THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

22 posts categorized "Visual arts"

15 February 2017

How Maps Got Into the Movies

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This special guest blog post by the film historian Roland-François Lack looks at an entirely new cartographic genre which emerged during the 20th century - the cinema map or cine-map. 

'Maps first appeared in films as narrative props or background décor. Only rarely, in the early years, could any detail on the map be read, but in what I think is the earliest surviving film to show a map, Georges Méliès's 1898 La Lune à un mètre or The Astronomer's Dream, we can see the disproportionately large outline of France on the globe in the astronomer's study.

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La Lune à un mètre (Georges Méliès 1898)

The distortion foregrounds France as the source, and possibly setting, of Méliès's film. This is just the first of cinema's many cartographic manipulations to come, altering the pro-filmic reality for narrative effect.

The first map in a film I have seen on which a place name can be read is in Pathé's Le Fils du diable fait la noce à Paris, from 1906. A map is brought out in support of a recommendation that the Devil's sick son should travel to recover his spirits. London, Antwerp, Berlin, Berne and Rome are marked on the map, but it is to Paris, in the centre, that everyone points as the ideal destination:

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Le Fils du diable fait la noce à Paris (Pathé production 1906)

These maps are confections created for the films in which they figure. Where a map is merely part of the décor it is likely to be a found map, used to give realism to the setting, as in this 1908 Gaumont film showing a schoolroom:

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Les Chansons ont leur destin (Gaumont production 1908)

Cinema's interest in maps intensified when it discovered the close-up. Spectators could then read the map as they read the film, helped often by a finger pointing to the parts most relevant to the narrative, as here, in a 1910 Gaumont film about Christopher Columbus:

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Christophe Colomb (Gaumont production 1910)

This cartographic close-up is the earliest I have found, and also the first instance where the filmmakers have put effort into finding an historically appropriate prop. The map is based on a fifteenth-century Imago Mundi, or more exactly on the simplified versions of that map found in nineteenth-century accounts of medieval cartography.

Travel, including adventurous exploration,  is one of the four major narrative contexts in which films show maps. Of the others, I have already mentioned the schoolroom, where maps are generally background décor. Crime, whether in its preparation or investigation, also demands an attention to maps, but the narrative context that has most often put maps on screen is war. The cinematic representation of the 1914-1918 war brought with it an intensification of cartographic scrutiny. In war rooms and at the Front soldiers are shown studying maps:

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Une page de gloire (Léonce Perret 1915)

The need to explain military action to those at home initiated a different mode of cartographic representation, the animated map. Now a convention in narrative fictions, it has its origins in documentaries such as F. Percy Smith's Fight For the Dardanelles (1915):

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Fight For the Dardanelles (F. Percy Smith 1915)

Though manipulations of this kind have, in the twenty-first century, moved beyond the merely cinematic, the animated map remains the cinema's major contribution to cartography. The British Library's exhibition features two remarkable examples, McLaren and Biggar's Hell Unlimited (1936) and the opening sequence from Casablanca (1942), as testimony to that contribution.'

If you enjoyed this blog you'll enjoy the Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line articles contained in our exhibition webspace. Roland-François Lack's Cine-tourist site is fantastic, and very easy to lose oneself in. I'd like to say a big thank you to Roland-Francois for all the advice he has provided on maps in film over the past 18 months. 

27 January 2017

Cover story

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Today we are accustomed to using maps on our mobiles,  tablets and in our cars. The situation was very different a century ago. From roughly the end of the nineteenth century the growth in popularity of outdoor activities such as cycling and rambling and the increasing availability of cars and motorbikes allowed urban dwellers get away from their normal surroundings. In turn this changed the way people enjoyed their free time and how they used maps. It also represented a great business opportunity for map companies.

In this blog I look at the early commercial activities of Britain’s national mapping agency the Ordnance Survey, and how after World War I, it reshaped the way its maps were regarded by the general public through the use of artistic and colourful map covers.

The Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791 but with origins stretching back further. However, it was not until late 1890s that it started to publishing folded maps with covers. The design of these covers was basic: the first design was a title on red cloth card, which was changed to white later on, and still later a simple diagram of the coverage area was included on the cover. These designs were the same regardless of the scale of the map.

These plain map covers contrasted with the products of commercial map firms like Bartholomew and George Philip, whose maps (themselves based on Ordnance survey maps) had appealing and attractive cover designs.

Accordingly, when World War I ended in 1918, Ordnance Survey decided to market their small scale products better in order to increase sales and reach new customers. The attention was directed to map cover design. A professional artist, Ellis Martin, was appointed to create attractive illustrations for their tourist and district maps. Martin joined the Ordnance Survey in 1919. During the years that he was working he raised the standard of map cover art to high levels. 

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Ellis Martin, Tourist Map Forest of Bowland. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1934. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(3).

One of his most popular covers depicts a young man smoking a pipe leaning against a fence looking at an Ordnance Survey map. The scene is completed with cyclists, a car and a coach. This cover epitomises the period, emphasising how people from urban areas could enjoy their free time pursuing new leisure activities such as cycling, rambling or motoring with the help of maps. People peruse maps on other covers too, emphasising the universality of map use, maps as the perfect tool to enjoy their day out.

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Ellis Martin, District Map The Chilterns. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1938. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(30).

In another of Martin’s well-known covers we can see a couple walking through a valley. The design is so evocative that it makes you want to buy a map and go there. The inclusion of a woman enjoying outdoor activities illustrates how the role of women in society started changing after the First World War. Women appear in other similar maps cover designs, suggesting a modern touch from Ellis Martin artwork which is absent from other artists of the same period.

These two covers do not depict a particular place and so were used as the covers of maps of different parts of the country.  The next covers were designed for particular places depicting an identifiable landmark or symbol of that place.

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Ellis Martin, Tourist Map The Middle Thames. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1923. British Library Maps 209.d.(30).

The cover for the Middle Thames is one of the best of its kind. It shows the river and elegantly dressed people enjoying boating in lovely weather. The whole picture resembles certain French Impressionist paintings in the use of light and the composition.  The artwork is so enticing that it could almost sell the map on its own!

One of the most unusual of Martin’s covers is the cover of a map of part of Britain produced for the solar eclipse of 27th June 1927. It is a unique and rare cover for a unique and rare event. On the cover the eclipse is depicted in a ghostly landscape in black and grey, which serves to recreate the atmosphere. This cover shows Ordnance Survey’s marketing acumen in taking advantage of the event, publishing a map with limited usability that became a souvenir and collector’s item afterwards.

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Ellis Martin, The Solar Eclipse 29th June, 1927. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1927. Cover not held in The British Library.

 

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Ellis Martin, Roman Britain. Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1924. British Library Maps 1135(45).

Another group of Martin’s covers are the Archaeological & Historical maps series. These include covers such as Seventeenth Century England (1930), Neolithic Wessex (1932) and The Trent Basin (1933). But the one that really stands out from the others is Roman Britain, first published in 1924 and reprinted in full colour in 1979. This is an excellent example of Martin’s attention to detail. This cover took advantage of the growing interest for ancient history in the early twentieth century. It encouraged the public to discover history on their doorstep.

Another great Ordnance Survey artist was Arthur Palmer. His illustrations tended to have an old fashion aura, more reminiscent of the Edwardian era than the roaring twenties when they were created. This can be seen even in the Art-Nouveau calligraphy that he uses, with asymmetric and elongated letters. This gives to his covers a special charm that made them very attractive to the public.

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Arthur Palmer, Tourist Map Oban. Southampton, Ordnance Survey Office, 1920. 

Arthur Palmer had a talent for landscape and architectural illustration. His first cover for Ordnance Survey was of Oban (1920). This cover was part of a series for Scottish tourist resorts. In other covers such as the one for Oxford (1920) and Liverpool (1924) we can see his skill for architectural drawing.

