28 April 2020
In a previous blog I described the best free-to-access digitised British Library maps available on the Library’s own site. But there are more. Lots more!
Where we’ve worked with other institutions, organisations and individuals on digitisation, we’ve been pleased for those institutions to host the resulting content on their own sites. Often, the maps we’ve provided form a subset of a wider collection drawn from a range of other sources. So it isn’t just about the spirit of collaboration, but the enormous research benefits to be drawn from a broader and more integrated picture.
In the fullness of time you can expect to see this content also hosted on the BL's Universal Viewer. For now, here are some of the riches and where to find them.
Wikimedia Commons Collections
There’s a ton of British Library content on Wikimedia Commons which is great because of the open access nature of the site and its clear usage terms. Maps are included in a range of categories, including the Off the Map videogame competition and Images Online (the British Library’s commercial imaging site). But the main category, labelled maps collections, contains 28,000 images. Three main ones are
Ordnance Surveyor drawings - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Ordnance_Survey_Drawings
These 321 maps are some of the earliest works by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, which was formally established in 1791 to map southern England in response to the threat of invasion from France. The phrase ‘scope-creep’ is something of an understatement when applied to the OS, whose work continues to the present day. These large ‘fair drawings’ are the maps produced by the earliest Ordnance Surveyors of parts of England and Wales from the 1790s to the 1840s, and it’s from these that the one inch to the mile ‘Old Series’ printed maps were derived. The maps were received in 1958. For close, local work, there’s really nothing better than these for the period.
Goad fire insurance maps - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Goad_fire_insurance_maps_from_the_British_Library
Charles Goad’s maps are incredible windows into Britain’s urban past – stupidly detailed late-19th and early 20th century maps of various towns produced in order to assist the calculating of fire insurance risk. To do this, the maps included not only tell us the shapes and forms of buildings, but what they were made of, and who was using them and for what. Over 2,500 here for you to savour. Goad mapped other world cities including a large number of Canadian towns.
War Office Archive - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:War_Office_Archive_%E2%80%93_East_Africa
Thanks to the Indigo Trust, over 1800 East Africa maps and materials from the wider WOA have been digitised and placed here for your study and enjoyment. They’re also georeferenced. Hurrah!
Maps of Qatar and the Middle East
Through the Library’s partnership with the Qatar National Library, over 1300 maps of the area, drawn mostly from the India Office Records, have been catalogued and uploaded onto their digital library portal.
American Revolutionary War Maps
In collaboration with the Norman Leventhal Map and Education Center at Boston Public Library, 377 maps of North America and the West Indies from the American Revolutionary War Era were digitised and placed on the Center’s educational site. Ten other partners including the Library of Congress also contributed material. The British Library's contribution includes maps from the King’s Topographical Collection and Royal United Services Institute, which itself contains maps from the collection of Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797), commander-in-chief of British forces during the Seven Years’ War.
Japanese produced historic maps
We digitised all of our pre-1900 maps of Japanese origin thanks to a wonderful collaboration with Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. And what a collection – over 300 maps drawn from the Map Collection, the Western Manuscripts Collection, and Asian and African Studies Collection. Some of these maps arrived from earlier private libraries including the Engelbert Kaempfer and Philipp Franz von Siebold Collections. Some of them are very big indeed. You can access these maps through the Ritsumeikan University MapWarper portal.
Maps of Singapore and South East Asia
The five-year project between the British Library and National Library of Singapore, generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, enabled us to digitise and upload 300 maps onto the NLB Singapore’s web portal. These cover Singapore and its wider geographical context.
In 2013 the British Library Labs’ Mechanical Curator project placed 1 million British Library images onto Flickr. They are images drawn from books digitised as part of the Microsoft Books project, and include an enormous wodge of maps (‘wodge’ in this sense meaning tens of thousands of maps). See this individual album containing over 25,000 maps https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157648036792880
These are the maps which are currently being Georeferenceed via the Library's Georeferencer tool http://britishlibrary.georeferencer.com/start
The Roy map of Scotland
And finally, just one map, but a very large and important one. This is the fair copy of General William Roy’s (1726-1790) map of Scotland produced between 1747 and 1755. The map is a landmark in British mapping for applying military surveying methods to a very large area, and is regarded as the precursor to the Ordnance Survey. It’s also highly regarded artistically, since it includes the hand of celebrated watercolour artist Paul Sandby (1731-1809). The map is part of the Kings Topographical Collection, having formed part of the collection of the Duke of Cumberland.
We’re delighted for the National Library of Scotland to host this map on their website, given its signal national importance. And they do a very good job of it too, with a superb interface and numerous layers, including a 3D one.
I hope you find something here to interest and inspire you – and I’d be very glad to learn of any comments or questions you have, either by commenting here or on Twitter at @BLMaps.
23 May 2016
Above: Inverness Castle before the Jacobite uprisings [BL: Maps K.Top 50.10.a]
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth Inverness Castle is the site of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan, allowing Macbeth to usurp the crown. It is also where Macbeth’s descent into madness plays out, with many key scenes happening within the confines of the castle. As with so many of Shakespeare’s productions the events of Macbeth are, very loosely, based on fact, with historical characters used to drive the dramatic narrative. Much about the actual history of these individuals is different from how Shakespeare’s drama plays out, for example, Duncan was murdered at a much younger age than Shakespeare portrays, but the characters and locations can still be fixed, to some extent, geographically and historically.
