31 March 2021
The British Library’s ‘Online Gallery’ was first created in 2004, and over the years a number of galleries containing thousands of maps have been added to it, from the earliest Ordnance Survey maps to Tudor mapping. Each map has its own page with a full description and cataloguing information, a downloadable image, and a larger – though not downloadable - ‘Zoomify’ image.
However, at the end of last year, Adobe ceased to support Flash player and Zoomify became inoperable. For anyone who likes to zoom into a map (about 100% of people who use maps), this is an issue. This is what we’ve done to solve the problem. Firstly, we’ve removed the Zoomify links from the map pages in order to avoid confusion (you can still download a -full-size’ though under 1 MB image for your own use).
For the more heavily used galleries, we’re happy to say that the maps are available – and downloadable - from Wikimedia Commons.
For the Ordnance Surveyor Drawings, the still-active Zoomify link will redirect you straight to the same map on Wikimedia.
The Goad fire insurance maps are all there also.
Only 2,500 George III Topographical Collection maps and views were on the Online Gallery, but you can now enjoy 18,000 of them on Flickr, with even more on the way (you can link through to these images via our catalogue Explore the British Library).
And don’t forget that all of the Online Gallery maps are also available on our Georeferencer (have a go at Georeferencing a few).
For the other galleries such as the Crace Collection of maps of London, we are working to find a way of getting the larger images to you (you can still download smaller images from the existing pages). In due course also, these maps will all make their way onto the Library’s Universal Viewer.
Thanks again for using the Library’s online map resources. And if you get the chance, do drop us a message about the interesting things you’re doing with them.
12 February 2021
While dealing with an enquiry I came across this beautifully coloured copy of Münster’s Cosmographia. This monumental publication is one of the most important works of the Reformation era and considered one of the earliest modern descriptions of the world. The first edition was published in Basel in 1544 containing twenty four double-page maps with numerous woodcut views and illustrations. The work proved to be so popular that it was followed by a further 35 complete editions and reprints in five different languages.
General Tafel Begreifend der Gantzen Undern Weldt Beschreibun from Cosmographia by S.Münster. Basel, Heinrichum Petri, 1545. BL 1297.m.6.
Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a true versatile scholar described as a cosmographer, geographer, linguist, historian, Hebrew scholar, theologian, mathematician, you name it! His Cosmographia is a compendium of historical and geographical knowledge compiled from information gathered as part of Münster’s personal research, international collaborations and editions of the classical authors. The work was based on up-to-date knowledge and provided the geographical and historical overview of the world, natural history, topographical features, boundaries and administrative division of the described lands, their inhabitants, flora and fauna. Divided into six books it contains a series of maps which advanced the cartographical knowledge of the time.
Neuw India, mit vilen anstossenden laendern, besunder Scythia, Parchia, Arabia, Persia etc. from Cosmographia by S.Münster. Basel, Heinrichum Petri, 1545. BL 1297.m.6.
Münster not only was the first to introduce separate maps of four known continents, he also produced regional maps many of which were the first printed depictions of a given region. His vision and surprisingly modern thinking embraced many concepts familiar to an average 21st century person. He recognised that in order for his ambitious project to be successful it required reliable information which he as much as he wanted to was unable to collate all by himself. He realised that collaboration is the key and in his correspondence invited fellow scholars to send in information about their lands. His appeal had an enthusiastic response and Münster received contributions from all over Europe, in fact Cosmographia is a product of what we would nowadays consider a crowdsourcing project.
Schlesia nach aller gelegenheit in Wässern Stetten Bergen und anstossende Lenderen. Map of Silesia published in Cosmographia also included in later editions of Münster's Geographiae Claudii Ptolemæi... BL 1297.m.6.
