THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

3 posts categorized "Rare books"

05 August 2020

Mapping as poetry: looking at ‘Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas’

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Can maps express poetry? French architect Le Corbusier believed so. In Towards a New Architecture, his influential work on Modernism of 1923, he selected this image of an aeroplane cockpit - an aviation map surrounded by dials – to illustrate what he called poetic facts:

‘Poetry lies not only in the spoken or written word. The poetry of facts is stronger still. Objects which signify something, and which are arranged with talent and with tact, create a poetic fact.’

Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier

Vers une Architecture, Le Corbusier, 1923. BL General Reference Collection 07815.h.26.

Could a map even be a poem? This recent purchase by the Map Library suggests it can.

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, Chieko Shiomi, 1966. Shelfmark not yet allocated. Image courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection.

Spatial Poem No.2, a fluxatlas, was made in 1966 by Japanese artist Chieko Shiomi (later Mieko). She had recently moved to New York to join colleagues in the Fluxus network, a community of artists around the world dedicated to experimental performance work, whose members included George Maciunas (the founder), John Cage, Joseph Beuys, Richard Hamilton and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Shiomi organised a series of ‘Spatial Poem’ events, in which she invited Fluxus colleagues to perform a specific action and then post a response back to her in the mail. This map documents responses she received during the second event, and bears the following subtitle: ‘This is the record of various directions to which people were simultaneously moving or facing around 10pm (Greenwich time) October 15th 1965’.

In Shiomi’s own words,

‘There are time gaps, since this Event took place all over the Earth. I sent the participants a list of time gaps in different places and asked them to report what direction each of them was facing at the same particular moment. While there were simple reports such as they were facing the ceiling, a newspaper, or a television, there were also interesting interpretations and calculated performances. Maciunas sent a report saying that he brought a swivel chair into an elevator and pressed the button to go up. While the elevator was ascending, he was rotating at high speed on the chair. Thus he insisted that he was directed toward all three hundred and sixty degrees while ascending. Somebody else reported that his direction varied because he was chasing a mouse that had entered the bedroom. Or a person told me he was "going from his 4th glass of beer to his 5th glass of beer," and yet another reported that she was "going in the direction of simplification." [Text courtesy MOMA].

Portrait of Chieko Shiomi

Portrait of Chieko Shiomi at the first Spatial Poem event, 1965, New York. Image courtesy MOMA.

Visually, it's the sort of map you might encounter in a dream. Modern and ancient motifs appear side by side, and create an atmosphere at once familiar but strange. These two wind faces hark back to a World Map of Ptolemy from 1482.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Ptolemy World Map, 1482

Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and of Ptolemy World Map, 1482 (below). BL IC. 9304.

A woodcut figure, who hovers over Los Angeles and aims an early sextant at the Pacific Ocean, first appeared in 1677 in Nathaniel Colson’s The Mariners New Kalendar (BL General Reference Collection 8805.bb.35.). An earlier version of the image, reproduced below, is taken from John Seller’s Practical Navigation of 1669.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from Practical Navigation, John Seller, 1669 (below). Image from Wikipedia.

A number of curious compass/clock devices adorn the map – one forms a cartouche with the map’s title, while others mark different times around the world. These have been adapted from the diagram of a sixteenth-century survey instrument used in the construction of mine shafts. The original appeared in De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola in 1556.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556

Details of Spatial Poem No.2 (above) and image from De Re Metallica, Georgius Agricola, 1556 (below). Image courtesy Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Jumping forward through the centuries, a contemporary window pane in Copenhagen is shattered by a ball.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.

Alongside this evocative mix of images, the text responses received by Shiomi have been ordered into shapes and spirals that convey the momentary locations, directions and population distribution of Fluxus members as well as any modern infographic.

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2

Detail of Spatial Poem No.2.

Returning to Le Corbusier’s words – if poetry is found in an object which signifies something and is laid out with talent and with tact, then surely it resides here in Shiomi’s map.

07 May 2020

Antarctica: A brief history in maps, part 2

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Part 1 of this map tour ended with a late nineteenth-century depiction of the Antarctic that, whilst recognisable to us in the present day, was still substantially blank.

