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.
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
17 December 2020
Pandemic maps: science, size and simplicity
2020 has certainly been a year for maps, though not one for which any of us will feel grateful. I’m referring to the proliferation of often doom-laden public maps illustrating the spread (and receding – more of this please) of Covid-19 across the UK. Throughout the year, interactive maps have appeared on online media outlet pages, and most prominently, maps have featured along with graphs and charts in daily government briefings into the official response to the virus.
Data visualisations have played an important role in keeping the public informed, and for demonstrating the scientific evidence behind the adoption of measures to combat the pandemic. Occasionally the quality of data visualisation has not been to standard. Professor James Cheshire of UCL Geography has written about this, providing some cardinal rules such as ’explain your working’ and ‘keep it simple.’
This latter rule has been well understood by the makers of public maps for centuries. Before the computer screen, maps had to work hard in order to be legible and intelligible by large groups of people from potentially large distances away. From the 1840s in the UK, large maps were specifically designed with bolder lines and reduced information in order to function, for example, in large elementary school settings.
Large maps were also used as backdrops for large gatherings and meetings. Remember those?
If you want your map to be seen and understood by a lot of people, make it as clear as possible. Of course, this isn't always practical: nobody wants to be accused of ‘dumbing-down’. And there is no getting away from the fact that geography is complicated and maps can be misleading, particularly when it involves mapping people who are neither static nor evenly spread. Thus the map of the UK divided into counties or regions and coloured by numbers of Covid cases per 100,000 people is falsely reassuring: large, rural and comparatively Covid-free counties dominate visually over smaller, more concentrated and consequently more affected urban areas (tools such as inset maps, and more arresting colours and tones, each of them subjective in their own way, have helped).
Though there were earlier attempts, it was only really towards the end of the 20th century that algorithms enabled population figures (such as UK census data) to be visualised spatially in digital maps. For some examples, see the cartograms from Danny Dorling’s ‘New Social Atlas of Britain (1995) and also ‘Worldmapper’ Tina Gotthardt and Benjamin Hennig’s terrific up-to-date world cartograms where the size of a state is visualised in human terms, such as the relative size of its population or, as here, its proportion of confirmed Coronavirus cases over a particular period.
Maps need to be clear and understandable. But of course there’s also a lot to be said for complexity. People like scientific data, and this year has been big year for science and its associated debates. Historically, there are no shortage of maps whose creators have clearly delighted in cramming as much scientific content into them as possible, even to the point of confusion. We might call this the rhetorical use of science in maps, the deployment of science an alluring device to emphasise the accuracy, seriousness or reliability of what is being shown, or even as a self-promoting device used by a mapmaker to demonstrate his or her scientific acumen.
03 December 2020
Bushfire maps of Australia
Last week another temperature record was set in Sydney, Australia – the overnight minimum temperature of 25.4 degrees Celsius was the highest ever for November, higher even than the historical daytime average for the month. This is one of a string of new records set there over recent years.
Graphics courtesy of Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, above, and BBC, below.
With heat comes the risk of bushfires, which have once again started to burn across the region, reminding us of the catastrophic fire season that was experienced last year - now known as ‘Black Summer’. In total an estimated area of between 18 and 24 million hectares burned - comparable in size to the area of Great Britain - with the loss of 34 lives, over 3,500 properties destroyed, and estimates ranging from one to three billion mammals, birds and reptiles killed.
This map depicts the state of fires in the region around Sydney on one of the worst days of the crisis, and was issued to the public through the New South Wales Rural Fire Service website to encourage evacuation from areas under immediate threat. The British Library imaging studios made a large format print from the file to be kept in the maps collection.
Potential fire spread prediction for Saturday 21 December 2019, NSW Rural Fire Service. BL Maps X.17367.
The area shown extends around 150 miles from north to south. In particular the map indicates the plight of towns along the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, which are caught between bushfires to the north and to the south. The prediction shows the highway being cut off by fire to the north-west of Katoomba, and the outskirts of Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls falling under threat from ember attack, which forced large numbers of inhabitants to evacuate eastwards to Sydney.
Fortunately the worst did not come to pass, and over the following days back-burning operations – where controlled fires are started ahead of the oncoming blaze to deprive it of fuel – kept the fire fronts largely at bay. Some of these can be seen in irregular dark areas of burning to the north-east of Katoomba on a screenshot of the Rural Fire Service’s ‘Fires Near Me’ mobile site.
Screen shot of Fires Near Me mobile webpage, NSW Rural Fire Service, 25 December 2019.
It was not until torrential rains fell in early February that these fires were finally extinguished.