Not only a great scholar Münster was also a good businessmen – for example instead of commissioning new woodblocks he re-used some of the blocks (a number of which were created by artist such as Hans Holbein the Younger) from his earlier published works including his edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia (first issued in 1540). He then borrowed some of the woodblocks cut for Cosmographia and used them in his later editions of Geographia (for example the map of Silesia). Now, that’s what I call recycling!
He also recognised the potential of publishing in common languages including the rare Czech edition of Cosmographia issued in 1554 thus making knowledge more accessible by reaching wider audiences.
Depiction of German cities from Cosmographia by S. Münster. Basel, Heinrichum Petri, 1545. BL 1297.m.6.
This incredibly influential work had a huge impact on the contemporary scholars, it was used as a geographical source by famous cartographers like Mercator or Ortelius and inspired publications such as Civitates Orbis Terrarum the popular city atlas published by Braun and Hogenberg a few decades later.
29 January 2021
When a new volcanic island emerged from the waters south of Sicily in 1831, its strategic location at the gateway to the eastern Mediterranean aroused more than a scientific interest. Geopolitical forces descended upon this tiny isle, and though its brief existence above the waves lasted just six months, four separate nations claimed it as their own.
A short volume held at the BL, ‘Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily’ (held at BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10. – digital version here) provides a summary of events.
Chart Shewing the Position of the New Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
The first report of volcanic activity came on 10 July from Captain Corrao, of the schooner Theresina, who approached to within two miles of...
‘a column of water rising perpendicularly from the sea, to the height of fifty or sixty feet, having a circumference of four hundred fathoms: smoke issued from it, which strongly impregnated the atmosphere of its vicinity with a sulphurous odour: dead fish were observed within the circle of agitated waters, and a violent thunder, proceeding from the same spot, added to the grandeur and the novelty of the scene!’
The Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
Commander C.H. Swinburne of the Royal Navy arrived in the area a few days later –
‘I saw flashes of brilliant light mingled with the smoke, which was still distinctly visible by the light of the moon. In a few minutes, the whole column became black, and larger; almost immediately afterwards several successive eruptions of fire rose up among the smoke... At five am, when the smoke had for a moment cleared away at the base, I saw a small hillock of dark colour a few feet above the sea.’
Views of the New Volcanic Island of Fernandea, in Views and Description of the late Volcanic Island off the coast of Sicily, . BL General Reference Collection 10163.d.10.
The opportunity to claim the island was too good to miss. On 3 August, in a lull between eruptions, Royal Navy Captain Senhouse landed there to plant the British flag, and named it Graham Island after Sir James Graham, First Lord of the Admiralty. This act prompted representatives from Sicily, ‘highly excited by this achievement within sight of their shores’, to embark from the nearby port of Sciacca and plant their own flag, that of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies. They named the island Ferdinandea, shortened to Fernandea on the chart above.
Over the following weeks French and Spanish claims were added to the list, but all such attempts to gain geopolitical advantage proved futile. Eruptions ceased from the middle of August, and by the end of the year the island, whose maximum extent was a mere two miles in diameter and 160 feet high, had slipped back beneath the waves. From that point it appeared on British charts as Graham’s Shoal, a bank lying eight meters beneath the surface.
More recently, in 2002, volcanic activity was recorded there again, and it was thought the island might re-emerge. In a bid to avoid being beaten to the mark a second time, Italian divers planted their national flag on the seamount beneath the surface. However, activity soon ceased and the shoal remained where it was.
Modern-day volcanologists agree that the descriptions of volcanic activity at Graham Island conform to what is known as ‘surtseyan’ activity – named after a more recent undersea eruption, which produced the island of Surtsey (from Surtr, the Norse God of Fire) off the southern coast of Iceland.
This eruption is thought to have begun in early November 1963 at a depth of 130 meters, but by 15 November a crater had become visible above the waves. The event caught the imagination of the televisual age – a number of clips on YouTube show footage made at the time.
Image of the eruption of Surtsey, courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Wikipedia.