The updated chart below was made twelve years later by the same cartographer, J.G. Bartholomew. The most significant additions include the label ‘Antarctica’ on the continent itself, and the depiction of ‘schemes for Antarctic exploration’ proposed by Sir John Murray. Murray was a pioneering oceanographer, who was strongly engaged in the promotion of a new age of exploration in the far south. The map assists his cause: the route of a proposed British expedition leads across the landmass from one side to the other, and a wide ring around the continent is labelled, ‘Area for Bathymetric Research, to be surveyed by ships during winter’.

The wide extent of ‘Observed pack ice’, which is coloured green, is not credible for that time, and the choice of shade lends a more benign aspect to those regions than they deserved. This is a persuasive map that exaggerates the extent of current knowledge, and downplays the difficulties involved in completing the picture.

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine 1898

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine 1898 p 572. BL Maps 162.

It worked! The ‘Heroic Era of Antarctic Exploration’, a twenty-year period of extensive activity and research on the continent, began in 1901 with the departure of the British National Antarctic (‘Discovery’) Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott. The map below documents the work of the expedition from 1902-04, and shows the extent of surveys carried out in the course of ‘Sledge Journeys’. The small-scale inset in the upper right corner shows the track of Scott’s first attempt towards the pole itself, and his furthest point south.

Map showing the work of the National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-3-4

Map showing the work of the National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-3-4. BL Maps 88710.(8.)

George Mulock, the expedition geologist, carried out a detailed survey of the area around the winter quarters in McMurdo Sound, shown here in large scale. In common with most Antarctic mapping of the period, this sheet was published as an accompaniment to the official expedition account. Locations of camps and a handful of sightlines, used in the construction of the map, are included; regions are coloured to show geology, and contour lines capture relief. Features named on the map for the first time include ‘Mount Discovery’ and the ‘Royal Society Range’, and a 'Camel’s Hump’ outcrop lies beside ‘Cathedral Rocks’.

Map of the district near the ‘Discovery’ winter quarters, 1906

Map of the district near the ‘Discovery’ winter quarters, 1906. BL Maps X.11702.

The British Antarctic (‘Nimrod’) Expedition 1907-09, led by Ernest Shackleton, claimed a new furthest south, and became the first to reach the magnetic south pole. The treks of both parties are documented on the sheets below, Shackleton’s extended journey trailing down towards the geographic pole on the left, while the route of the South Magnetic Polar Party appears on the right. The arbitrary location of the wandering magnetic pole is given an appropriate spot in the extreme top left corner of the sheet.

Maps showing Southern Journey Party [left] and South Magnetic Polar Party [right], in the Geographical Journal 1909 Vol 34 no 5

Southern Journey Party [left] and South Magnetic Polar Party [right], in the Geographical Journal 1909 Vol 34 no 5. BL Maps 159.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition was the first to reach the geographic south pole, arriving on 14 December 1911. In events that are now well-known, Scott’s British Antarctic (‘Terra Nova’) Expedition arrived at the pole just five weeks later to find that they had been defeated. The entire polar party perished on their return and were not found for another eight months. In this short period Amundsen published an account of his own expedition, which featured this expressive sketch map depicting his route to the polar summit at the top of the page. With the fate of Scott’s party unknown, only the ‘Base of Scott’s Expedition’ is marked at the foot of the route previously followed by Shackleton.

Approximate Bird's-Eye View, Drawn from the First Telegraphic Account, in The South Pole 1912

Approximate Bird's-Eye View, Drawn from the First Telegraphic Account, in The South Pole 1912, opp p 32. Image courtesy Wellesley College Library. Rare Books 2370.f.13.

The routes of both explorers are honoured on a map published by Stanfords before 1921. The larger shaded region of the continent is unexplained, but would appear to indicate areas observed or surveyed. However, this would greatly exaggerate the area known at the time, and requires another explanation.

Shortly before this map was produced, Great Britain had asserted her claim over Antarctic territory lying in a sixty-degree arc between 20 and 80 degrees West (beneath South America), and by 1923 the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was stating his ambition that the whole of the continent should be incorporated into the British Empire. A look at some of the sub-regions incorporated in the shaded area – Victoria Land, King George V Land, King Edward VII Land – gives a clue that perhaps this sheet emphasises the ‘Britishness’ of these areas for an audience that was supportive of her territorial ambitions.

