THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

13 posts categorized "Public domain"

16 October 2020

10 things you may not know about the King's Topographical Collection

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We have just released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III  for you to peruse and study.

As far as private and royal map collections go, the K.Top is one of the most well-known and best preserved of those assembled before the mid-19th century.  It's also one of the more unusual and idiosyncratic due to its inclusion of a variety of other items besides maps and views (collectively known as 'ephemera.'). And it has an interesting custodial history following its presentation in the 1820s. Here are ten things you may not know about it.

 1. A single piece of acquisition evidence survives for the collection, an invoice for a map of New Hampshire of 1761 (Maps K.Top 120.25) made out by the mapmaker Thomas Jefferys to the King's advisor the Earl of Bute.

2. The collection includes many official and governmental maps (such as this map of part of the coast of New England) which were presumably lent to the King for consultation but for one reason or another not returned. 

Maps K.Top120.21
Samuel Holland, 'A PLAN of the Coast from PLEASANT RIVER to the west end of PENOBSCOT BAY...',(Portsmouth N.H.,1772). Maps K.Top 120.21.

3. The bulk of the collection of single-sheet maps and views are contained in 250 massive guard volumes that were created in the 1960s.

4. The collection is a distinct part of the larger King’s Library, but a number of volumes were separated from it and are now housed in the King's Library proper. Other items also found their way into the Western Manuscripts collection and the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings.

5. 'Top' stands for 'Topographical'. There’s also a Maritime (also in the British Library) and a Military collection (part of the Royal Collection in Windsor). However and most helpfully, the Topographical Collection also contains sea charts and military charts.

6. The king is rumoured to have kept the maps adjacent to his private chambers in Buckingham Palace.

7. Prior to 1828 the collection was given a geographical arrangement, which involved dismembering and redistributing of the contents of bound atlases including at least two Italian made-to-order atlases of the 16th century.

8. It includes the largest atlas in the world up to 2012, the Klencke Atlas.

9. It includes the first English map of New York City following its capture (1664) and the first English-produced printed map of India (1619), by William Baffin. 

10. A number of maps thought to be by the 16th century Flemish mapmaker Abraham Ortelius, including this map of Ancient Britain, were recently discovered to be late 17th century pirated copies after Ortelius, probably by the English mapmaker John Overton (see the notes to Maps C.49.e.74 for further information) .

Maps C,2,d,5,
Abraham Ortelius, BRITANNICARVM INSVLARVM TYPVS... Antwerp, 1595. Maps C.2.d.5.
Maps K.Top 2.111
Abraham Ortelius (but John Overton), BRITANNICARVM INSVLARVM TYPVS. London, c. 1690. Maps K.Top 2.111.

28 April 2020

Another big list of where to find British Library maps online

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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

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Collections_of_the_British_Library

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

800px-Ordnance_Survey_Drawings_-_Reading_(OSD_126)
Robert Dawson, [Ordnance Surveyor Drawing of part of Berkshire], 1809. Maps OSD 106 

 

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

Lossy-page1-509px-Insurance_Plan_of_Sunderland;_sheet_7_(BL_148844).tiff
Charles C. Goad Ltd., Insurance plan of Sunderland, sheet 7, 1894. Maps 145.b.12.(8.).

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

https://www.qdl.qa/en/search/site/?f%255B0%255D=document_source%3Aarchive_source&f%5B0%5D=source_content_type%3AMap

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

https://collections.leventhalmap.org/collections/commonwealth:hx11xz34w

Commonwealth_hx11xz37q_access800
Daniel Patterson, Cantonment of His Majesty's forces in North America... 1766. Add.MS 11288

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

https://mapwarper.h-gis.jp/maps/tag?id=british+library

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

https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/browse/Charts_Maps_British_Library.aspx

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. 

Flickr maps

https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums

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

https://maps.nls.uk/roy/

Roy composite
William Roy [A section of the military survey of Scotland], 1747-1755. Maps CC.5.a.441. 

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.

Tom Harper

21 April 2020

A View of the Open Road

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During the current pandemic, the next best thing to heading outdoors is (of course) to lose yourself in the printed landscapes of maps instead. In our London flat last weekend, I couldn’t help reaching for my Ordnance Survey Explorer sheets of the English Lakes and tracing the routes of Easter walks in years gone by.

Although busy depicting roundabouts and service stations, road maps and atlases also give us armchair explorers a flavour of the landscapes, the countries and the times we move through in our mind’s eye.

This example from the United States comes from a time when the American highway map was at its peak, when the automobile was an icon of progress, and state departments and commercial oil companies handed out road maps in their millions, free of charge.

A road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

The back of a road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map

Front and back of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967. Held at State Archives of North Carolina

While useful to many, these maps were also the vehicles for carefully chosen images and text promoting industry, nature, social progress and Christian values. A Motorist’s Prayer on this sheet begins, ‘Our heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing as we take the wheel of our car...’

A detail of the back of road map from 1967 entitled Official North Carolina Highway Map, showing a man working in an industrial control room to illustrate the labor force

Detail of North Carolina Official Highway Map, 1967

A similar agenda is found on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where a Soviet regional map from the same year focussed on places and monuments of revolutionary history, industrial mines (asbestos, brown coal, gypsum...), pine forests and swan nesting sites.