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Arthur Palmer, District Map. Oxford and district. Southampton, Ordnance Survey Office, 1921. British Library Maps 209.d.2.(18).

After World War II, Ordnance Survey redesigned its covers with designs that reflected the austerity of the post-war years. Since then, map cover designs have been more standard and less artistic and have arguably never again reached the high levels of artistic creativity shown during the inter-war years.

The British Library holds some of these covers. However many of them were discarded at that time. Perhaps it was felt that they were not important from the cartographic point of view with no regard to their artistic value. Nowadays, they have become collectors’ items and the value is arguably as much in the covers than the actual maps.

If you would like to see some of the covers you can contact the Maps Reference Team at Maps. See a number of Ordnance Survey covers on sdisplay in our current exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. 

For further reading:  BROWNE, J. P. (1991). Map cover art. Southampton, Ordnance Survey (Maps Ref. G.2b (36)).

Carlos Garcia-Minguillan

10 January 2017

'Lhasa Englishman First'

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One of the first users of the new telegraph office in Lhasa was Brigadier-General George Pereira, who despatched this short message on 17th October 1922, in the course of an heroic journey undertaken in poor health at the age of 57.

As British Military Attaché in China from 1905 to 1910, George Pereira travelled widely throughout the country collecting geographical intelligence (much of which survives as maps in the War Office Archive at the British Library). Following his subsequent posting to Europe, he resigned his commission and returned to China as a civilian, journeying from Peking (Beijing) to north-west China, also to the region bordering on Burma, returning across southern China to Foochow (Fuzhou).

The First World War saw him back into the army as Lieutenant-Colonel. He saw active service on the Western Front, and retired with the rank of Brigadier-General at the end of the war.

In 1920 Pereira returned to China to pursue his lifelong ambition to journey to Lhasa. At the age of 55, and in failing health, he undertook his final, remarkable journey from Peking to India via Tibet, then back into China from Burma. Although he reached Lhasa he did not complete the return journey: having become seriously ill he died in October 1923 in western Szechwan (Sichuan) where he was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Tatsienlu (Kangding).

He was not the first Englishman in Lhasa, as his telegram might imply, but he was the first to arrive after travelling through China, rather than the shorter route from India. The only other Europeans who had achieved this feat were Vincentian Fathers Huc and Gabet in 1846.

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B. Gen. G. Pereira’s route from Chamdo [昌都] to Lhasa [拉薩]. Sept. – Oct. 1922. Maps WOMAT/RAS/CHI/460/1/12/1

The map shown here is one of a contemporary set of 24 finely executed sheets covering this last journey, traced by M.I.4 (Geographical Section, General Staff) from sketches received from Brigadier-General Pereira. The maps show the wealth of local information systematically recorded by Pereira along the route.

From the War Office Archive, received from the War Office/Ministry of Defence in 1964 and 1989. The archive, covering the period 1890-1940, comprises manuscript material used for the compilation of strategic and tactical cartographic intelligence product. There are 1,428 archival files made up of 7,253 map sheets and 5,015 pages of text.

Anselm Crispin Jewitt

05 January 2017

Old Europe

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We are pleased to welcome this guest post from the artist Justine Smith, whose work is included in our current exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line.

'In my artistic practice I have always used collage and have been working with money since 1998. The power invested in these pieces of paper is immense, and for me, it is like working with an elemental force which impacts upon us in a political, social and moral level. A banknote can be seen as a little piece of propaganda, a cipher portraying specific aspects of a given state. In my work I appropriate these images and re-contextualize them to my own ends.

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My first Map was Money map of the World 2005 (above), where every country who has a banknote is featured on the map, down to the smallest island State or Protectorate. All my maps are made initially as collages - hand drawn and traced and cut from real banknotes, often taking months to complete.