Debate continues around what caused the fires to be so extreme. By June of 2019 record high temperatures and longstanding conditions of drought had led experts to warn of an extended fire season to come, and many attribute these underlying conditions to climate change.
Others also point the finger to an alleged reduction in the use of fire management techniques learned from, and still practised by, Indigenous people. This map of Arnhem Land in northern Australia shows the results of a collaboration between scientists and Indigenous people, where the frequency of ‘hot fires’ has been reduced in areas deliberately burned during the previous cold season.
Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia, Macquarie, 2005, fig.3.17. BL Maps 234.b.40.
Whichever factors led last year's fires to be so extreme, most agree that bushfires are an inevitable part of Australian life. An ambition harboured by many, perhaps, but that is yet to be achieved, is expressed by the author of a 1976 study, 'Bushfire: history, prevention, control' (BL HMNTS X.322/8372) - ‘Fire has been part of the Australian environment for a very long time. I hope that... this book conveys the sense that fire and man must live together, not in a master/servant relationship, but as co-habitants in a finely balanced environment.’
Only yesterday, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, declared, ‘Our planet is broken. Nature always strikes back and is doing so with gathering force and fury’. We can only hope that the fire season to come is not like the last.
13 November 2020
The King’s Topographical Collection wonders
You may already be aware with all the recent publicity surrounding the release of the first batch of images from the King’s Topographical Collection that this is indeed an incredible resource with countless unique maps and views. I thought I would share with you some of my favourite items which I think are wonderful examples you may encounter while browsing the collection. Fascinating not only because of the unusual format of some of the items or unexpected subject matter but also the fact that they provide a glimpse of what was interesting and worth collecting back in the 18th and 19th centuries. With 18,000 images available on Flickr there is plenty to discover!
Maps K.Top.63.40. Tour de Cordouan, a l'Entrée de la Garonne. About 1680.
This 17th century intricate architectural drawing shows the structure of the Cordouan lighthouse (Phare de Cordouan). What is unusual about this drawing is the use of flaps which are pasted over a round base representing the building. These flaps can be lifted to reveal a detailed layout of the various levels of the lighthouse.
Phare de Cordouan is situated at sea near the mouth of the Gironde Estuary 4.3 miles off the French coast and was constructed in 1611 to Louis de Foix, the royal engineer’s design. The original structure comprised of five storeys and included the grand entrance hall, King’s chambers, a chapel, apartments for the keepers and, of course, the lantern itself. The entire building was richly ornamented with particular attention paid to grand décor and its unique design became a symbol of power. Phare de Cordouan is one of the oldest lighthouses in France and is still in use today.
Maps K.Top.36.24.2.b. Plan of the most remarkable effects of the earthquake, which happened ye 27th of May, 1773; at the Birches, in the Parish of Buildwas and near Coalbrookdale in the County of Salop… 1773.
This unusual map represents an aftermath of a geological event which occurred in 1773 near the village of Buildwas in Shropshire. The eye-catching title resembles a sensationalist headline style although soon after the event it was established that the cause was a landslip rather than an earthquake - in the mapmaker’s defence the term earthquake was used occasionally to describe a landslip in the late 18th century. Whatever the cause, the map is a contemporary record of an event that significantly changed the local landscape and impacted the community.
It delineates the extent of the damage including the pre- and post- earthquake configuration of the area such as the road location, the old and the new course of the River Severn, as well as the chasms and areas where the ground was raised. The force of water damaged the existing bridge which was eventually replaced in 1796 by a cast iron bridge built to the design of the Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford (it was actually his first iron bridge). The map was published just four months after the event in the context of an inquiry into the reconstruction of the turnpike road and the river channel.
Maps K.Top.27.41.7. Fox's new floating bath, now lying opposite Surry Stairs, near Somerset Place, on the Middlesex Side of the Thames, for the Reception & Use of Bathers. About 1810.
This rare ephemera from the beginning of the 19th century advertises an innovative and rather bizarre concept: a boat specifically constructed to serve as public baths. Conveniently moored on the River Thames in central London this floating facility would be ‘the compleatest and best adapted of its kind for bathing in England’.
The adventurous entrepreneur worked out all the logistics explained in the accompanying text. The floating baths would be made available on a subscription or a single-entry basis and serviced by watermen transporting the bathers to and from the boat. There was a promise of a pleasant experience in the stylish décor and even health benefits claiming that the facility was recommended by doctors. These were rather doubtful claims as bathing in the Thames surely could not be beneficial considering how polluted the River was in the 19th century. There is no record that such a boat was ever constructed but the idea was realised on a much larger scale later in the century when in the 1870s floating baths opened on the Westminster embankment with water filtering systems in place.