A detail from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

A detail of the list of symbols from a Soviet map of Orenburg Oblast published in 1967

Details from map of Orenburg Oblast, GUGK, 1967. BL Maps 35885.(63.)

Industrial prowess is emphasised again in the strong design on the cover of this regional atlas.

The cover of an Atlas of Orenburg Oblast published in 1969

Atlas of Orenburg Oblast, 1969. BL Maps 54.e.48.

But unlike in Britain or America, the Soviet general public had no large scale Ordnance Survey or US Geological Survey maps to turn to for raw topographical detail. These were restricted to the military. Even generalised maps were deliberately distorted during the 1970s to make them harder to use for navigational and targeting purposes, should they fall into the wrong hands.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, restrictions on sophisticated military mapping were relaxed, and elements of larger scale maps made their way into practical road atlases, amongst other products, for the general public. The evolution of these maps from military specification to a hybrid form more closely resembling the typical road map can be traced over the following years.

Details of two Soviet/Russian topographic maps of Orenburg published in 1987 and 2003

Left: Detail from Topographic map of the world at scale 1:200 000 produced by the Soviet Army General Staff, Sheet NM 40-2, 1987. BL Maps Y.1575.

Right: Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast, one of the Road Atlases of Russia series published by Roskartografia, 2003

In the road atlas on the right new colouring distinguishes road types and routes, and makes them more prominent while rivers fade away, and symbols are added to indicate petrol stations, medical facilities, museums and places of interest.

Detail of a topographic map of Orenburg published in 1987 by the Soviet Army General Staff

Detail of Sheet NM 40-2, Soviet Army General Staff, 1987

Detail of a Russian road atlas map of Orenburg published in 2003

Equivalent detail from Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

Precise bridge dimensions and maximum loads have been removed, though contours and direction of river flow remain, and the close mesh of the military grid has been replaced by a broad system of squares that correlates with the place name index at the back.

The cover of the Orenburg Road Atlas published in 2003

Cover of Orenburg Oblast Road Atlas, 2003

At last the landscape was revealed, and civilians could take to the open road better equipped.

And who knows, perhaps even now fingers are tracing imaginary routes from armchairs throughout Russia...

 

Nick Dykes

Further reading:

Denis Wood and John Fels, Designs on Signs/Myth and Meaning in Maps, in Cartographica vol 23 no 3, 1986, pp 54–103.

Zsolt G. Török, Russia and the Soviet Union, Fragmentation of, in The History of Cartography, vol 6, University of Chicago Press, 2015, pp 1376-1379.

Alexey V. Postnikov, Soviet Cartography, 1917-1991, in Cartography and Geographic Information Science vol 29(3), 2002, pp 243-260.

19 April 2019

British Empire maps of Africa added online

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Around the turn of the 20th century the British War Office in London maintained a library of original, mostly hand-drawn mapping that covered large parts of the world where detailed and reliable surveys were not otherwise available. The maps were gathered from a rich variety of sources including military expeditions, boundary commissions, explorers, travellers, missionaries and spies, and they were used by the War Office for making and revising official printed products.

The maps are now held at the British Library in the 'War Office Archive', and generous funding from Indigo Trust has allowed us to continue cataloguing, conserving and digitising portions relating to Africa, where the archive provides unique details of settlements, populations, communications and land-use immediately before and during the period of European settlement.

Most recently we have digitised maps relating to the former Transvaal Colony, including sheets made during the South African War, also called the Second Boer War. 'Survey of Position Held by Enemy near Belfast. August 1900’ was made in the days following the Battle of Bergendal, the last pitched battle and a turning point in the war. The map is hand-drawn to a high standard, perhaps in anticipation of reproduction and publication, but this appears to be a unique copy.

4
A map showing the Position held by the enemy near Belfast, South Africa, in August 1900

Detail of 'Survey of Position Held by Enemy near Belfast. August 1900’ WOMAT/AFR/TRA/23

Gun emplacements and rifle pits are shown in red, alongside detailed contour work and rock drawings. Plans and profiles of enemy gun positions are provided around the sides of the map.

5
A picture of a gun emplacement in South Africa
6
An image of a gun emplacement

Details of WOMAT/AFR/TRA/23

In a less finished style, but with no less detail, is the following ‘Road Sketch’ from 1906, which shows a 200-mile stretch of the boundary between present-day South Africa and Mozambique. It too is made with an eye on military logistics, and provides details of terrain and road conditions, availability of food and water, and the characteristics and numbers of personnel at forts along the route. All of which provides rich data for present-day researchers.

7
A map showing the road from Komati Poort To Messangire

Detail of ‘Road Sketch From Komati Poort To Messangire’ WOMAT/AFR/TRA/47

There are now a total of 1,840 map images from the archive available to view on the BL website or to download from Wikimedia, covering large parts of eastern and southern Africa. The catalogue records and images can also be browsed from the geographical search page, shown below.

