Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

Introduction

Our earliest map appears on a coin made in the Roman Empire and our latest appears as pixels on a computer screen. In between we have the most complete set of Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain, the grand collection of an 18th-century king, secret maps made by the Soviet army as well as the British government, and a book that stands taller than the average person. Read more

21 February 2022

PhD placement opportunity - Japanese maps

The Map collection is offering a 3-month placement for a PhD candidate to work with the British Library’s collection of pre-1900 Japanese produced maps. With the deadline for applications fast approaching this Friday 25th February, here is a final attempt to whet your appetites.

The collection of 350 Japanese-produced maps is one of the finest held outside of Japan. It includes printed and hand-drawn maps of the world, East Asia, Japan itself and its various subdivisions, towns and coasts, dating from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. It includes route maps, bird’s-eye views, administrative maps, military maps and historical maps. Some of them are rather large.

Or75f13
Nihonkoku oezu, by an anonymous mapmaker. Woodblock, published between 1684-1688. Ex-Kaempfer collection. Or.75.f.13.

A number of the maps came to the British Museum, now British Library, via the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in the 1750s. Sloane had acquired the Japanese-related collections of Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1716) in the mid-1720s, who had collected them during his time in Japan, working as a doctor for the Dutch East India Company. Many other maps formed part of the collection of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), which was purchased by the British Museum in 1868.

Maps25b29
Kyo oezu [A Large map of Kyoto]. Manuscript, produced in 1826. Maps 25.b.29.

Today the maps are split between two areas. The majority are held in the map collection (part of Western Heritage Collections), which contains over 4 million maps and global coverage of the period 1540 to 2022. A smaller number of maps are held in the Library’s Japanese collections, a section of the Asian and African Department.

Japanese map imaging studio
Maps 25.b.29 being photographed by British Library imaging technician Carl Norman in 2018.

Catalogue records for the maps are available on Explore the British Library, and the collection was digitised in partnership with Ritsumeikan University in 2019 (and can be viewed on their MapWarper here).

The key aims for this placement are the enhancement of the maps’ cataloguing data. This will include collecting key physical and cartographic information from the maps, such as dimensions and annotations, that have not previously been recorded, and improving terminology and adding translations to improve the collection’s discoverability. There will be opportunities to write and research, work with curators and British Library staff from a variety of areas, gain insights and training, and receive some strong learning and development experiences.

Once again, the deadline for applications is this Friday at 5pm. For further details go here and scroll down to download the full project profile.

11 February 2022

Radical mapping

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. 

Cover image of Cohen & Duggan (eds), New Directions in Radical Cartography (Rowman & LIttlefield, 2022)
Cohen & Duggan (eds), New Directions in Radical Cartography. Cover image by Linda Knight, Inefficient Mapping, 2020 https://lindaknight.org/inefficient-mapping/

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.

Title page of the 1878 map catalogue
The title page of the 1878 map catalogue, and a further page with numerous crossings-out

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.

Administration of the IOR (after Moir)
Diagram showing the administrative descent of the India Office Records

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.

IOR/X/331
'Mapp of the Mallabar coast & of the costa di Pescaria'… 1705. IOR/X/331
Extract from the 1878 catalogue
Catalogue extract showing the entry for IOR/X/331

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.

Tom Harper

@BLMaps

15 July 2021

George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons

In October 2020 we released 17,000 images of maps and views from George III’s Topographical Collection on the images-sharing site Flickr Commons, which seems to have kept you busy. 

Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.

Vrients Low Countries
Jan Baptista Vrients, Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris, 1602. 118.e.16.

 What have we added?

So much! Here are some highlights:

Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John SpeedMoses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.

Albums of topographical views by artists such as John Webber, Robert Havell, Thomas Daniell and John Clerk.

Multi-sheet maps in loose or bound format including Turgot’s plan of ParisMorgan’s map of London, Peter Andre’s Essex, Fry & Jefferson’s Virginia, Pratt’s Ireland and Müller’s Bohemia.

Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo. 

Many manuscript atlases including work by Carlo Fontana, Francesco Basilicata's 1612 survey of Crete, and two Kangxi atlases of China.

Maps_1_tab_44-029
Bernard Ratzer, A plan of the city of New York..., published London, Thomas Jefferys, 1776. Maps 1.TAB.44.

 How can you access them?

Via Flickr

The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views,  was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).

Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy.  The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.

Via Explore

Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.  

118d15
Pierre Jartoux, [Twenty-two maps of the provinces of China]. Beijing, after 1717. 118.d.15.

 Anything else?

We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.

Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!

In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.

We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at maps@bl.uk.

Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.

Now off you go and explore.

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.

BEA-54

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.

Gethin Rees

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.

Cartography_001 rs
Image incorporating early maps, taken from One-Fifth of the World's Surface ©Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda. Image Credit: Heinrich Berann for National Geographic Creative

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.

Maps K.Top 118.32
John Rocque, A general map of North America..., around 1762. Maps K.Top 118.32
Maps KTop 117.127
Jan Janssonius (Covens & Mortier), ISLES DU CAP VERD Hispanis... around 1759. Maps K.Top 117.127.

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.

Analogue of Rivers rs
Analogue of Rivers, a still taken from One-Fifth of the World's Surface ©Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda.

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.

20 May 2021

New Digital Maps available on Reading Room Terminal

As the maps reading room is now open again to readers, we’d like to point you in the direction of the digital maps viewer. Before you read on please note that the viewer is only available on-site in the maps reading room, you must book a space in advance of your visit by following the instructions here. 