Maps K.Top.119.17. [A coloured chart of the upper part of Lake Erie at Fort Erie and a detailed plan of Fort Erie, together with three cross sectional drawings]. 1764.
This manuscript plan of Fort Erie (Ontario, Canada) is a prime example of fine draughtsmanship. It has an artistic element to it with lot of attention paid to aesthetics. The plan incorporates the fortification elements drawn to different scales to fit the sheet without making it look overcrowded. Produced by Franz Pfister an engineer and an accomplished surveyor with a military purpose in mind, it provides an insight into 18th century fortification design techniques and shows in detail individual structures including cross sections and views of buildings.
Fort Erie was constructed on the north-western shore of Lake Erie in 1764 after the Seven Years’ War when Great Britain gained the territories in New France. It was the first British fort built in order to establish a communication network between the Niagara River and the Upper Great Lakes and played a significant role as a supply depot for the British troops during the American Revolution.
Maps K.Top.117.24.1.a. Sketch of the Northern Part of Africa Exhibiting the Geographical Information Collected by the African Association. Compiled by J. Rennell. 1790. & 1792.
This printed map is a great example that demonstrates the process by which maps were brought up to date. It was prepared for the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior of Africa and contains manuscript annotations displaying the new geographical detail acquired by Major Daniel Houghton during his expedition of 1790-1791. The updates include amendments to spelling of place names, corrections of positioning of settlements, the courses of rivers, as well as extent of lakes and mountain ranges.
The map along with the accompanying handwritten Memoir and a letter from Henry Beaufoy a secretary of the Association, to Sir Frederic Barnard, George III’s librarian, constitute a primary resource on Houghton’s expedition. The documents reveal that the expedition was not strictly a geographical enquiry. Major Houghton also investigated the feasibility of establishing a trade route, commercial prospects and potential demand for commodities which could be supplied by the British including military equipment and supply of ammunition.
31 July 2020
The Subterranean World
For centuries scholars speculated about the Earth’s composition with many believing that our planet’s centre was occupied by an eternal inferno. By the mid-17th century geographers were attempting to describe man’s physical environment and maps played an important part in this process. The great minds were interested in and studied simultaneously a wide range of subjects including natural sciences, medicine, philosophy and religion during this era. This universal approach resulted in some rather unusual (even bizarre by today’s standards) theories – a combination of scientific and theological concepts.
A model of the Earth showing network of fire channels connecting surface features with inferno located in the centre. Systema ideale pyrophylaciorum subterraneorum, quorum montes vulcanii, veluti, spiracula quædam existant. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1, pp.180-181
One such fascinating work held by the British Library is Mundus Subterraneous (Subterranean World) compiled by the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. Published in 1665 in two volumes this pioneering work on the physical geography of the Earth fully embraced the comprehensive scholarship approach. Mundus Subterraneous was intended as a compendium of universal knowledge. Now it is not only a brilliant example of the range of scientific subjects of interest that a 17th century scholar would undertake, it more importantly demonstrates that around this time maps were recognised as a powerful scientific tool. In order to support his complex theories Kircher included in his work a series of maps providing an explanation of terrestrial phenomena. He based his thesis on various sources ranging from the classical authors and travel accounts including those sent by missionaries in the Andes in South America, as well as his own observations. His first hand investigation of the about-to-erupt Vesuvius crater demonstrates he was not just a typical armchair scholar, he actually had an inquisitive mind and whenever possible took the opportunity to expand his knowledge.
Systema ideale quo exprimitur, aquarum per canales hydragogos subterraneos ex mari et in montium hydrophylacia protrusio, aquarumque subterrestrium per pyragogos canales concoctus. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1, pp.174v-175
Tabula geographico-hydrographica motus oceani, currentes, abyssos, montes ignivomos in universo orbe indicans, notat hæc fig. abyssos montes vulcanios. Amsterdam, 1665. 32.k.1., pp. 124v-125
Kircher’s spectacular work contains maps which along with recognisable geography display some unusual features. In his vision of the surrounding world he considered the Earth as the centre of the Universe. In order to explain the surface features and geographical configurations observed in different parts of the world he proposed the existence of a network of subterranean communications – a system of channels which allow flow of the three elements: water, air and fire. Several maps in his work depict the Earth’s interior showing these underground structures.
