THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

3 posts categorized "Middle East"

23 September 2019

Diverse cartography of the Levant

Add comment

Over the centuries the Levant (or the Middle East as we now know it) has received a significant amount of cartographic attention and has featured on countless maps. This isn’t particularly surprising considering the region’s role in trade between Europe and Asia but what makes it rather special is the diversity of cartographical output. Maps of the Levant come in many different styles. As expected, they demonstrate the evolution of geographical knowledge, which gradually improved over time, and there is also an additional aspect of the region’s mapping, very different in content and style of depiction, reflecting the interest in this part of the world from the ancient history and biblical studies points of view. These different approaches were very often merged into one image resulting in an interesting fusion of contemporary and historical geography.  

The first printed map of the region falls into the category of the ancient geography and comes from the edition of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia published in Bologna in 1477.

Image1

The first printed map of the Levant. TABVLA 18 from Ptolemaei cosmographaie, Bologna. 1477. (C.3.d.5) 

The depiction is basic and the engraving technique rather crude but let’s not forget that this is the earliest printed atlas issued with engraved maps. It is assumed that the atlas was prepared in haste and the engraver was pressed for time to complete the plates before competitors in Rome had a chance to publish their edition of the Ptolemy’s work.

Image2

Detail from TABVLA 18 showing the Eastern Mediterranean with exaggerated Cyprus (C.3.d.5)

 

The Ptolemy’s Cosmographia appeared in numerous editions but even within this genre the geographical representation varied greatly depending on the sources used in the compilation and mapmaker’s interpretation. For example, Sylvanus in his edition of the work (published in 1511) decided to incorporate the contemporary geographical information directly into the Ptolemaic maps in order to demonstrate the geographical discoveries. This method did not find followers and Waldseemüller in his editorial note to the 1513 edition criticised the idea stating that rather than enlighten the readers it confuses them. 

Image4

Qvarta Asiae Tabvla from the Sylvanus’ edition of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia published in Venice in 1511 (Maps C.1.d.7.)

 

The second category of the cartographical depiction of the Levant comprises maps produced to illustrate the biblical geography. A prime example is A map shewing ye situation of Paradice and ye country inhabited by ye Patriarchs design’d for the better understanding ye sacred history from the Sacred geography, contained in six maps published in 1716 by Senex and Taylor.

Image5

A map shewing ye situation of Paradice and ye country inhabited by ye Patriarchs design’d for the better understanding ye sacred history (118.e.7.)

The map not only shows the location of the terrestrial Paradise, but also includes the position of Sodom and Gomorrah within the Dead Sea waters, the Noah’s Arc as built on the top of Mount Arrat, as well as multiple references to the biblical texts. Alessandro Scaffi’s extended research on the Maps of Paradise was published in his fantastic book well worth reading if interested in the subject.

Image8

Detail from A map shewing ye situation of Paradice ... (118.e.7.)

The thematic maps of the Levant in conjunction with the multitude of those produced to express the contemporary geographical knowledge provide a complete picture of the vivid interest the region received from mapmakers through the centuries. 

Image6

A New Map of Turkey in Asia by M. D'Anville published in 1794 in London by Laurie and Whittle. Maps * 46970.(2.)

 

Image7

Turkey in Asia, drawn from the most respectable authorities by Robert Wilkinson published in 1794 in A General Atlas, being a Collection of Maps of the World and Quarters. (Maps C.10.a.29.)

21 April 2019

Two recent flight-related additions to the Map Collection

Add comment

Today’s commercial pilots are well equipped to detect and fly over or around meteorological obstacles such as thunderstorms that lie in their path, so that as passengers behind we are rarely troubled by them. But imagine if you were flying in an airship of the 1920s instead. We recently added to the BL Collection a map designed for just that – Map showing the frequency of thunderstorms during the month of June on the England-Egypt section of the England-India airship route.

1
Map showing the frequency of thunderstorms during the month of June on the England-Egypt section of the England-India airship route in 1926.

Maps X.12816.