The BL holds a map of the island made by the National Survey of Iceland using aerial photographs taken in October 1964 (BL Maps X.12169.). Eruptions continued until 1967, by which time the island no longer conformed to the map, but the sheet provides a fascinating snapshot of the island’s formation a year after it first emerged.
Surtsey, Landmælingar Íslands [National Survey of Iceland], 1964. BL Maps X.12169.
A block of text in Icelandic and English provides a summary of the different phases of eruption, and the map itself gives significant detail of the island’s contours and constituents.
Detail of Surtsey, Landmælingar Íslands [National Survey of Iceland], 1964. BL Maps X.12169.
Unlike Graham Island, and most others of their type, this example has persisted above the waves. It is estimated that roughly a quarter of the island has now been lost to erosion, and its maximum height has reduced to 155 meters, but it is likely to survive above the sea for another hundred years.
In this case there were no diplomatic squabbles over ownership, and its affiliation to Iceland is undisputed. But its persistence has made it especially valuable to science - 69 species of plant have been found there, 12 species of birds, and numerous other animals, including earthworms and slugs. In recognition of its value as a centre for the study of biocolonisation UNESCO declared the island a World Heritage Site in 2008.
12 January 2021
Mapmaking is a highly exacting profession, as the scrutiny of current pandemic mapping demonstrates. Yet the fascinating thing about mapmaking is that everybody is capable of creating a map, and throughout history 'amateur' mapmakers have brought something new to the table.
Christopher Packe (1686-1749) was a local physician based in the area of Canterbury in Kent, who during his 'many otherwise tedious' medical journeys around the area was struck by the similarities between the landscape, features and processes of the natural world and those of the human body. Most notably, and unsurprising for a physician, the synergy between hydrology (specifically streams and rivers) and the flow of blood through the arteries and capillaries. As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a strong history of thought positioning the human body as a microcosm of the universe. Packe's 1743 Philosophico-Chorographicall chart of East Kent is the Gunther von Hagens of maps.
Looking closely we can see the tremendous series of lines of thousands of tiny watercourses connecting to streams and thence to rivers, flowing out into the sea. So many of them, in fact, that we might be looking at a map of the English Fenland.
That's not all that Packe's map shows. Shading and spot heights communicate the relative heights above sea-level which Packe measured using a barometer. This has led to the map being described as the world's first geomorphological map. And finally there is the series of concentric circles demarking the map's co-ordinate system. These emanate from Canterbury and the cathedral, from which Packe used a theodolite to survey the county and form his aesthetic and philosophical vision (see Michael Charlsworth for an in-depth study).
Packe wrote a treatise in support of his work, and even produced a 'specimen' sample of the larger map six years earlier, a sort of taster which was presented to the Royal Society. A copy of the specimen is in the Topographical Collection of George III, published 'at his own expense.' Indeed, Packe put so much into his map that it is possible to imagine life in it, the culmination of a creative act. Something, if you will forgive the further analogy, created from the heart.
23 December 2020
Only a few hours to go until Father Christmas sets off on his magical round, delivering presents to all the good children of the world. He is said by some to live in the forests of Lapland, high in the Arctic north of Finland, with his merry band of elves and trusty reindeer...
Attempting to find the location of his grotto, I turned to the first edition of the Atlas de Finlande (BL Maps 31.c.19.), a work published in French in 1899, and now considered by many to be the first of a new genre of mapmaking that would proliferate over the following century - the national atlas.
Atlas de Finlande, Société de Géographie de Finlande, 1899. BL Maps 31.c.19.
In thirty-two plates the atlas provides a comprehensive description of Finland and its people, and employs diverse and innovative thematic maps to articulate the results of scientific, economic and statistical research.
[Exports of sawn wood], Atlas de Finlande
[Average seasonal and annual wind directions], Atlas de Finlande
[Rural schools], Atlas de Finlande
[Population density], Atlas de Finlande
The atlas also makes a clear political assertion of Finnish cultural identity and nationality at a time before Finland was an independent country, whilst still an autonomous region within the Russian Empire. With political relations deteriorating, the publication makes a case for and anticipates Finland's declaration of independence, which followed in 1917.