The digital maps viewer allows readers to browse maps and geospatial data that the library has collected over the last twenty years using a ‘slippy’ maps interface similar to Google, Bing or Apple maps. Snapshots of Ordnance Survey Great Britain Master Map and Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland Large Scale mapping are added every year and the 2020 versions are now accessible to readers in the viewer alongside older versions.

Whilst the library has been closed we have been busy gathering new data and we’re happy to announce that 36 new environmental and heritage datasets are now available to view. These include British Geological Survey open datasets and heritage datasets from Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Northern Ireland Department for Communities, the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and CADW.

Antares
Screenshot of an Antares chart on the digital maps viewer. Data courtesy of Antares charts.

Furthermore 523 charts of the Western Isles of Scotland published by Antares (http://www.antarescharts.com) are also now accessible. These beautiful, very large scale charts and related pilotage information are created by yachtsmen. Antares tell us that:

‘All our charts have been compiled from our own surveys. Surveys are made by criss-crossing an area in an inflatable boat equipped with an accurate gps (+/- 2m), depth sounder and data logger.  Soundings are fed into surveying software, reduced to chart datum by deducting the height of the tide and then plotted to make the chart.’

For more information on the fascinating process used of creating the charts please see http://www.antarescharts.co.uk/index_files/Making_the_charts.htm

Please note that a booking is required to use the viewer. To book speak to reading room staff on arrival in the maps reading room. Do please be aware that at busy times there may be a wait or you could be asked to come back on another day.

Gethin Rees, Lead curator of digital mapping

16 April 2021

Maps and the Canals

Although the concept of waterways as a means for transportation has been known for centuries, canals still play a vital role in trade – as highlighted by the recent obstruction of the Suez Canal when a wedged vessel disrupted international trade for nearly a week causing havoc and massive financial losses. 

In the British Isles since the medieval times trade relied on natural hydrography with its limitations as to where the routes were available which halted economic development in other regions. The advances in civil engineering and technology in the late the 18th century lead to a canal construction boom. These canals became a permanent feature of the British landscape and the canal network was gradually developed and expanded through the 19th century and, of course, appeared on many maps. This evolution can be traced in the maps found in the British Library’s extensive collections.  

Maps_k_top_6_38

A Plan of the Navigable Canals, from Birmingham, to the Junction of the Canal, from the Rivers Trent & Severn, at Autherley, near Wolverhampton ... laid down from Actual Surveys, by William Wright. London, about 1791. Maps K.Top.6.38. 

The construction of canals allowed for the transportation of much larger quantities of goods, raw materials and coal supply to factories, in comparison with the traditional methods of land transport by carts. The canals transformed the trade, completely changed the landscape of various industries and boosted the economy which hugely contributed to the Industrial Revolution

The construction of a network of canals was an enormous engineering undertaking and posed many technical challenges. It required extensive surveys which were carried out by teams of surveyors and engineers who through their work gained experience and became experts coming up with some incredible (and expensive) designs. The end results however proved to be so profitable that they still attracted investors.

Maps_k_top_48_81

Plan of a Canal proposed to be made between the River Clyde, at the City of Glasgow, and the Harbour of Saltcoats, with a branch to Paisley: surveyed under the direction of John Rennie, Civil Engineer, by John Ainslie. London, 1803. Maps K.Top.48.81. 

By the first decades of the 19th century the canal network covered most of England with the new grand scale projects submitted for approval by Parliament. The proposals were often accompanied by detailed plans and maps, which contained details on the technical difficulties and provided ingenious solutions such as navigable aqueducts, lifts, tunnels and cuttings giving insights into this enormous enterprise.

Maps_k_top_48_79

Plan of the Proposed CRINAN CANAL, between the LOCHS of CRINAN and GILP, in the County of Argyll. London, 1792. Maps K.Top.48.79.

The grand projects were associated with names of well-known civil engineers such as Thomas Telford, William Jessop, John Rennie and others. They often worked together and were involved in many projects such as the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct built in northeast Wales (to Telford’s and Jessop’s design), or the Crinan Canal connecting Loch Fyne to the Atlantic Ocean (originally planned by John Rennie with construction supervised by Telford).  Jessop was also in charge of the construction of the Grand Junction Canal (opened in 1805) which served as the main link between London and the industrial centers in the North and the Midlands. The Grand Junction Canal extension project which connected the Thames at Limehouse with the Paddington arm – the Regent’s Canal, took place between 1812 and 1816. 

Maps_k_top_6_53

A Plan of the Grand Junction Canal with the Branch to Paddington, by Christopher Smith. London, about 1801. Maps K.Top.6.53. 

Maps OSD 152 detail1

Detail from the Surveyors' Drawing (sheet 152) showing section of the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington before the construction of the Regent's Canal. William Hyett, 1807. Maps OSD 152

Insurance_Plan_of_London_West_&_West_North_West_Vols._A_&_B;_Key_Plan_(BL_152483)crop

Detail from Goad's Insurance Plan of London West & West North West showing section of the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington with the Regent's Canal branch. London, 1891. Maps 145.b.24.

Although ultimately surpassed by rail the reliance on the canals had declined by the 1840s, but they still remained a part of the British landscape, often associated nowadays with scenic routes, wildlife and tranquil surroundings, it is easy to forget the significant and important role the canals played in the past.