The map was made at the British War Office in 1926 and is a product of the Imperial Airship Scheme, a Government initiative of the 1920s to create a commercial airship route between Britain and the furthest parts of the Empire. The sheet shows three alternative routes for comparison, concluding that the most western and southerly of the three is the least likely to encounter difficulty.

The thought of negotiating thunderstorms at all in an England-India airship is frankly terrifying, and despite the careful planning evidenced by this sheet, the initiative came to a tragic end when one of the airships designed to fly the route crashed in France on its maiden voyage overseas in 1930.

Far more re-assuring is this recent donation to the BL. The Pilots’ Free Flight Atlas - Eastern Hemisphere, is a colourful collection of topographical mapping of Europe, South-East Asia and the Middle East overlaid with aeronautical information – radio beacons, airspace reservations, waypoints, airfields and runway lengths…

2
The cover image of 'The Pilots’ Free Flight Atlas - Eastern Hemisphere', 2009.

Maps 2019.a.24.

A number of thematic pages include political maps, a star chart and a sheet entitled Climate/Winds in Europe, North Africa, Middle East showing the main wind directions and strengths in January and in July alongside bar charts giving precipitation and temperature data for selected locations throughout the year.

3
Detail of a map entitled 'Climate/Winds in Europe, North Africa, Middle East', 2009

Detail of ‘Climate/Winds in Europe, North Africa, Middle East’ Maps 2019.a.24. page 8

Not being an aviation expert I don’t know the frequency with which commercial pilots might turn to this volume in-flight, but as a layman I am re-assured by the detailed information it provides, and the calm and efficient manner in which it is conveyed on backgrounds of natural greens and blues. Not to mention the section on Dos and Don’ts during Thunderstorm Avoidance – ‘Avoiding thunderstorms is the best policy’ remains as true as ever.

 

Nick Dykes

Project Manager, Modern Maps

 

21 November 2016

Pushing the Boundaries

Add comment

The British Library’s new exhibition Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line will look at the tumultuous 20th century through the eyes of maps. It is a period which we recognise as one of incredible highs and unimaginable lows, containing episodes ranging from the pinnacles of scientific achievement to the depths of barbarism. This is an exhibition in which we felt it was important not to airbrush the story of the 20th century, but to look at how maps (which can themselves be controversial objects) present multiple perspectives upon what happened in those 100 years.

As a result, Maps & the 20th century will cover a number of aspects of history which some might find difficult or controversial. The first is the inclusion of maps produced in association with war, genocide, humanitarian crises and other episodes which led to suffering and loss of life. As tools of war maps can present a compassion-less and cruel version of the world or, on the other hand, one loaded with emotion. What we have done is to use these maps to try and appreciate these events in the spirit of inquiry and respect.

Maps are ‘children of their times’, and as well as providing singular insights on the past this invariably means that they include language, imagery and perceptions of their times, including some which might appear shocking to a contemporary audience. These can, however, enable a perspective upon the changing values of society.

A handful of important non-western 20th century maps are included in the exhibition. However, the majority of exhibits are European or North American products, produced for audiences based there. This imbalance is not intended to demean or marginalise important non-western mapping practices. It reflects the reality of the 20th collections of the British Library, and is testament to the success of the imperial mapping project in the 19th and early 20th centuries which eradicated much mapping which did not conform to that idea. Much indigenous mapping was, and continues to be in spoken or otherwise ephemeral form more advanced but more difficult to capture than the maps we will display.

Sykes-Picot-BL

A map annotated according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1915-16.  Map of Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia. London:  Royal Geographical Society,  1916. Add.MS 88906/25/6

Some of the maps we display will show a version of the world which does not correspond with an understanding of the world held by some people. This might concern the location of a border, or even the named ascribed to some places. Whilst not necessarily aligning with any particular world view shown in a map in the exhibition, our reason for exhibiting is to understand why maps should show one certain world view over another. Understanding the motivations of the mapmaker is one of the key methods of unlocking the past through maps, and this is the aim of Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line.

Our exhibition is simply one of many countless stories of the 20th century that could be told, but we hope that the maps may allow us to look objectively on the recent past, and in so doing help to inform our future.