THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

37 posts categorized "Visual arts"

25 November 2020

King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick

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In October we released 18,000 digital images of early maps and views from the Topographical Collection of George III. View the collection on Flickr Commons, and access images via the maps and views' catalogue records on Explore. Here's my choice of five compelling maps from the collection. 

1. Plan of Manila, 1739.

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D. Antonio de Roxas, Manila, c. 1739

This is the only recorded example of this 1739 edition of the 1717 town plan of Manila in the Philippines. Manila was, and is, a key international centre of trade, and the map was actually produced in the town (in a tiny vignette we can see a copy being presented by the Spanish governor of the Philippines to King Philip V of Spain). There’s probably no better image of a bustling commercial site, proof that a town is not just about its architecture and layout, but its people and processes too. This map has additional resonance, because Manila was besieged and looted by the British in 1762, and annotations in the map’s bottom right refer to aspects of the battle. Could it be George himself annotating the map according to reports he had received of the battle? 

D. Antonio Fernandez de Roxas, TOPOGRAPHIA DE LA CIUDAD DE MANILA : CAPITAL de las yslas Philipinas

Manila: Hipoloto Ximenez, [around 1739].

Maps K.Top 116.40

2. Map and survey of Plymouth Harbour, 1780

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Matthew Dixon, Plan of Plymouth, 1780.

This is the map that reminds me most of the strong links between mathematics and art in maps. It’s a large and serious military drawing, officially commissioned and with an accompanying report, of a key strategic naval installation and site of British maritime strength and power. It was drawn up as part of the earliest mapping activities for what would become the Ordnance Survey a few years later, enacted in response to the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France. So why is it so stunningly and mesmerizingly beautiful? It’s a question that should infuriate everyone who sees maps purely as cold communicators of facts and 'data.'

Matthew Dixon, Colonel, surveyor.
‘A General Plan with a Project for the Defence of the Arsenals of Plymouth, / By Lieut: Colonel Dixon Chief Engineer of the Plymouth Division. Revised and corrected by Geo. Beck Jan. 1780.

Maps K.Top 11.79.2.TAB

 

3. Aquatint view of Kingston-upon-Thames, 1813

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Thomas Horner, Kingston-upon-Thames, 1813.

Thomas Horner, Kingston upon Thames. 1813

Maps K.Top 40.15.3.11.TAB

Is it a map or is it a view? What is that ominous large shadow looming in, Holbein-like, from stage left? Who cares! This is an intriguing and brilliantly composed aquatint print showing a collection of views of picturesque Kingston-upon-Thames. From above, in profile, from a distance away, it’s a multi-faceted image that invites us to dissolve our perception of the differences between vistas and to see them as a combined and rounded description of a place. Cartographic cubism! As Horner himself wrote, ‘…the whole, blended into one design by a picturesque fore-ground, forms a faithful view of the parish.’ It’s a joyous visual experience, with a few intrigues and little jokes (note the bungling surveyor- stonemasons in the foreground) thrown in for good measure.

4. India, 1619

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William Baffin, Map of the Mughal Empire, 1619.

This is a portentous map - the earliest British printed map of part of India. It marks the beginning of British cartographic involvement in India that would reach new levels of science-led imperial control through mapping by 1900. The Roe-Baffin map was produced following the earliest English trade mission to the Mughal empire. It has a stellar cast: Sir Thomas Roe, the diplomat who headed up the embassy. William Baffin, the navigator who went on to attempt to locate the North West Passage (Baffin Island is named after him). Reynold Elstrack, one of the earliest native English engravers.

The map was one of very few English-produced maps to provide a model for later Dutch atlas maps by Blaeu, Janssonius and others. English mapmakers were more often the copycats. The engraving of a Mughal seal has been expertly assessed by the British Library’s Dr Annabel Gallop.

William Baffin, 1584-1622, cartographer. A Description of East India conteyninge th'Empire of the Great Mogoll. / William Baffin deliniauit, et excudebat. ; Renold Elstrack sculp.