Despite this, and somewhat unfortunately, no record remains of Inverness Castle as it was in the time of King Duncan. The fort that existed at this time was razed to the ground in the 11th century and has since been replaced with various structures. That which currently stands in Inverness was built in the nineteenth century in order to replace the castle seen above, constructed in the sixteenth century and destroyed during the Jacobite uprisings. As a result, this is the best source for Inverness Castle’s historic look that exists and, while it may not be the right castle to house the events of Macbeth, a little embellishment never hurt the Bard and so games designers should be able to indulge a little too.
Inverness Castle and the narrative of Macbeth provide rich pickings for video games. Castle based cerebral horrors, filled with mind games and hallucinations, perhaps like the Gamecube’s, Eternal Darkness, are one way a Macbeth inspired game could play out. Indeed, there are so many fantasy-RPG elements to the story of Macbeth, including witchcraft, other-worldly sieges and more, that a journey of character upgrades and branching choices would also fit well (although for the sake of longevity it might be worth making sure the player has to kill King Duncan…). Of course, for those of you who are more excited by the platform genre, the view of Inverness Castle above would also lend itself to a Castlevania or Ghosts n’ Goblins style adventure. The choice is yours.
For some further inspiration you can also look to the Hamlet inspired game, Elsinore, which currently forms part of the Library's Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Do remember though, if you are planning on entering the competition it’s time to get cracking with implementing your designs. The deadline for submission is rapidly approaching, with 1st July only just over a month away. Good luck!
23 February 2016
It's time for another 'Off the Map' competition here at the British Library and GameCity, with this year's theme being built around our upcoming Shakespeare exhibition. You can find out more about the competition here, get sounds inspiration here, read more about mysterious islands here, and find some inspiration built around The Tempest below.
The coat of arms of Bermuda isn’t the most cheerful in the world, as it depicts a ship in danger of being wrecked on the rocks, but its motto, Whither the Fates Carry [Us], is slightly more hopeful than you first think. In 1609 the Sea Venture, flagship of the Virginia Company, foundered on rocks after the commander in charge, Admiral Sir George Somers, decided his crew would survive this situation better than riding out the storm which bore down on them. All hands survived and found themselves on the island of Bermuda, the beginning of English settlement there. The story of the Sea Venture is not just one of oceanic derring-do, though. The narrative published about the discovery of the island also inspired some of the most famous writings in the English language.
Various accounts of the wreck of the Sea-Adventure were published, many of them becoming best sellers as they gripped the public imagination. A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels, A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia,and True Reportory are just a few of the pamphlets although my favourite tells the whole story in its title; Newes from Virginia, The Lost Flocke triumphant, with the happy Arriual of that famous and worthy knight, Sr Thomas Gates, and the well reputed and valiant Captaine Mr, Christopher Newporte, and others, into England, With the manner of their distresse in the Hand of Deuils (otherwise called Bermoothawes), where they remayned 42 weekesy and builded two Pynaces in which they returned into Virginia. Some other clues are found in these titles as to how these accounts of shipwreck could inspire Shakespeare, the mention of the ‘Ile of Divels’ (Isle of Devils) fires the imagination while other details in the accounts clearly connect to elements of the narrative of The Tempest.
Shipwreck, wilderness and the nature of authority all feature in these accounts and their evocative descriptions but it is probably the evocative description of Bermuda and its landscape which most captured the public, and Shakespeare’s, imagination. Bermuda was eventually to capture the attention of capitalists and plantation owners, as the map above shows. Here the wilderness encountered by the Sea Venture crew has been replaced with a landscape of sugar plantations and settlement, as shown by the many names and plots inscribed on the landscape. However, one element of the map provides a bridge between the moment of encounter and this settled, developed present, the illustration in the lower left corner. This is the same coat of arms discussed above, already bearing the Sea-Adventure in peril and the saying, ‘Whither the Fates Carry [Us]’. It also reminds us that, as violent winds were important to the settlement of Bermuda so they were important to the plot of The Tempest, with Prospero raising a storm to bring Antonio and his crew to the island on which he is exiled.
For ‘Off the Map’ the possibilities provided by this map, the Bermuda accounts and other items made available, such as the above from Nicolas Rowe’s 1709 edition of The Tempest, are wonderful to think about. Exploring a terrifying, open world island (don’t worry, Bermuda’s only small) after being ship-wrecked by spirits? A Lost-style adventure thriller where you and your crew have to figure out where exactly you’ve ended up (with or without polar bears)? Or, my personal favourite, perhaps something a little bit more ‘Secret of Monkey Island’, where your only hope of escape is to evade exiled sorcerer-kings, and pirate daemons, fight them off with root beer and find a ship to get home to your one true love? In short, Bermuda has already inspired one of the greatest works of English theater, now it’s over to video games.