Map of the Antarctic Regions 1921

The Antarctic Regions, [1921]. BL Maps 88710.(13.)

On 1 December 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed into effect by twelve nations, who set aside all territorial claims on the continent in pursuit of peaceful scientific collaboration. The map below, made two years previously for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, still shows the continent sliced into national sectors, and yellow shading indicates ‘Areas explored or seen by man’.

A thick red line passing across the continent through the pole indicates the planned route of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which, over the summer season of 1957-8 became the first expedition to cross the continent from one side to the other.

The map also shows a network of proposed scientific bases, to be established during the International Geophysical Year 1957-8, a major scientific project featuring collaboration between East and West during the Cold War. At the pole itself the names of Amundsen and Scott are joined by that of American naval officer Richard E Byrd, who flew an aeroplane over the pole for the first time in 1929, and was one of the first to bring aerial survey techniques to the mapping of Antarctica.

The Daily Telegraph Map of Antarctica 1957

The Daily Telegraph Map of Antarctica, [1957]. BL Maps 88710.(57.)

From the 1960s onwards, satellites were employed in mapping the vast areas of the continent still unknown, and in 1972 the Soviet Union incorporated Antarctica into a series map of the world for the first time. This map of the pole is sheet number 234 of the Karta Mira series. Shades of purple indicate fluctuations in the height of the polar plateau.

Soviet map of the world Karta Mira 1:2,500,000 sheet 234

Karta Mira 1:2,500,000 sheet 234, 1972. BL Maps 920.(494.)

In the early 1990s the British Antarctic Survey was one of the founding partners involved in a collaboration between 11 nations to create a seamless digital map of the continent, by digitising existing maps and satellite images. The BAS sheet below takes its topographical detail from this Antarctic Digital Topographic Database, which is updated every six months. Since the 1960s, radio echo sounding techniques have been deployed to calculate the thickness of ice sheets, and the inset on the lower left shows the relief of the rock surface that lies beneath the ice.

British Antarctic Survey map of Antarctica, 2015

Antarctica, 2015. BL Maps X.13411.

The United States produces another data model of the continent. This sheet is a print-out of a digital image made by the US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other partners, who employed a Blue Waters supercomputer to process data derived from high-resolution satellite imagery. The underlying dataset is described as ‘a high-resolution, time-stamped digital elevation model for the Antarctic ice sheet’.

The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (cartographic), 2018

The Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (cartographic), 2018. [Shelfmark yet to be allocated]

These last two maps reflect the switch made by cartography to digital data from the latter part of the twentieth century, and aptly conclude this brief history of the mapping of Antarctica.

Nick Dykes

30 April 2020

Antarctica: A brief history in maps, part 1

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Antarctica presents many unique challenges to cartographers: as the last continent to be explored, its vast landmass – half as big again as Europe – is largely inaccessible, covered by sheets of mostly featureless ice, and shrouded in perpetual darkness for half of the year.

In this 200th anniversary year of the first known sighting of the continent, this first of two articles gives a whistle-stop tour through maps held in the British Library that chart Antarctica’s gradual emergence from obscurity into light.

Stuck awkwardly at the bottom of the conventional world map, Antarctica is poorly served by many map projections, which distort it out of recognition. On occasion, its lack of military or geopolitical significance has provided a convenient excuse to leave it off the map entirely, as seen in the United Nations logo. Yet this image of the continent created by the Mercator projection does bear a surprising, if superficial, similarity to some of its earliest depictions, long before it was discovered.

Map of the world on the Mercator Projection

Mercator projection. Image created by Strebe, taken from Wikimedia Commons

From ancient times it was believed that a southern continent must logically exist to counterbalance the weight of the known northern hemisphere. In a world map first published in 1570, Abraham Ortelius perpetuated this belief with a southern landmass depicted prominently, but drawn entirely from conjecture.

Map of the world published in 1570 by Ortelius

[Typus orbis terrarum], 1598. BL Maps C.2.d.7.

The continent eluded several voyages of exploration to the far south, so that over time it became untenable to maintain the tension between the boldness and extent of the coastline’s detail, and the uncertainty of the label, ‘Nondum Cognita’ [‘not yet known’]. On this circa 1690 imprint of a map originally published by Dutch mapmakers Hondius and Janssonius, a polar projection is adopted, focussing interest on the blank centre. Recent voyages had documented islands of ice trailing through the empty seas, and the appearance of these on the map indicate where the continent is not. The mapmakers made no attempt to delineate the area that is still labelled ‘Terra Australis Incognita’.