[London] : Are to be Sold in Pauls Church yarde. by Thomas Sterne Globemaker., [1619]

Maps K.Top 115.22

5. The United States of America, 1782

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John Mitchell, Map of the British Colonies in North America..., 1775 (updated to 1782).

This is a map with a story and a reminder of the power – and paranoia – that can be associated with maps. John Mitchell’s map of ‘the dominions of North America’ is a tremendous cartographic achievement in its level of description of this vast area. Yes, standing on the shoulders of earlier maps, but adding a vast quantity of descriptive notes and even including naming Native American nations (who were nevertheless ignored in what followed).

On another level, this late edition of the map is a piece of history, being the copy used by the British delegation at the 1782 Treaty of Paris where the terms of the peace following Britain’s defeat at the hands of the United States were established. The map has been marked up in red to show the lines of the new border the British would be happy with. But at the conference they realised that they didn’t have to cede quite as much as they had drawn. The map suggests that Upper Canada (much of modern-day Ontario) was also available to the USA. So later the British government ordered the British Museum to lock the map away so that nobody, particularly no inquisitive Americans, might see it and demand any more.

It was hidden from view until the early 20th century.  

John Mitchell, 1711-1768, cartograph.er. A MAP of the BRITISH COLONIES in North America…

[London] : Publish'd by the Author Feb.ry 13.th 1755 according to Act of Parliament : Printed for Jefferys & Faden Geographers to the KING at the corner of S.t Martins Lane Charing Cross London, [about 1775, with annotations to 1782].

Maps K.Top 118.49.b.

 

Tom Harper

 

13 November 2020

The King’s Topographical Collection wonders

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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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

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. 

 

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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.

22 October 2020

Cataloguing the King’s Topographical Collection

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In this guest blog post, curatorial lead of the King's Topographical Collection cataloguing and digitisation project Felicity Myrone reflects upon the historic cataloguing project. 

As we celebrate making a large section of the King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) accessible via Flickr and Explore, it seems a good moment to look back on how we reached this point.

Visual items such as maps, drawings, prints and plate books are some of the most valuable and vulnerable items in library collections, and yet most are not widely known.

Nineteenth century British Museum catalogues briefly listed K.Top by place depicted. We hope that a wider, fuller and more integrated approach will open up the collection to cross- and interdisciplinary research, now possible from home, worldwide.

Maps K.Top 106.63.r.
AFBEELDING van den DAM het STADHUYS de NIEUWE-KERCK de WAAG, en de OUDE-KERCKS-TOOREN van AMSTERDAM. / J. van der Heiden. (Published in Amsterdam, between 1690 and 1710). Maps K.Top 106.63.r.

Taking catalogue records from 1829

K.Top printed catalogue excerpt
Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, Etc. Forming the Geographical and Topographical Collection Attached to the Library of His Late Majesty King George the Third, and Presented by His Maj. King George the Fourth to the British Museum, London, 1829, Volume 1, p.32

to now

Screengrab of a K.Top record from Explore
Current Explore record. We retain and layer both former catalogues’ descriptions where applicable, now expanded with data so that what is depicted beyond place is discoverable for the first time. We include searchable names for those involved in the production and ownership of the item including artists, cartographers, printmakers, publishers, previous owners and dedicatees, transcribed titles, publication details, description of the scene/object/map, including decorations such as armorials and cartouches, reference to selective secondary sources, co-ordinates of the place represented for views/the coverage of maps, subject headings, plus searchable medium and genre terms using GMGPC and LCSH, curatorial notes such as reference to related works in other collections, links when items are part of a series, and copy-specific information (condition, security stamping, annotations, bindings etc). Exhibition and conservation histories are noted where they were known to the cataloguers, but they should not be taken as definitive.

Since 2013 16,226 K.Top prints and drawings and 12,149 maps have been catalogued as single records. Just 400 maps await full cataloguing; while this is work in progress there will be some duplication and anomalies on Explore.

How did we get here?

Peter Barber established the project while Head of Cartography and Topography at the British Library. Many other past and present colleagues have supported it, not least Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Hugh Brown, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.

