21 April 2019
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.
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…
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.
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.
Project Manager, Modern Maps
21 November 2016
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.
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.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- World Map World Cup: Group 4
- Help us choose the British Library's favourite world map
- Survey of the River Euphrates
- T.E. Lawrence’s maps of the Hejaz
- Another big list of where to find British Library maps online
- Diverse cartography of the Levant
- Two recent flight-related additions to the Map Collection
- Pushing the Boundaries