11 February 2022
I recently participated in a discussion panel with the LivingMaps network as part of the launch of their ‘'New Directions in Radical Cartography: why the map is never the territory’. Edited by Prof Phil Cohen and Dr Mike Duggan, this edited collection brings together 20 examples of contemporary research, artwork and theory from across the world under the label counter-mapping or radical cartography.
The definition of counter-mapping and radical cartography was a question that formed much of the discussion. Counter-mapping, described in depth in the book, is a process which really began in the 1970s following a realisation that regular or normative maps were perhaps not as democratic or utilitarian as assumed, and appeared to favour certain groups over others. Maps such as those by William Bunge and the Pluto Press aimed to readdress the balance.
Radical mapping, according to Phil Cohen’s introduction to the book, moves things along. Firstly, many of the examples in the book are not ‘maps’ in the way that many of us appreciate them (though they are perfectly consistent with other cultures’ mapping). The maps are community workshops, walking tours, audio-led immersive guides, poetry and reading, contemporary archaeology GiS, multi-media, memory palaces and more. Yet all of them can be understood as mapping in some way, if you believe that mapping doesn’t necessarily always lead towards the creation of a map.
That seems pretty radical to me. There’s also a sense of radical-ness in what the mappings are doing. For example, they are user-led and generated as opposed to being created by professional map companies or agencies. They are also open-ended and unfinished – incredibly radical if you are used to thinking of a map as a tangible object. They also, often in very quiet ways, articulate the voices of groups who do not usually shout very loudly on traditional maps - children, the elderly, and migrants. Quietly radical, if there is such a thing.
Critical cartography is a developing area of the academic discipline of cultural studies. As ‘post-representational’ mappings, this work is not collected by the British Library (in the same way that GiS is not collected). However, early maps are used creatively by artists and academics affiliated to critical cartography. For example, digitised British Library maps were included in Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda’s One Fifth of the Earth’s Surface project which was featured in last years York AND festival. And whilst not from the Library’s collection, map based artworks included in Claire Reddelman’s Postcards from the Bagne demonstrate just how successful the use of early maps in artistic and cultural practice can be.
Integrating early maps, digitally or physically, into a multi-layered multi-sensory perception of places in time known as deep mapping (as, for example, described by Dr Stuart Dunn in A History of Space in the Digital Age), is another of the key ways in which maps contribute to cutting-edge research and continue to be, in every sense, living maps.
09 December 2021
Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
The India Office map catalogue of 1878, now released online for the first time on the British Library Shared Research Repository, is a valuable finding aid to one of the world's most complex and mercurial map collections.
The catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps, etc., of the Indian Surveys, deposited in the map room of the India office, compiled by Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916), was the first published listing of the working map archive of British East India Company, and the administration of British India from London. As the title suggests, it contains a wide variety of geographical materials, from maps to written sources and much else. Its principal geographical focus – about 70% of it - is upon the area of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, but it also takes in adjacent areas, and more generally British imperial activity across the world, with the bulk of the material dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1947 the collection, along with the rest of the India Office Records, passed into the care of the Commonwealth Office (various iterations), and in 1982 was deposited with the British Library.
As late as the 1970s the catalogue was still being used to manage the map collection; the copy we have released is the one used by archivists to record the multiple changes to the map collection that had occurred between 1878 and 1947. These changes include annotations and inserted leaves listing maps that were added to the collection after 1878, and crossings-out of material that had been removed. These latter include material relating to the Great Trigonometrical Survey which was sent to the Survey of India in 1924, and large-scale maps and plans for infrastructure projects sent to Indian provincial public works departments.
The catalogue is an indispensable aid for researchers looking to identify historical geographical sources for India and South Asia, and to order material to view onsite in the Library’s reading rooms. The ‘X’ numbers – the modern pressmarks or 'call numbers' for each unit (the material accessioned up to 1878 has the number range IOR/X/1 to IOR/X/4999), can be entered into the ‘request other items’ page of Explore the British Library under the Asia, Pacific and African Collection subset. There is also an incredibly useful alphabetical index to facilitate searching.
The catalogue is also valuable evidence of the history of the role of maps and geographical materials in the government of British India, and of imperial map archives in general. The arrangement and contents inform us of the particular mindsets and priorities of the administration (inevitably, the focus and dates of maps in the archive broadly matches Company and administration activity) and how these shifted over time.
We hope you find this a useful resource, and would be very glad to receive feedback on the sorts of ways you are making use of it in your research. You can read more about the research repository, and explore other resources available there.
14 July 2021
Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer
I’m delighted that 1,277 maps from our War Office Archive have been added to the Georeferencer in the last few days. These military intelligence maps relate to Eastern Africa, particularly modern-day Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somaliland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa. The British Library has catalogued, conserved and digitised the archive with generous funding from the Indigo Trust. You can find out more about the maps here https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/war-office-archive.