Map of the southern hemisphere published in 1690 by Hondius

[Polus Antarcticus. H. Hondius excudit], [1690]. BL Maps * 88710.(2.)

James Cook was the first to circumnavigate the pole, during his second voyage (1772-75), but the continent itself eluded him. Two years after his return the chart below was published in a record of the voyage. It is updated with many new findings, and features ‘the Tracks of some of the most distinguished Navigators’, which now encircle and crowd the blank centre. The focus here is on what is known, rather than what is not, and the label seen on earlier maps, ‘Terra Incognita’, has been replaced by, ‘The Ice Sea’.

Chart of the southern hemisphere published in 1777 by Captain James Cook

A Chart of the Southern Hemisphere, in A Voyage towards the South Pole..., 1777. BL 10025.f.20.

Fabian Bellingshausen, commander of the first Russian Antarctic expedition (1819-21), is regarded by many to have been the first to set eyes on the continent. A reproduction of his manuscript chart of January 1820 shows a patch of blue at the lower edge that marks the first tentative departure from blank space near the pole – and indicates a feature that would later be named the Fimbul Ice Shelf. The original manuscripts are preserved in the Archives of the Russian Hydrographic Office and were published in facsimile in 1963. During the Cold War some British and American commentators cast doubt on their interpretation, and on the Soviet claim that a Russian had first discovered the continent.

Facsimile of a manuscript chart of the Southern Ocean made in 1820 by Fabian Bellingshausen

[A facsimile of the MS chart drawn by F. Bellingshausen...], 1963. BL Maps 1.c.57.

Only two days after Bellingshausen’s sighting of the ice shelf in January 1820, Edward Bransfield, an officer in the British Royal Navy, sighted the first land feature of the continent, now known to lie at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The discovery appears on a map published in 1844 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. A short red line accurately delineates a portion of the terrestrial coastline for the first time, and bounds a region now called the Trinity Peninsula (just below the tip of South America on the left of the image).

Map of the southern polar region published in 1844 by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

Circumjacent the South Pole, 1844. BL Maps 38.e.8.

In 1843 another officer of the British Royal Navy, James Clark Ross, completed his own voyage of scientific exploration to the Southern Ocean. Science undertaken by the expedition included the first magnetic survey of the Antarctic, and succeeded in inferring the location of the magnetic south pole. The results were published by the Royal Society in 1869. With its wandering lines of magnetic declination, this sheet constitutes one of the earliest examples of thematic mapping of the Antarctic.

Map showing the Antarctic Magnetic Survey published in 1869 by the Royal Society

Antarctic Magnetic Survey, Epoch 1840-1845, Declination, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1869, vol 158 part 2. BL L.R.292.

Global shipping routes traversed the Southern Ocean in the middle of the nineteenth century, giving rise to a market for navigational aids. This commercial chart, published by J.D. Potter in 1858, was designed ‘to facilitate the practice of Great Circle Sailing’ around the southern latitudes, and allowed merchant navigators to plot the shortest routes through the Southern Ocean without encountering sea ice.

Chart of the southern hemisphere published in 1858 showing great circle sailing routes

A Chart of South Latitudes beyond 20 Degrees, to facilitate the practice of Great Circle Sailing, with ... Diagram for the determination of the Courses and Distances, 1858. BL Maps 88710.(6.)

By 1886 the shape of the continent as we now know it had started to emerge. This chart was published in The Scottish Geographical Magazine and shows a ‘Supposed outline of [the] Antarctic Continent’ - a reminder perhaps of the, ‘Terra Incognita’, of old. But the extent of what is now known is indicated in the coastal detail, complete with heights of land and depths of sea, given here in shades of orange and blue.

Chart of the south polar region published in 1886 in The Scottish Geographical Magazine

South Polar Chart, in The Scottish Geographical Magazine, vol 2 p 576, 1886. BL Ac.6182.

The next article will continue the tour, from the ‘Heroic Era’ of Antarctic exploration up to the present day...

Nick Dykes