In particular, the depiction of Finland’s border throughout the atlas was seen as a provocation, as the same line symbols represented both Finland’s internal boundary with the rest of Russia, and her international boundaries with Sweden and Norway. This formed the subject of an official Russian protest.
[Map of Finland, showing the frontier], Atlas de Finlande
At the International Geographical Congress of 1899 in Berlin, and at the Paris World Exhibition of the following year, the atlas was hailed as an outstanding cartographic and scientific achievement.
But I have found one small omission. However hard I look, I cannot find that grotto...
[Forests], Atlas de Finlande
17 December 2020
2020 has certainly been a year for maps, though not one for which any of us will feel grateful. I’m referring to the proliferation of often doom-laden public maps illustrating the spread (and receding – more of this please) of Covid-19 across the UK. Throughout the year, interactive maps have appeared on online media outlet pages, and most prominently, maps have featured along with graphs and charts in daily government briefings into the official response to the virus.
Data visualisations have played an important role in keeping the public informed, and for demonstrating the scientific evidence behind the adoption of measures to combat the pandemic. Occasionally the quality of data visualisation has not been to standard. Professor James Cheshire of UCL Geography has written about this, providing some cardinal rules such as ’explain your working’ and ‘keep it simple.’
This latter rule has been well understood by the makers of public maps for centuries. Before the computer screen, maps had to work hard in order to be legible and intelligible by large groups of people from potentially large distances away. From the 1840s in the UK, large maps were specifically designed with bolder lines and reduced information in order to function, for example, in large elementary school settings.
Large maps were also used as backdrops for large gatherings and meetings. Remember those?
If you want your map to be seen and understood by a lot of people, make it as clear as possible. Of course, this isn't always practical: nobody wants to be accused of ‘dumbing-down’. And there is no getting away from the fact that geography is complicated and maps can be misleading, particularly when it involves mapping people who are neither static nor evenly spread. Thus the map of the UK divided into counties or regions and coloured by numbers of Covid cases per 100,000 people is falsely reassuring: large, rural and comparatively Covid-free counties dominate visually over smaller, more concentrated and consequently more affected urban areas (tools such as inset maps, and more arresting colours and tones, each of them subjective in their own way, have helped).
Though there were earlier attempts, it was only really towards the end of the 20th century that algorithms enabled population figures (such as UK census data) to be visualised spatially in digital maps. For some examples, see the cartograms from Danny Dorling’s ‘New Social Atlas of Britain (1995) and also ‘Worldmapper’ Tina Gotthardt and Benjamin Hennig’s terrific up-to-date world cartograms where the size of a state is visualised in human terms, such as the relative size of its population or, as here, its proportion of confirmed Coronavirus cases over a particular period.
Maps need to be clear and understandable. But of course there’s also a lot to be said for complexity. People like scientific data, and this year has been big year for science and its associated debates. Historically, there are no shortage of maps whose creators have clearly delighted in cramming as much scientific content into them as possible, even to the point of confusion. We might call this the rhetorical use of science in maps, the deployment of science an alluring device to emphasise the accuracy, seriousness or reliability of what is being shown, or even as a self-promoting device used by a mapmaker to demonstrate his or her scientific acumen.
03 December 2020
Last week another temperature record was set in Sydney, Australia – the overnight minimum temperature of 25.4 degrees Celsius was the highest ever for November, higher even than the historical daytime average for the month. This is one of a string of new records set there over recent years.
Graphics courtesy of Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, above, and BBC, below.
With heat comes the risk of bushfires, which have once again started to burn across the region, reminding us of the catastrophic fire season that was experienced last year - now known as ‘Black Summer’. In total an estimated area of between 18 and 24 million hectares burned - comparable in size to the area of Great Britain - with the loss of 34 lives, over 3,500 properties destroyed, and estimates ranging from one to three billion mammals, birds and reptiles killed.