We began cataloguing in 2013, Peter asking me to oversee views and my colleague Tom Harper to oversee maps. We appointed Alex Ault (happily still with us, now in Modern Manuscripts) and Mercedes Ceron for prints and drawings, and Kate Marshall and Magdalena Kowalczuk for maps.

As Peter retired in 2015 I became curatorial lead of the project, and cataloguers from then on mastered describing both visual and cartographic materials, on a bibliographic system (MARC records on Aleph). Overcoming the challenges this sets has been one of the greatest learning curves for the Library. We then appointed Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Mercedes Ceron (again), then Rebecca Whiteley, and later Marianne Yule, working with successive project officers Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale and Tamara Tubb.

All were appointed on short term contracts funded by generous donations. The department became a hive of activity, ever ready to adapt to unfamiliar materials and systems and coach each other, and produced an average of 15 records a day each while finding time to contribute to other Library work. It was truly inspiring to oversee a team with knowledge beyond place to include costume, natural history, anatomical art, architecture and antiquarianism.

The collection is presented as plate books, atlases and single sheets mounted into large albums by place depicted: it can be tricky to remember that an item related to the one you are cataloguing is found elsewhere, possibly in an item that you or your colleague looked at days or months ago. As the cataloguing and digitisation progressed making these connections became easier, but there will inevitably be data we have missed.

It has also been particularly rewarding to work with PhD students: Jeremy Brown, who undertook a collaborative PhD on Italian maps in the collection and later worked as a cataloguer, Fred Smith, who also joined as a cataloguer having undertaken a PhD placement cataloguing an album of Charles I’s prints, and Emily Roy whose PhD placement involved analysing, visualising and digitally mapping the new K.Top metadata.

Many thanks too to MA students from UCL and Leicester University, Xiaojun Xie, Disi Wu and Yiyun Gong, who joined us on work placements and provided valuable assistance to the project. Xiaojun processed our digital images, and Disi and Yiyun helped with cataloguing and georeferencing

The project overlaps and coincided with the publication of a catalogue raisonné of the Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. By permission of the Warburg and Royal Collections and the hard work of Victoria Morris in converting the records to MARC, we now also feature Mark McDonald’s full and expert cataloguing of all of Cassiano dal Pozzo’s prints at the British Library.

We hope that our new records and images will highlight the visual resources we hold as a global resource and the potential in revisiting and cataloguing images in greater detail than is usually attempted in a library environment.

Felicity Myrone, Lead Curator, Western Prints & Drawings 

13 October 2020

The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released

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Today we release 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III into the public domain.

The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV. This is the first of two planned image releases.

The images are made available on the image sharing site Flickr, which links to fully searchable catalogue records on Explore the British Library.

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The 'Duke's plan of New York. London, 1664. Maps K.Top 121.35.

For the first time, anybody who wishes to can remotely view, search, research and enjoy one of the world’s richest and most varied public collections of the history of place.

The idea of remote or virtual travelling is a particularly common one today thanks to the seamless interfaces of online map viewer that simulate the idea of airborne travel and evoke the excitement of discovery. However, the idea of virtual travel has a long history, and is well illustrated by the travel-averse king who resided in his palaces and viewed the world through his collection of maps and views. This is the Google Earth of the late 18th century and the journeys it can take you on are no less informative, intriguing, and instructive of the many facets of past eras.

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Thomas Milne, Milne's plan of the cities of London and Westminster.... 1800

 What is K.Top?

The King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) is one part of the Geographical Collection of King George III (the other parts are the Maritime and Military collections). The nucleus of the collection was assembled from 1660, but added to considerably after 1760 by the king’s librarians and agents. The collection was presented to the British Museum (from 1973 British Library) as a distinct part of the King's Library in 1823,. For more on the history of the collection see this post by Felicity Myrone.

What is in it?

It’s probably easier to list what isn’t in this collection. It totals around 40,000 printed and manuscript maps, views, charts, texts, architectural plans, prints, atlases and ephemera. The collection is arranged geographically, with around 40% dedicated to the British Isles, one third covering the Europe of the Grand Tour, and 10% for British areas of influence such as North America, the West Indies and India.