Hydrophylacium Africæ precipuum, in Montibus Lunæ Situm, Lacus et Flumina præcipua fundens. ubi et nova inventio Originis Nili describitur. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., pp.72-73
Typus hydrophylacii intra Alpes Rhæticas, quod fundit totius Europæ celebrrima flumina ; uti patet. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., p.70
The subjects explained in the accompanied cartographic material include the underground distribution of fire, the mechanics of volcanos and the existence of hot springs. The maps in Kircher’s book also depict the subterranean origin of lakes and rivers, and the circulation of water in oceans including the currents and whirlpools (providing the Norwegian maelstrom and the whirlpools in the Polar Regions as examples).
Descriptio Vorticis Norvegiæ et Bothniæ eorumqe mirabilium effectuum, quos in fluxu et refluxu operantur. Amsterdam, 1678. 460.e.9., p.152
Poli Arctici constitutio. Amstelodami,1665. 505.ee.4., p.160
With its bold new scientific theories and the beautifully engraved maps Mundus subterraneus was a huge success and was re-published several times. Kircher’s work popularised the use of cartographic materials in publications on natural sciences and influenced the development of the Earth sciences including geology, hydrology and geophysics.
17 July 2020
Maps and photography: a brief history, part 3
This final chapter discusses a number of cartographic innovations from the middle of the twentieth century onwards that exploited the ability of photographs to capture data - from developments in aerial photogrammetry, through multispectral satellite mapping and surveillance imagery, to the digital map platforms of today.
Technical innovations that had begun during the Second World War soon extended into the civilian sphere with the widespread adoption of aerial photogrammetry by national mapping agencies worldwide – a development that arguably had a greater impact than any other on mapping practices of the twentieth century. New radar surveying techniques allowed air photographs to be pinpointed on the ground more accurately, more economically and over far greater areas than before, bringing vast regions of inaccessible terrain within the mapmaker’s scope for the first time.
Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the whole of the Soviet Union was mapped in this way, resulting in over 300,000 sheets at a scale of 1:25,000. During the same period, the British Directorate of Overseas Surveys also covered over 2.5 million square miles of land, mostly over former British colonies and administrations that had no mapping capability of their own. The image below shows an isolated settlement and nearby areas of subsistence agriculture in eastern Nigeria. Maps made from such images contributed to state economic and social planning initiatives.
Aerial photograph of Nanguru, Nigeria, 1974. Image courtesy National Collection of Aerial Photography.
Mapping vast, sometimes featureless, inland regions led to some eccentric examples of cartography. The following detail is taken from one Australian map sheet that covers more than 2,750 square kilometers of the Great Sandy Desert. Each square is one kilometre on the side. Of the total 3,062 sheets in the series covering the whole country, only half were printed – this sheet was selected for print on account of a single track that meanders briefly along the bottom edge, before diverting back to the adjacent sheet beneath.
Detail of Australia 1:100,000 topographic survey, Weenoo Sheet 3256, 1972. BL Maps 90050.(125.).
Widespread use of air photographs also led to security concerns. As part of the British reconstruction effort after the war, the RAF covered the whole of Great Britain with aerial photography in order to assess bomb damage. Between 1945 and 1951 the Ordnance Survey published the photography as OS Mosaics, large-scale rectified photomaps of towns, cities and some rural areas.
After many images had already been published, it was feared that foreign states might benefit from the level of detail of sensitive sites that was revealed. Further editions of the same sites were therefore over-painted before publication in order to remove or disguise these features. The military airfield shown in the image below has been replaced by a fictitious pattern of fields and country lanes in the later version beneath. In 1954 OS Mosaics were removed from sale entirely.
Air photo mosaics of Britain, sheet 26/32 NE, 1946 (above), 1950 (below). BL Maps O.S.M. Image courtesy Lie of the Land, pub The British Library, 2001.
An alternative and innovative approach to photomapping was taken in Sweden. From as early as 1935, aerial photography was incorporated into the Ekonomisk Karta land use series. The large-scale photographs provided a base layer onto which topographic, cadastral and land use symbols and colours were added.
Detail of Ekonomisk Karta Över Sverige, Sheet 20K7D, 1959. BL Maps 35290.(48.). Image courtesy Lantmäteriet.
Stereo pairs of air photographs could be made into three-dimensional ‘anaglyph’ images, which were viewed through coloured glasses. Examples of these were created for military planning purposes during the Second World War, such as a German series from 1944 showing the Istrian coastline (held at BL Maps Y.3842.). After the war, the French national mapping agency published a number of anaglyphs in a Relief Form Atlas of 1956. The purpose of the atlas was to teach readers to understand the mapping of a wide variety of landscapes by showing three-dimensional views alongside maps of the same location. The following image of the volcanic cone atop Mount Karthala in the Comoros is striking when viewed through a pair of red and blue 3D glasses.
