or seen by man’.

A thick red line passing across the continent through the pole indicates the planned route of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which, over the summer season of 1957-8 became the first expedition to cross the continent from one side to the other.

The map also shows a network of proposed scientific bases, to be established during the International Geophysical Year 1957-8, a major scientific project featuring collaboration between East and West during the Cold War. At the pole itself the names of Amundsen and Scott are joined by that of American naval officer Richard E Byrd, who flew an aeroplane over the pole for the first time in 1929, and was one of the first to bring aerial survey techniques to the mapping of Antarctica.

The Daily Telegraph Map of Antarctica 1957

The Daily Telegraph Map of Antarctica, [1957]. BL Maps 88710.(57.)

From the 1960s onwards, satellites were employed in mapping the vast areas of the continent still unknown, and in 1972 the Soviet Union incorporated Antarctica into a series map of the world for the first time. This map of the pole is sheet number 234 of the Karta Mira series. Shades of purple indicate fluctuations in the height of the polar plateau.

Soviet map of the world Karta Mira 1:2,500,000 sheet 234

Karta Mira 1:2,500,000 sheet 234, 1972. BL Maps 920.(494.)

In the early 1990s the British Antarctic Survey was one of the founding partners involved in a collaboration between 11 nations to create a seamless digital map of the continent, by digitising existing maps and satellite images. The BAS sheet below takes its topographical detail from this Antarctic Digital Topographic Database, which is updated every six months. Since the 1960s, radio echo sounding techniques have been deployed to calculate the thickness of ice sheets, and the inset on the lower left shows the relief of the rock surface that lies beneath the ice.

British Antarctic Survey map of Antarctica, 2015

Antarctica, 2015. BL Maps X.13411.

The United States produces another data model of the continent. This sheet is a print-out of a digital image made by the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other partners, who employed a Blue Waters supercomputer to process data derived from high-resolution satellite imagery. The underlying dataset is described as ‘a high-resolution, time-stamped digital elevation model for the Antarctic ice sheet’.

The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (cartographic), 2018

The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (cartographic), 2018. [Shelfmark yet to be allocated]

These last two maps reflect the switch made by cartography to digital data from the latter part of the twentieth century, and aptly conclude this brief history of the mapping of Antarctica.

Nick Dykes

05 May 2020

Crystal Palace Marvel

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The Eiffel Tower, Seattle’s Space Needle and the Atomium in Brussels – these instantly recognisable landmarks are must-see iconic attractions. Whilst original and daring in style, they also have something else in common - they are all architectural structures specifically designed for the Expo World Trade Fairs and maps relating to the first World’s Fair can be found within the British Library’s collections.

It all started nearly 170 years ago when The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, was opened in London on 1 May 1851 by Queen Victoria. And what a spectacle it was! In the months following the grand opening ceremony over six million visitors marvelled over the spectacular show. The exhibition was housed in a gigantic glass and cast iron structure constructed to Sir Joseph Paxton’s design. The largest covered glass structure built at the time it was quickly dubbed the Crystal Palace and immediately became one of London’s major landmarks featuring in numerous maps and plans. 

Maps Crace Port. 7.263

Map of London with view of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park inserted within the title panel as a central feature. Maps Crace Port. 7.263

The idea of organising an international event to celebrate the achievements of modern industrial technology received wide support from prominent patrons including Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) who was appointed as President of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 specifically formed to manage the preparations. The Commission chose Hyde Park in central London as a suitable site for the exhibition.

Maps Crace Port. 10.15

Map showing the land in central London purchased for the Exhibition. Maps Crace Port. 10.15

The event was recognised as an opportunity to showcase Britain’s industrialisation and modern technological advancements to an international audience. The exhibition’s building was actually one of the most spectacular exhibits. Paxton’s ingenious design used prefabricated components of glass and cast iron which were assembled on site. It not only met the criteria for a temporary, simple and inexpensive building but by taking advantage of natural light it also cut down the cost of maintenance. It offered incredible flexibility and even incorporated parkland features within. Rather than cutting them down Paxton enclosed all the full grown trees from the allotted land and made them the main feature of the central exhibition hall highlighting the enormous dimensions of the building. The hall also featured a stunning eight meter tall crystal fountain. Total floor space covered an area of nearly 13 football pitches (ca. 990,000 ft2 or 92,000 m2) with exhibition spaces on the ground floor and galleries providing over ten miles of display capacity.