Maps K.Top 23.21.2.h.
Nicholas Hawksmoor, 'The West front of Waping (Wapping) Church Stepney,' Aug. 1714. Maps K.Top 23.21.2.h.

 What themes does it include? 

Too many to mention, but here’s a sample: landscape, tourism, antiquarianism, architecture, rural life, fine art, agriculture, medieval and church studies, urban planning and development, industrialisation – canals and transport, military history, the history of collecting, the history of cartography, the Grand Tour, royal palaces and stately homes, science and invention, the history of exploration, American Independence. 

As a product of the 16th-19th centuries, the collection is also associated with imperialism, and the role of maps in facilitating imperialist activities both practically and ideologically. We hope that the release of this material will facilitate research and greater understanding of these aspects of the past.  

How can I access it?

18,000 images are available via the file-sharing site Flickr, which you can find here https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157716220271206

Images from the collection are also tagged George III Topographical Collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/georgeiiitopographicalcollection

There are links to full Marc cataloguing records on Explore the British Library. To view a digital image from the catalogue record on Explore, select 'I Want This' and then 'View Online Digital Item.'

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Molo di Napoli, con terribile eruzione del Vesuvio mandata fuori la sera de 15 del mese di Giugno, 1794. Maps K.Top 83.61.k.

 How about georeferencing?

Glad you asked. For those of you who like a challenge, we have made all of the maps from this release available on our Georeferencer Tool.  See how you get on with geolocating the maps. Some will be easier than others.

What can I do with the images?

You are free to study, enjoy, download and remix these images as you see fit. When doing so, please bear in mind any potential cultural or other sensitivities associated with them. Importantly, we’d really like to know what you are doing with the images so please let us know @BLMaps or by emailing maps@bl.uk, we’d love to hear from you.

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[Thamesis Desriptio] / Robert Adams authore 1588. Maps K.Top 6.17.

 

Who do we have to thank?

So very many people. Here goes:

Generous trusts and individuals including the American Trust for the British Library, Art Scholars Charitable Trust, Blue Rubicon, Viscountess Boyd Charitable Trust, Christies Education, Coles Medlock Charitable Foundation, Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Dunard Fund, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, Englefield Charitable Trust, Edward and Dorothy Cadbury Trust, Hadfield Trust, John R Murray Charitable Trust, Ken Biggs Charitable Trust, Samuel H Kress Foundation, Langtree Trust, London Historians Ltd, London Topographical Society, Maunby Investment Management Ltd , PH Charitable Trust, Peck Stacpoole Foundation,  Pitt Rivers Charitable Trust, Reed Foundation, Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Swinton Charitable Trust, Trefoil Trust, Turtleton Charitable Trust, Cyrus Alai, Caroline and Peter Batchelor, Michael Buehler, Tom Boyd, Richard H Brown, Claire Gapper, William B Ginsberg, Jaime Gonzalez, Martin Halusa, Jerome S Handler, Peter Holland, Tina Holland, Arthur Holzheimer, J Michael Horgan, John Leighfield, Norman Leventhal, Sri Prakash Lohia, Tom and Hilary Lynch, Lynda Partridge, Robert E Pierce, Carolyn Ritchie, David Rumsey,  J T Touchton, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Peter A Woodsford and others who wish to remain anonymous.

Dedicated project staff Felicity Myrone, Hugh Brown, Alex Ault, Mercedes Ceron, Kate Marshall, Magdalena Kowalczuk, Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Rebecca Whiteley, Marianne Yule, Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale, Tamara Tubb, Fred Smith, Jeremy Brown and Emily Roy.

Also very dedicated British Library colleagues Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Gethin Rees, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.

And finally, none of this would have been possible without the efforts of Peter Barber, Head of British Library Map Collections until his retirement in 2015, in promoting the research value, relevance and importance of the King’s Topographical Collection to existing and new audiences.