Anaglyph image and map of complex crater, Comoros, 1949, in Relief Form Atlas, pub IGN, 1956. BL Maps Ref. 912 1956.
Images taken from aeroplanes were soon joined by those taken from satellites, after the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 sparked the Space Race between themselves and the USA. The speed of technological developments over this period is encapsulated in the three images following. This annotated photograph taken from a military aeroplane in 1936 captures the curvature of the Earth for the first time, and shows the highest point then reached by man.
The first photograph ever made showing the division between the troposhere and the stratosphere and also the actual curvature of the earth, National Geographic Society, 1936. BL Maps Y.84. Image courtesy Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Only two decades later an unmanned Russian spacecraft, Luna 3, took the first pictures of the far side of the moon as it orbited in 1959. The images were transmitted back to Earth by radio link and published in Moscow the following year in the Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon.
Atlas obratnoi storony luny [Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon], pub Akademia NAUK SSSR, 1960. BL Maps 29.b.68.
Within the next ten years man too had travelled round the moon. American astronaut William Anders took this iconic photograph, which looks back at the Earth as it rises above the lunar surface – an image of the world that had previously been possible only in the imagination.
Earthrise, 1968. Image © NASA.
Both the Soviet Union and the USA launched military reconnaissance satellites during the early 1960s that were capable of creating high resolution imagery for intelligence and mapping purposes. Civilian satellites followed, perhaps the most successful of which was Landsat, launched by the USA in 1972.
Multispectral satellite imagery became an essential feature of land survey and resource management, leading to a proliferation of thematic maps, and a new category of mapping under the title satellite image maps. The ease with which satellite imagery could track changes over time in the environment also brought new insights to many areas of study, including urbanisation, de-forestation, analysis of weather systems, and ocean dynamics.
Upper Chesapeake Bay satellite image map, second experimental edition, USGS, 1972. BL Maps X.2987. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
Nowadays aerial photographs and satellite images are ubiquitous in digital mapping products that have become a common feature of everyday life. 2001 saw the launch of Google Earth, an application in which satellite imagery and aerial photography are draped over digital terrain models to provide interactive three-dimensional map views.
Screenshot showing the Island of Stromboli, Google Earth, 2020.
In other applications, maps and photographs are now interchangeable - users can choose between map or satellite viewing modes.
Screenshots taken from Google Maps, 2020.
Google Street View, launched in 2007, integrates terrestrial photography and cartography to create a model of the world from a horizontal viewpoint – a mode of representation with antecedents in artworks of former times. In the early 1900s, Eugène Atget started to make images of the older parts of Paris with the intention to record streets and buildings that risked being torn down and re-developed. By 1920 he was able to write, ‘This enormous artistic and documentary collection is now complete. I may say that I have in my possession all of Old Paris’.
Cabaret ‘Au Port-Salut’ by Eugène Atget, 1903. Image courtesy Bibliotèque historique de la Ville de Paris.
Half a century later, American artist Ed Ruscha created an artwork entitled Every Building on the Sunset Strip by fixing a camera onto the back of his truck and driving up and down as it took pictures on a timer. His intention was to recreate the experience of moving through the landscape.
Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha, 1966. Image courtesy National Gallery of Australia.
Google Street View now also employs cameras fixed to cars, or strapped to pedestrians’ backs, to create strips of 360-degree images stitched together. The artistry and focus on aesthetic have been lost in these pictures made by machines, but those qualities have been replaced by functionality. Google’s georeferenced, navigable imagery allows users to search and interact with a vast database of (mainly business) information. The corner building shown below, tagged so that one can choose to see the menu or make a booking at the restaurant within, is the same as that in the Atget photograph from 100 years before.
Screenshot taken from Google Street View, 2020.
The perceived realism of digital maps and photographs makes them particularly persuasive. However, two posts reproduced from Twitter, below, document conflicting facts about the shooting down of an American drone by Iranian forces in June 2019. The first, published by US Central Command, shows the drone flying through international, not Iranian, airspace when it was hit, while the second image, posted the following day by the Foreign Minister of Iran, shows the drone in a different location, within Iranian airspace.
Screenshot of Image posted by US Central Command on Twitter, 2019.
Image posted by Foreign Minister of Iran on Twitter, 2019.
This incident reminds us that the latest generation of maps and images remains as susceptible as any before to manipulation or exploitation.
Today more than ever, maps and photographs go hand-in-hand in our ceaseless attempts to capture, model, and mould the world around us.
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