Detail of Umkamba Prov. part of (Central), Capt. Bertram Dickson, 1901. BL Maps WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54
The maps are already accessible on the web through several different channels. A Google Map index shows the central point of each map sheet and provides links to catalogue records and high-resolution digital images, viewable on Digitised Manuscripts or available for download from Wikimedia Commons. You can also download text that has been extracted from the images using computer vision. However, we hope that the rich geospatial data provided by volunteers on the Georeferencer platform will open up these maps to new forms of research and discovery.
In terms of the Georeferencer project as a whole we now have 63902 maps georeferenced on the platform which is an amazing achievement. An exciting new project, ‘Machines Reading Maps’ [https://www.turing.ac.uk/research/research-projects/machines-reading-maps] based at the Alan Turing Institute is also now using our georeferenced Goad fire insurance maps. Thanks to all those who contributed to their georeferencing, they have been used by several research projects and are an invaluable resource.
01 July 2021
One-Fifth of the World's Surface
One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface is a digital audio-visual, multimedia web experience by artists Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda. Commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices and York Mediale, the work is, as the title suggests, an exploration of the ‘power of water as a dynamic and fluid archive’ with the Atlantic Ocean its main subject.
The British Library has been involved in providing resources for the project, and a number of maps from the Topographical Collection of George III, digitised and released as Public Domain on Flickr have been included in the exhibit, along with sound recordings from the Library’s Sound Archive.
I was interested to see how maps would be deployed in the piece. There are a multitude of maps that show the Atlantic Ocean, its coasts, and the infinite network of rivers and arteries which feed it (a number of maps along these lines, created by Adam in Mapbox, are embedded in the artwork). Maps not only visualise the Atlantic Ocean, but influence how it is navigated, experienced and memorialised, and this role of maps is also explored in One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface.
The online exhibition is split into sections, including: Memory, Analogue of Rivers, Ports, Navigation and Cartography, each constructed using various audio-visual elements that build, overlap and occasionally interrupt. Navigation is not straightforward, almost, at times, like fighting against the waves. Early maps appear in a number of places, particularly in the Archive section where they form part of the artists’ research materials. It is immersive, unpredictable digital art.
The creative potential of maps and mapping is limitless, and there is no better time to use them when so many are available from opened-up archives, where traditional and digital techniques are within reach, and when there is so much they can be used to say.
29 January 2021
New volcanic islands: where science and politics meet
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.
23 December 2020
Where’s Father Christmas? A look at the Atlas de Finlande, the first national atlas
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
25 November 2020
King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
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].
05 November 2020
Greenham Women Against Cruise Map
As we consider the future of Anglo-American relations, this striking poster map from November 1983 provides a compelling snapshot of the past; a time of Cold War tensions, nuclear proliferation and civil protest. It appeared on the eve of the arrival of American cruise missiles on British soil, and is associated with the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp movement.
Greenham Women Against Cruise take President Reagan to court in the USA, 9th Nov '83. BL Maps X.17363.
The women-only movement was set up in 1981 to protest against the British Government’s decision to allow nuclear weapons to be stored in Britain as part of a widespread deployment by NATO of nuclear arms throughout Western Europe. Protesters maintained a permanent presence outside Greenham Common Air Base, 50 miles west of London, at times blockading entrances and cutting down perimeter fences. In December 1982 over 30,000 women joined hands around the base at an ‘Embrace the Base’ event.
The poster advertises the date when Greenham Common women would take US President Ronald Reagan to court in the US, asserting that the deployment of nuclear weapons on British soil violated international law and the US Constitution - ‘Cruise threatens peace and breaks the law’.
The locations of all 102 American military bases found in Britain at that time are indicated on the map, and large American flags reinforce the impression of a Britain in thrall to the United States, and of sovereignty lost. The poster acts as a call to arms, inviting participation in protests at every one of the bases.
The image below shows one of these posters in use at the time. In the lower right corner contact details of regional organisers have been added, with an invitation to ‘Please visit your local Peace Camp on the day’. Perhaps the copy held in the British Library is an early proof print, awaiting these further details.
Image courtesy The Danish Peace Academy.
Almost a year later, a federal judge dismissed the court case in the US, holding that the courts were not empowered by the Constitution to decide the case. Then in 1987, US President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev signed a non-proliferation treaty, which led to the removal of all nuclear missiles from Greenham Common by 1991. The Women’s Peace Camp remained there, however, to continue protests against nuclear weapons, until finally leaving the base in September 2000.
This map is only a very recent addition to the collections. Further articles focusing on women’s activism can be found at the Women’s Rights webpage of the current major BL exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Radical mapping
- Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
- Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer
- One-Fifth of the World's Surface
- New volcanic islands: where science and politics meet
- Where’s Father Christmas? A look at the Atlas de Finlande, the first national atlas
- King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
- Greenham Women Against Cruise Map
- Admiralty Charts: good design in the analogue age
- World Map World Cup: what happened and five things we've learnt
- Black & Asian Britain
- British Library Treasures
- Captain Cook
- Central Asia
- Contemporary Britain
- Current Affairs
- Digital scholarship
- East Asia
- Exhibition progress
- Government publications
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- Off the Map
- Ordnance Survey
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- South Asia
- South East Asia
- Unfinished Business
- Visual arts
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- Women's histories
- World War One