24 September 2020

Admiralty Charts: good design in the analogue age

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UK hydrographic charts published by the British Admiralty in the early twentieth century are notable for the high density of information compressed within their two dimensions, and for the harmonious blend of registers and visual perspectives they incorporate in the pursuit of clarity. Whilst documenting local visual navigation techniques handed down over the centuries, charts from this period also feature networks of lights, beacons and buoys more recently installed around the coastlines of the British Isles.

This example, first surveyed and published through the Hydrographic Office in 1847, shows the bays of Long Island and Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland with information updated to 1909.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

Detail of Admiralty Chart 2129, Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland, 1909. BL Maps SEC.1.(2129.)

As the seabed rises towards land, the approaching navigator is assisted by depth soundings, and abbreviations that tell the composition of the seabed at each point – sand, shells, gravel... The original measurements were taken with a sounding line marked along its length in fathom intervals, that was dropped over the side of the survey vessel. The lead plummet at its end was covered with sticky pitch or tallow that brought up a sample of the sea floor beneath.

Some of these data points cluster around and almost interfere with the map title. Navigators would use these measurements to inform the plotting of their routes and, by dropping their own sounding lines, would attempt to pinpoint their location.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

Along the bottom edge of the sheet, a sketch testifies to a tradition of visual navigation techniques that have persisted even through the introduction of electronic aids later in the century. ‘View A’ provides a perspective in silhouette of the entrance to Skull Harbour, and demonstrates how Cosheen Crag in the foreground should be lined up with Barnacleeve Gap on the horizon in order to avoid rocks at Castle Ground on the way in. This horizontal view nestles on the page between the scale bar and a compass rose, while further soundings caught in-between call for a vertical viewpoint.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

The correct angle of approach to Skull Harbour is also marked with a line across the chart. A number of other sightlines bisect the chart at various points, guiding seafarers past areas of danger.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

More recent networks of buoys, beacons and lights also appear - in an update to earlier editions a light has been added at the western entrance to Baltimore Harbour. The chart indicates a wide arc facing southwards and out to sea from which the light appears white, and the crossover point upon entering the harbour from which the same light shows red.

Admiralty Chart of Long Island and Baltimore Bays, Ireland

For a distance inland, just enough of the topography - relief, landmarks, buildings and communications - is provided that might be of use to a vessel and her crew, before the detail gradually rubs to a blank on the chart.

The visual attraction of these sheets lay in the skill of the production draughtsmen whose finished drawings were transferred to copperplate for printing. From the late 1960s a programme of modernisation was introduced to update Admiralty Charts with metric units, simplified lettering and colour washes – a palette of blues for different water depths, and buff for the land – a style that persists to this day.

20 August 2020

Human maps

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This mountain bears a striking likeness to a sleeping female figure. Isn’t nature wonderful?

https://jmbihorel.myportfolio.com/winter-sleep
Jean-Michel Bihorel, Winter Sleep

It’s actually an artwork called ‘Winter Sleep’ by the digital artist Jean-Michel Bihorel. But so good is the artist’s rendering that this realistic and authentic image provides the suggestion in the viewer’s mind that the image may be an actual aerial view.

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Carte de la Lune. De J.D. Cassini, c. 1730. Maps K.Top 1.88.

Bihorel’s work sits in a long tradition of human figures in maps. Most obviously, there are parallels with the hidden female profile contained in the lunar map of the French astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini in 1680. The face is supposed to be Cassini’s wife.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/caricature-map-of-scotland
Lilian Lancaster, Caricature map of Scotland, c. 1869. Maps CC5 a 227

There is a quirkiness to the practice, which we also see in ‘metamorphic’ maps (for which there is a long tradition) in which geographical shapes are metamorphosed into human figures – Lilian Lancaster’s stock-in-trade.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Montgomery_Flagg_The_World_As_Seen_By_Him_1905_Cornell_CUL_PJM_1148_01_(cropped).jpg
James Montgomery Flagg, A map of the world as seen by him, 1907.