This map depicts the state of fires in the region around Sydney on one of the worst days of the crisis, and was issued to the public through the New South Wales Rural Fire Service website to encourage evacuation from areas under immediate threat. The British Library imaging studios made a large format print from the file to be kept in the maps collection.
Potential fire spread prediction for Saturday 21 December 2019, NSW Rural Fire Service. BL Maps X.17367.
The area shown extends around 150 miles from north to south. In particular the map indicates the plight of towns along the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, which are caught between bushfires to the north and to the south. The prediction shows the highway being cut off by fire to the north-west of Katoomba, and the outskirts of Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls falling under threat from ember attack, which forced large numbers of inhabitants to evacuate eastwards to Sydney.
Fortunately the worst did not come to pass, and over the following days back-burning operations – where controlled fires are started ahead of the oncoming blaze to deprive it of fuel – kept the fire fronts largely at bay. Some of these can be seen in irregular dark areas of burning to the north-east of Katoomba on a screenshot of the Rural Fire Service’s ‘Fires Near Me’ mobile site.
Screen shot of Fires Near Me mobile webpage, NSW Rural Fire Service, 25 December 2019.
It was not until torrential rains fell in early February that these fires were finally extinguished.
Debate continues around what caused the fires to be so extreme. By June of 2019 record high temperatures and longstanding conditions of drought had led experts to warn of an extended fire season to come, and many attribute these underlying conditions to climate change.
Others also point the finger to an alleged reduction in the use of fire management techniques learned from, and still practised by, Indigenous people. This map of Arnhem Land in northern Australia shows the results of a collaboration between scientists and Indigenous people, where the frequency of ‘hot fires’ has been reduced in areas deliberately burned during the previous cold season.
Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia, Macquarie, 2005, fig.3.17. BL Maps 234.b.40.
Whichever factors led last year's fires to be so extreme, most agree that bushfires are an inevitable part of Australian life. An ambition harboured by many, perhaps, but that is yet to be achieved, is expressed by the author of a 1976 study, 'Bushfire: history, prevention, control' (BL HMNTS X.322/8372) - ‘Fire has been part of the Australian environment for a very long time. I hope that... this book conveys the sense that fire and man must live together, not in a master/servant relationship, but as co-habitants in a finely balanced environment.’
Only yesterday, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, declared, ‘Our planet is broken. Nature always strikes back and is doing so with gathering force and fury’. We can only hope that the fire season to come is not like the last.
25 November 2020
In October we released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III. View the collection on Flickr Commons, and access images via the maps and views' catalogue records on Explore. Here's my choice of five compelling maps from the collection.
1. Plan of Manila, 1739.
This is the only recorded example of this 1739 edition of the 1717 town plan of Manila in the Philippines. Manila was, and is, a key international centre of trade, and the map was actually produced in the town (in a tiny vignette we can see a copy being presented by the Spanish governor of the Philippines to King Philip V of Spain). There’s probably no better image of a bustling commercial site, proof that a town is not just about its architecture and layout, but its people and processes too. This map has additional resonance, because Manila was besieged and looted by the British in 1762, and annotations in the map’s bottom right refer to aspects of the battle. Could it be George himself annotating the map according to reports he had received of the battle?
D. Antonio Fernandez de Roxas, TOPOGRAPHIA DE LA CIUDAD DE MANILA : CAPITAL de las yslas Philipinas
Manila: Hipoloto Ximenez, [around 1739].
2. Map and survey of Plymouth Harbour, 1780
This is the map that reminds me most of the strong links between mathematics and art in maps. It’s a large and serious military drawing, officially commissioned and with an accompanying report, of a key strategic naval installation and site of British maritime strength and power. It was drawn up as part of the earliest mapping activities for what would become the Ordnance Survey a few years later, enacted in response to the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France. So why is it so stunningly and mesmerizingly beautiful? It’s a question that should infuriate everyone who sees maps purely as cold communicators of facts and 'data.'