8
An image of the geographical search page for the War Office Archive maps

 

Nick Dykes

Project Manager, Modern Maps

 

25 March 2015

Help! British Library needs 50,000+ maps georeferenced

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We have 50,000 maps online that we ask you - the public - to identify the geographical location of.   The BL Georeferencer release is now live at

http://www.bl.uk/maps/

Stockholm1
A plan of the city of Stockholm” published in 1802, overlaid on current Google mapping

Using the BL Georeferencer online application, you will be presented with a historic map from a 19th century book; by finding the location on a modern map or imagery alongside, the old map is “georeferenced”, and can be overlaid and interacted with in your browser (as above).

This is our largest release of maps yet, and will be a formidable task to complete, so any amount of help you can offer us will be gratefully received!

 

17 February 2015

Found: more maps than we’d reckoned

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Without looking, you can’t know what’s there. That was our experience locating maps amongst the one-million British Library images released to the public domain. We had not guessed that 50,000 images of maps were lurking there. So how were they singled out?

Answer: with the help of our friends (the crowd!) using several methods.

Semi-manually: A dedicated team of volunteers looked at individual images and applyied the tag “map” on flickr.  The work was organised using a synoptic index in Wikimedia Commons, providing a systematic method of looking at each volume and tracking shared progess. Over 29,000 map images were identified in this way.

Day-long event

The British Library hosted a one-day event, in concert with Wikimedia UK, to which volunteers were invited to kick-start the effort.  In between working, the 30 participants enjoyed tours and talks from speakers representing online mapping efforts, including OpenStreet Map and Stroly.  The day’s activities were captured in Gregory Marler’s engaging description, Lost in Piles of Maps, and a series of photographs from ATR Creative.  

Tagathon1a
One corner of the room - detail of photo by Machi Takahashi of ATR Creative who joined the event from Tokyo and was one of the speakers. CC BY-SA 2.0

Ongoing crowd activity

The bulk of the work took place online over the next two months. With the wiki tools built by J.heald to guide and coordinate contributions, 51 volunteers approached the work, book by book, often focussing on geographic areas of interest. Together, they made short work of what was a huge task; 28% of the books were completed after the first 72 hours; 60% were reviewed in the first 20 days; after five weeks over 20,000 new maps were found in 93% of the source volumes.

Automated methods

But surely maps can be identified automatically? It’s true that well before the organised effort just described, one user  produced algorithm-guided tags for this image set, which resulted in the addition of well over 15,000 map tags.

By the end of December 2014, every image in every book had been reviewed, and between the manual and automatic tagging, over 50,000 maps had been found. Since then, we have been working to clean up the data, including reviewing rogue tags, rotating images, splitting maps, and removing duplicates, to derive a final set of data. Next step: georeferencing.

The tagging project was presented on 12 February 2015 at the EuropeanaTech 2015 conference as a short talk and poster, Case Study: Mapping the Maps.

This achievement represents the work of many. Special thanks go to Maurice Nicholson, BL
Georeferencer participant; Jamed Heald, Wikimedia volunteer; and Ben O’Steen of BL Labs

04 November 2014

Maps Tag-a-thon: it’s online

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Online participation in the Maps Tag-a-thon, launched 31 October with an event here at the Library, is open!  We invite remote enthusiasts to get involved in the tagging so that maps can be identified and then georeferenced so as to offer full geo-functionality (public domain!). The aim to is to find every map from amongst the million images.

   BL Maps tagathon2

Nearly 33% of the books have been reviewed, with over 6,000 maps found, since Friday - that's only five days! If you can join us in this amazing effort, have a look at the instructions on Wikimedia Commons.

A report on the event will come soon, but I wanted to flag up this opportunity. Thanks to all the help from the British Library Digital Research Team, OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia Commons!

29 September 2014

Maps Tag-a-thon Event

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Maps are still hidden in amongst the million images on Flickr, and we want to find them!

You are invited to the British Library for a day-long digital maps tag-a-thon event on Friday 31 October. The main activity will be reviewing Library images in Flickr to identify those that are maps. Once we have the maps consolidated, they can be included in the next round of BL Georeferencer, which will place them to their geographic location, increasing findability and allowing overlays on modern mapping. Register to attend here!

BL Maps tagathon

Above is one example of what can be discovered. This map of Cerro de Pasco in Peru is from a 1868 book.  The volume was scanned and images released on Flickr; this one was tagged "map", and so was included in the last round of BL Georeferencer. Sure, that effort was successful, but it has been estimated that there are 10,000 more maps in Flickr that we do not know about! We need help finding them.

Participants do not need to possess technical knowledge, but rather an interest in historic maps and a desire to bring them to life digitally. We are lucky to have experienced wiki-editors who will be present on the day to edit the wiki, answer questions, and update our statistics online. (Jheald provides a explanation of the technical process he designed and how it will work.)

Other activities are planned for the day, including a visit to the Maps area, brief updates on digital activities, and a look at the Gothic exhibition. See the event details and full agenda and registration here.

This is a joint event sponsored by the British Library Labs project and supported by OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia UK. I hope to see plenty of map aficionados and BL Georeferencer participants there as well, and I encourage our Maps and Views blog readers to attend!