A similar double-take to Bihorel's work is present in the romantic postcard by James Montgomery Flagg, reflecting upon how the ardent sees the face of their loved one everywhere, even in the map.

There's a deeper tradition behind Bihorel's work as well, which is what makes it such a robust piece of work. ‘Petrification’, or the turning of humans into stone, is a relatively common end to many mythological tales, and commonly used in medieval legends to explain away human-looking rocks and hills. 

Referencing human characteristics in maps was an entirely appropriate way of reflecting upon the intuitive, emotional and spiritual synergy between people and places.

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Christopher Packe, A new philosophico chorographical chart of East-Kent..., 1743.Maps K.Top 16.24.11.tab.end.

Christopher Packe’s geological and topographical map of eastern Kent of 1743 makes the analogy between streams, rivers and valleys, and the circulatory system of the human body.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebstorf_Map#/media/File:Ebstorfer_Weltkarte_2.jpg
The Ebstorf world map, c. 1300.

Finally, the lost Ebstorf world map presents the Christian doctrine that God is one with the world (with additional reference to the act of transubstantiation) by showing God/Christ's head, hands and feet as part of the map. 

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.

21 July 2020

World Map World Cup: what happened and five things we've learnt

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We held our just-for-fun World Map World Cup during the week of 6 July. 16 carefully selected world maps (drawn from a considerably longer long list) produced from between the 11th and 20th centuries, taken from the British Library map collection, voted for by you in a series of Twitter polls. You can look back on the selection in previous blog posts here

World map world cup montage 1World map world cup montage 1

A montage of the sixteen historical maps involved the the British Library's world map world cup competition 

For those of you not on Twitter, here’s how the voting panned out.

Group stages (top two maps from each group qualified)

Group 3Group 3

Group 3Group 3

Quarter finals

Quarter final CQuarter final C

Quarter final CQuarter final C

Semi finals

Wmwc semi final 2Wmwc semi final 2

Final

Final Winner

The British Library’s ‘favourite’ world map is the mid-11th century ‘Anglo-Saxon or Cottonian World map. The British Library shop will be creating a ‘Print-on-demand’ edition of the map to celebrate (using brilliant new photography of the map taken as part of the Library’s ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ exhibition (thank you to Alison Hudson for mentioning this to me).

What did our mini map tournament tell us? Well, apart from “don’t even attempt to do an online Twitter tournament unless you are really organised and ever so slightly unhinged,” here are five key points that stood out:

1. You know what you like….. some of the time.

The voting was remarkably even, with all maps receiving at least 17% of every vote. This is really interesting for what it says about your broad appreciation for a wide range of historical mapping - even the comparatively abstract Ptolemaic maps.  

2. You’re particularly interested in non-European maps

I was keen to bring in as many non-western maps as possible to the table. Whilst this did tilt the balance (there are overwhelmingly more European than non-European maps in the British Library collection, and Islamic cartography is very poorly represented), where these went head-to-head with non-European maps, the Japanese, Chinese and Korean maps won almost every time. The Korean Cheon’hado's victory over Blaeu’s great Dutch 'Golden Age' map stood out particularly strongly.

3. Medievalists continue to rule HistoryTwitter

Not only did a medieval map win, but it was an all-medieval final. And, with the exception of the 1506 Contarini map, an all-medieval semi final draw. For two medieval maps not to make it through the group stages was something of a world cup upset (think France, football World Cup 2010). Perhaps medieval maps were comparatively over-represented, but it’s difficult to argue against this given their astonishing rarity and capacity for insight. Do not mess with Medieval Twitter!

4. You value historical significance over beauty

In the final head-to-head you had the choice of the delicate beauty of the Psalter map over the rugged historical weight of the Anglo-Saxon map, The latter won through.

5. And finally…. accuracy nowhere in sight

The map you voted the British Library’s favourite is one of our least ‘accurate’ maps in the modern conventional western sense. Despite the seeming obsession with mathematical accuracy in maps (and its particular value to the digital humanities), it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. You said it. 

Thank you again for participating, as always it couldn't have happened without you.