Maps Crace Port. 7.267

Souvenir illustrated guide map showing the Crystal Palace location in Hyde Park in relation to other London landmarks. Maps Crace Port. 7.267 

The exhibits included a wide variety of scientific and technological innovations as well as cultural objects. Over 100,000 items from every corner of the world were on display including Johnston’s Geological and Physical Globe, the first physical globe which won awards for the content and the stand (whose carved figures represented the four continents). Among the exhibits there were hydraulic presses, steam engines, microscopes, barometers, stuffed animals, French tapestries and furniture, even the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond sent from India. 

Maps 28.bb.7

The Crystal Palace Game. By S. Evans. London, [1855?] Educational game published to commemorate the reopening of the Crystal Palace on its new site. Maps 28.bb.7 

The Great Exhibition was incredibly successful and made a profit way above expectations. This enabled the Commission to acquire land in South Kensington and aided the establishment of the world renowned London museums. 

After the closing of the Exhibition in October 1851 the structure was dismantled and rebuilt in an enlarged form on a site in south London. The reconstruction was documented by a photographer Philip Henry Delamotte, his work provides a glimpse to what the Crystal Palace looked like.

Tab.442.a.5

Photograph of the Crystal Palace by Philip Henry Delamotte. 1855. Tab.442.a.5 

The Crystal Palace soon became a hub for cultural events, exhibitions and concerts. The venue was seen as a place of culture and learning, it contained series of themed courts on the history of fine art, and the surrounding grounds even featured life-sized sculptures of dinosaurs and extinct animals by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. The residential area surrounding the new site was renamed Crystal Palace and two railway stations serving the site were opened.

Maps 5380.(4.)  (3)

Detail showing layout on the new site in Sydenham with carefully designed grounds and the Crystal Palace railway station. Ordnance Plan of the Crystal Palace and its Environs, Southampton, 1864. Maps 5380.(4.) 

The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936 and never rebuilt, nevertheless the Paxton’s design established an architectural style employed in later international fairs and exhibitions and started a long history of World Fairs. 

30 April 2020

Antarctica: A brief history in maps, part 1

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Antarctica presents many unique challenges to cartographers: as the last continent to be explored, its vast landmass – half as big again as Europe – is largely inaccessible, covered by sheets of mostly featureless ice, and shrouded in perpetual darkness for half of the year.

In this 200th anniversary year of the first known sighting of the continent, this first of two articles gives a whistle-stop tour through maps held in the British Library that chart Antarctica’s gradual emergence from obscurity into light.

Stuck awkwardly at the bottom of the conventional world map, Antarctica is poorly served by many map projections, which distort it out of recognition. On occasion, its lack of military or geopolitical significance has provided a convenient excuse to leave it off the map entirely, as seen in the United Nations logo. Yet this image of the continent created by the Mercator projection does bear a surprising, if superficial, similarity to some of its earliest depictions, long before it was discovered.

Map of the world on the Mercator Projection

Mercator projection. Image created by Strebe, taken from Wikimedia Commons

From ancient times it was believed that a southern continent must logically exist to counterbalance the weight of the known northern hemisphere. In a world map first published in 1570, Abraham Ortelius perpetuated this belief with a southern landmass depicted prominently, but drawn entirely from conjecture.

Map of the world published in 1570 by Ortelius

[Typus orbis terrarum], 1598. BL Maps C.2.d.7.

The continent eluded several voyages of exploration to the far south, so that over time it became untenable to maintain the tension between the boldness and extent of the coastline’s detail, and the uncertainty of the label, ‘Nondum Cognita’ [‘not yet known’]. On this circa 1690 imprint of a map originally published by Dutch mapmakers Hondius and Janssonius, a polar projection is adopted, focussing interest on the blank centre. Recent voyages had documented islands of ice trailing through the empty seas, and the appearance of these on the map indicate where the continent is not. The mapmakers made no attempt to delineate the area that is still labelled ‘Terra Australis Incognita’.