Matthew Dixon, Colonel, surveyor.
‘A General Plan with a Project for the Defence of the Arsenals of Plymouth, / By Lieut: Colonel Dixon Chief Engineer of the Plymouth Division. Revised and corrected by Geo. Beck Jan. 1780.’
3. Aquatint view of Kingston-upon-Thames, 1813
Thomas Horner, Kingston upon Thames. 1813
Is it a map or is it a view? What is that ominous large shadow looming in, Holbein-like, from stage left? Who cares! This is an intriguing and brilliantly composed aquatint print showing a collection of views of picturesque Kingston-upon-Thames. From above, in profile, from a distance away, it’s a multi-faceted image that invites us to dissolve our perception of the differences between vistas and to see them as a combined and rounded description of a place. Cartographic cubism! As Horner himself wrote, ‘…the whole, blended into one design by a picturesque fore-ground, forms a faithful view of the parish.’ It’s a joyous visual experience, with a few intrigues and little jokes (note the bungling surveyor- stonemasons in the foreground) thrown in for good measure.
4. India, 1619
This is a portentous map - the earliest British printed map of part of India. It marks the beginning of British cartographic involvement in India that would reach new levels of science-led imperial control through mapping by 1900. The Roe-Baffin map was produced following the earliest English trade mission to the Mughal empire. It has a stellar cast: Sir Thomas Roe, the diplomat who headed up the embassy. William Baffin, the navigator who went on to attempt to locate the North West Passage (Baffin Island is named after him). Reynold Elstrack, one of the earliest native English engravers.
The map was one of very few English-produced maps to provide a model for later Dutch atlas maps by Blaeu, Janssonius and others. English mapmakers were more often the copycats. The engraving of a Mughal seal has been expertly assessed by the British Library’s Dr Annabel Gallop.
William Baffin, 1584-1622, cartographer. A Description of East India conteyninge th'Empire of the Great Mogoll. / William Baffin deliniauit, et excudebat. ; Renold Elstrack sculp.
[London] : Are to be Sold in Pauls Church yarde. by Thomas Sterne Globemaker., 
5. The United States of America, 1782
This is a map with a story and a reminder of the power – and paranoia – that can be associated with maps. John Mitchell’s map of ‘the dominions of North America’ is a tremendous cartographic achievement in its level of description of this vast area. Yes, standing on the shoulders of earlier maps, but adding a vast quantity of descriptive notes and even including naming Native American nations (who were nevertheless ignored in what followed).
On another level, this late edition of the map is a piece of history, being the copy used by the British delegation at the 1782 Treaty of Paris where the terms of the peace following Britain’s defeat at the hands of the United States were established. The map has been marked up in red to show the lines of the new border the British would be happy with. But at the conference they realised that they didn’t have to cede quite as much as they had drawn. The map suggests that Upper Canada (much of modern-day Ontario) was also available to the USA. So later the British government ordered the British Museum to lock the map away so that nobody, particularly no inquisitive Americans, might see it and demand any more.
It was hidden from view until the early 20th century.
John Mitchell, 1711-1768, cartograph.er. A MAP of the BRITISH COLONIES in North America…
[London] : Publish'd by the Author Feb.ry 13.th 1755 according to Act of Parliament : Printed for Jefferys & Faden Geographers to the KING at the corner of S.t Martins Lane Charing Cross London, [about 1775, with annotations to 1782].
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Remigius Hogenberg's view of Münster
- PhD placement opportunity - Japanese maps
- Radical mapping
- Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer
- One-Fifth of the World's Surface
- New Digital Maps available on Reading Room Terminal
- Maps on the British Library's Online Gallery: update
- Münster’s Cosmographia