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Old Europe” was made in 2007 and is my first and, so far, only map to be made with currencies that at the time of making were no longer in circulation.  It was made as an historical map from the currencies that were in circulation prior to the introduction of the Euro and show the original countries that joined. The Francs, Guilders, Marks, Lira, etc., as with all banknotes, feature imagery that  strongly resonates with respective national identities. This map has a sister map made concurrently called “Euro Europe". It covers the exact same region, but shows the newly formed Eurozone, where all the national borders are gone and the various countries now form a single bloc.

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It is almost 10 years now since these maps were made and it is surprising to see how quickly things have changed.' 

Justine Smith

21 December 2016

Festive Fairyland

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The Ancient Mappe of Fairyland was published in London in 1918. It shows a vivid fantasy island inhabited by a riotous range of make-believe characters from Peter Pan and Puss-in-Boots to Hansel, Gretel and Three Blind Mice. You can see the original map in our current map exhibition, as well as viewing a larger online version here.

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But why does Santa Claus not appear on the map? The answer, of course, is that unlike these fantastical characters, Santa is emphatically REAL. 

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However, since every fantasy contains a hint of reality, and to honour Fairyland's mapmaker - the appropriately named Bernard Sleigh - here is Santa, instated on the map in the icy north where he belongs.

With festive greetings from everyone here at the British Library's Map Library.

 

 

 

12 December 2016

Maps & scrap metal

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As was announced here yesterday, the British Library has acquired important additions to its collection in the form of 9 sheets of copper, discovered in the possession of a scrap metal dealer. Scrap value £3.60 per kilo, but historical significance and research value far more considerable.

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Detail of an engraved copper plate for a map by James Rennell, published in 1780.

The 9 engraved copper plates were used to print maps of India for the use of the East India Company (EIC) during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The archive of the EIC, the India Office records and map collection was passed to the British Library in 1984 where it resides today. How the copper plates came to be reunited with this archive is a fascinating story which reveals a lot about the custodial history of the archives of British government as well as changing perceptions of maps.

Our recent purchase of nine copper plates was as follows: four plates used to print trigonometrical diagrams of William Lambton’s first survey of Malabar and Coromandel, begun in 1802; one triangulation diagram of 1827 by Lambton and his successor George Everest (he of highest mountain fame); three (of four) plates for James Rennell’s (1742-1830) ‘Map of Hindoostan’ (1788); and finally a single plate for a map included in James Rennell’s ‘Bengal Atlas’ of 1780.

These plates enable us to complete sets of copper plates already held in the India Office map collection, alongside another copper plate which had been purchased in 1988.

How did they come to be dispersed in the first place? Well this is one of the most interesting parts of the story. Dr Andrew Cook, former India Office archivist, was able to sketch out the story for me, referencing Antonia Moon’s article of the East India Company records published in the British Records Association Journal ‘Archives (October 2008).

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View of the East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, 1796.

The plates seem to have been with the EIC in the 1830s in East India House, Leadenhall Street, London. In 1860 the EIC archives were due to move from there to the New India Office building in Whitehall, but because this building was unfinished when the old premises were sold, the archives went to temporary storage in the Westminster Palace Hotel nearby.  It is at this point that a number of the copper plates were apparently re-routed via the scrap metal trade, where they would remain for over a century.

In 1988 Dr Cook was tipped-off about a copper plate in the possession of a Norfolk farmer, who was looking to turn it into a mudguard for the trailer of his tractor. Upon visiting Norfolk, and examining the plate on the pool table of a local working man’s club, Dr Cook identified it as a plate from Rennell’s  ‘Bengal Atlas’ and acquired it for the collection. The nine plates more recently purchased are further miracles of survival. 

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James Rennell, An engraved copper plate for 'A map of North Bahar...', London, c. 1779.

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James Rennell, 'A map of North Bahar...from The Bengal Atlas, London, 1780. Maps 145.d.26.