Map of the southern hemisphere published in 1690 by Hondius

[Polus Antarcticus. H. Hondius excudit], [1690]. BL Maps * 88710.(2.)

James Cook was the first to circumnavigate the pole, during his second voyage (1772-75), but the continent itself eluded him. Two years after his return the chart below was published in a record of the voyage. It is updated with many new findings, and features ‘the Tracks of some of the most distinguished Navigators’, which now encircle and crowd the blank centre. The focus here is on what is known, rather than what is not, and the label seen on earlier maps, ‘Terra Incognita’, has been replaced by, ‘The Ice Sea’.

Chart of the southern hemisphere published in 1777 by Captain James Cook

A Chart of the Southern Hemisphere, in A Voyage towards the South Pole..., 1777. BL 10025.f.20.

Fabian Bellingshausen, commander of the first Russian Antarctic expedition (1819-21), is regarded by many to have been the first to set eyes on the continent. A reproduction of his manuscript chart of January 1820 shows a patch of blue at the lower edge that marks the first tentative departure from blank space near the pole – and indicates a feature that would later be named the Fimbul Ice Shelf. The original manuscripts are preserved in the Archives of the Russian Hydrographic Office and were published in facsimile in 1963. During the Cold War some British and American commentators cast doubt on their interpretation, and on the Soviet claim that a Russian had first discovered the continent.

Facsimile of a manuscript chart of the Southern Ocean made in 1820 by Fabian Bellingshausen

[A facsimile of the MS chart drawn by F. Bellingshausen...], 1963. BL Maps 1.c.57.

Only two days after Bellingshausen’s sighting of the ice shelf in January 1820, Edward Bransfield, an officer in the British Royal Navy, sighted the first land feature of the continent, now known to lie at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The discovery appears on a map published in 1844 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. A short red line accurately delineates a portion of the terrestrial coastline for the first time, and bounds a region now called the Trinity Peninsula (just below the tip of South America on the left of the image).

Map of the southern polar region published in 1844 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

Circumjacent the South Pole, 1844. BL Maps 38.e.8.

In 1843 another officer of the British Royal Navy, James Clark Ross, completed his own voyage of scientific exploration to the Southern Ocean. Science undertaken by the expedition included the first magnetic survey of the Antarctic, and succeeded in inferring the location of the magnetic south pole. The results were published by the Royal Society in 1869. With its wandering lines of magnetic declination, this sheet constitutes one of the earliest examples of thematic mapping of the Antarctic.

Map showing the Antarctic Magnetic Survey published in 1869 by the Royal Society

Antarctic Magnetic Survey, Epoch 1840-1845, Declination, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1869, vol 158 part 2. BL L.R.292.

Global shipping routes traversed the Southern Ocean in the middle of the nineteenth century, giving rise to a market for navigational aids. This commercial chart, published by J.D. Potter in 1858, was designed ‘to facilitate the practice of Great Circle Sailing’ around the southern latitudes, and allowed merchant navigators to plot the shortest routes through the Southern Ocean without encountering sea ice.

Chart of the southern hemisphere published in 1858 showing great circle sailing routes

A Chart of South Latitudes beyond 20 Degrees, to facilitate the practice of Great Circle Sailing, with ... Diagram for the determination of the Courses and Distances, 1858. BL Maps 88710.(6.)

By 1886 the shape of the continent as we now know it had started to emerge. This chart was published in The Scottish Geographical Magazine and shows a ‘Supposed outline of [the] Antarctic Continent’ - a reminder perhaps of the, ‘Terra Incognita’, of old. But the extent of what is now known is indicated in the coastal detail, complete with heights of land and depths of sea, given here in shades of orange and blue.

Chart of the south polar region published in 1886 in The Scottish Geographical Magazine

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine, vol 2 p 576, 1886. BL Ac.6182.

The next article will continue the tour, from the ‘Heroic Era’ of Antarctic exploration up to the present day...

Nick Dykes