The uniting of various sets of engraving plates enables us to study in greater depth the printing and publishing history of some of the most powerful and significant imperial cartographic projects of the 18th and 19th centuries. It also shines light on the complex history of custodianship and cartography during the 19th century.

 

08 December 2016

MacDonald Gill: original drawing goes on show today

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One of the key exhibits in Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line - in fact one of the key maps of the 20th century - is a world map of 1942 by MacDonald Gill. Called 'The "Time and Tide" map of the Atlantic Charter', the map was published (in Time and Tide magazine) to commemorate the signing of a wartime agreement between Britain and the United States of America in August 1941.

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MacDonald Gill,  The "Time and Tide" Map of the Atlantic Charter.London, 1942. British Library Maps 950.(211.).

The treaty, which was agreed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt on a warship moored off Newfoundland, set out their aspirations for a post-war peace, including self-determination and global economic freedom. This symbol of friendly co-operation between Britain and the USA was designed as a threat to the Axis powers, for the USA was not at that time at war with them. The 'special relationship' dates from here.

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The map brilliantly illustrates a world, unified under the sun and with images of trade and prosperity. It is a post-war Utopian vision that has been made possible by the treaty.

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MacDonald Gill, ' The Atlantic Charter', 1942. Private collection.

MacDonald Gill was a highly successful British illustrator who produced work for customers as varied as London Transport, the Tea Market Expansion Board, Cable & Wireless Ltd., and St. Andrew's church, Sunderland.

He was a particularly skillful draftsman, as visitors to Drawing the Line can see from today when the original pen sketch for the Atlantic Charter replaces the printed version on display. As Gill experts Caroline Walker and Andrew Johnston have noted, Gill seems to have applied ink directly to the paper without any need for preparatory sketches or guide lines, and there isn't a smear of Tippex in sight.

Even more amazingly, the drawing has original signatures of Churchill and Roosevelt pasted onto it.

Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is open until 1 March.

05 December 2016

Map: friend or foe?

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Our relationships with maps changed very dramatically in many different ways in the 20th century. One of the important changes is not only that maps became more widespread and familiar, but how that affected our relationships with them. The examples in the exhibition richly illustrate many of these changes, but one trend I would like to focus on here is the recognition that the power of maps became increasingly hidden as they became more accurate and realistic.

Perhaps the most iconic example in the exhibition is the Van Sant first map of the earth from space that appeared in Scientific American in 1990. This immense technological achievement has often been described as “showing the real world as it appears from space” (www.tomvansant.com). But it was also a huge artistic achievement. And it both symbolised and contributed to the decline of the traditional map maker. This is a kind of photograph, and photographs don’t lie.

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But think about this claim for just a moment as you look at it: no clouds; daylight around the whole planet; the Atlantic ice at its summer limit. This image is, as the article recognises, “equal parts software and artistic judgement”. Is this “the real world as it appears from space”? Or is it an interpretation, much like any other map? There is no doubt that publication of this image marked a massive milestone for maps in the 20th century. It seems to be so very different from imperial propaganda maps for example. And yet, as the exhibition explores, maps are by nature unreliable witnesses – misleading their readers as well as informing them.

The label ‘critical cartography’ was coined in the 20th century to describe a way of looking at maps. Critical geographers questioned their hidden assumptions and compromises, and revealed their inherent unreliability and partial truth. They did so not to invalidate maps, but to understand their power more thoroughly. This approach shared much with ‘critical’ developments in the 20th century in other areas of life, such as epic theatre, literary theory, cultural geography, and educational policy.

The exhibition explores the profound incursion of maps into everyday life in the 20th century. At the same time, the profound social, political and cultural changes often hidden in everyday life can also be seen in the development of maps and especially in understanding our relationship to them.

Further Reading:

Wood, Denis. 1992. The Power of Maps, New York/London: The Guilford Press

Harley. J.B. 2001. The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography. (Edited by Paul Laxton). Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Huw Rowlands