06 December 2022
Two bound sets of maps from the British Library’s core collection of early modern English cartography have recently been digitised and placed online. Harley MS 3749 is a series of 18 hand-drawn maps of parts of the Royal estate at Windsor, produced in 1607 by the English surveyor, mapmaker and author John Norden (c. 1547-1625).
Harley MS 3813 is a collection of 37 (of an original 44) small printed maps of English and Welsh counties and areas of Ireland and Scotland, engraved by the Flemish artist Pieter Van den Keere (1571-c. 1646) and printed at around the same time as Norden’s work. Their histories are entwined in various ways.
Both sets of maps ended up in the collection of Robert (1661-1724) and Edward (1689-1741) Harley, the 1st and 2nd Earls of Oxford, thousands of manuscripts, printed books and associated materials which became one of the founding collections of the British Museum in 1753. Norden’s work, produced for and originally owned by James VI and I, came into the Harleys’ possession in 1710, whilst Van der Keere’s maps reached the collection in 1725.
In addition to their shared provenance, it is interesting to note that the two mapmakers knew and worked with each other. As well as his surveying work and devotional writing, Norden conceived of a grand multi-volume county-by-county geography or ‘chorography’ of Britain, having recognised, like others, the public appetite for maps and geographical writings following the success of Christopher Saxton’s atlas of 1579. Norden’s Speculum Britannia was not completed, but he started work on a number of counties, and even published some of them. The first published county, in 1593, was Middlesex, containing maps including ones of London and Westminster engraved by one Pieter Van den Keere.
Van den Keere would become one of the most important engravers of the 17th century. He had moved to London in 1584, and was apprenticed to the London-based Dutch engraver Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612). He left London for Amsterdam in 1593.
Harley MS 3813 is one of several ‘proof’ sets of small county maps copied from Saxton’s and others’ maps of parts of Britain. It is commonly thought of as the blueprint for a mooted atlas of Britain along similar lines of Norden’s Speculum. Writing in 1972, Helen Wallis believed that it might have been Van Den Keere’s collaboration with Norden that inspired him. The Harley example has been finely hand-coloured and contains hand-written descriptions on the topography and gentry of each county (another set in the Royal Geographical Society has the same handwritten text), suggesting the role of a mock-up of what such a publication might look like.
The date of 1599 appears on three maps and it is sensible to assume that Van den Keere engraved them all around this time. But he didn't print them until 1605 or later, observed R.A. Skelton in 1970, due to the evidence of the paper used. The maps were not officially published until 1617 in an illustrated abridgment of Camden’s Britannia by the Amsterdam publisher Blaeu.
For whatever reason, neither Van den Keere’s or Norden’s projects properly got off the ground. The work which eventually sated the English appetite for maps was John Speed’s Theatre of the empire of Great Britaine of 1611-12, which incidentally included county maps engraved by Van den Keere's former teacher Jodocus Hondius. Speed’s Middlesex map (above) even incorporated copies of the Van den Keere-engraved London and Westminster maps that had appeared in Norden’s Speculum... Middlesex of two decades earlier.
Norden’s little atlas of Windsor royal parks (Harley MS 3749) was the sort of project Norden turned to following the stalling of his Speculum. It is a bespoke and exclusive product drawn on vellum, showing for the royal landowners’ gratification their palaces and deer-stocked parks. This tradition of manuscript mapping of private estates would extend into the 20th century, but county atlases such as Van den Keere’s became in many ways the principal English cartographic output, certainly up to the end of the 18th century. This is proven by the strong afterlife of Van den Keere’s small county maps, which were reissued in various forms, including as a 'minature Speed atlas' (despite their having preceded Speed) up to 1676.
Despite their obvious differences, the two Harley volumes have displayed an oddly close bond down the centuries, right up to the present day with their digitisation and placing online together. This might not have been the case had they suffered the fate that befell the rest of the Harleian collection in 1890 when, as part of a deal between the British Museum’s Departments of Printed Books and Manuscripts, the printed and manuscript material was separated and apportioned between the two.
With this in mind, it is serendipitous that the two atlases remain a just few shelves away from each other, albeit one a printed anomaly within a collection of the written and drawn.
- Laurence Worms & Ashley Baynton-Williams, British map engravers: a dictionary of engravers, lithographers and their principal employers to 1850 (London: Rare Book Society, 2011).
- Sarah Bendall, Dictionary of land surveyors and local map-makers of Great Britain and Ireland 1530-1850. (London: British Library, 1997).
- Rodney Shirley, Maps in the atlases of the British Library: a descriptive catalogue c. AD 850-1800 (London: British Library, 2004).
- Atlas of the British Isles. By Pieter Van den Keere c. 1605 / Introduction by Helen Wallis (Lympne Castle, Kent: Harry Margary, 1972).
- Frank Kitchen, ‘John Norden (c. 1547-1625)’ in Oxford dictionary of national biography [accessed 5 December 2022].
- R.A. Skelton, County atlases of the British Isles, 1579-1850: a bibliography (London: Carta Press, 1970).
- Peter Barber, ‘Mapmaking in England, ca. 1470-1650’ in David Woodward (ed.), The history of cartography volume 3: part 2, cartography in the European Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1589-1669.
31 August 2022
The British Library and National Library of Scotland are pleased to announce the availability of a new gazetteer which allows all the names on the Roy Military Survey Maps of Scotland (1747-55, British Library Maps CC.5.a.441) to be searched and browsed. Through the hard work of a team of volunteers over the last six months, all 33,523 names on the Roy Map have been recorded. The transcription workflow has also recorded related or nearby names from the Ordnance Survey 1st edition mapping from a century later in order to help searching and provide additional context for the Roy names. The results are of huge value for local and family historians, placename researchers, as well as all those interested in the landscape of 18th century Scotland. As well as being able to find any name on the map, it is also possible to now generate distribution maps of particular name elements, or dynamically view all of the names in a particular area. The Gazetteer can also be downloaded in accessible formats for onward use and research.
The Roy Military Survey Map is surely one of the most significant and attractive maps of Scotland. It was a distillation of military intelligence, planned in the wake of the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746, and surveyed at the same time as the brutal ‘pacification’ of the Highlands. The English military commanders in Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion of the ‘45 had been 'greatly embarrassed for want of a proper Survey of the Country' and something needed to be done about it. The decision to place the Survey in the hands of a young civilian from a small village near Carluke, William Roy - who had no military surveying experience, and who was then in his early 20s - was a surprising one, even if it turned out to be an inspired and successful decision. Over the next eight years, until the mid 1750s, the whole of the Scottish mainland was surveyed at the detailed scale of one inch to a thousand yards, or about 1:36,000. For many parts of the Scottish Highlands, it is the most detailed and informative map that survives for the entire 18th century, and for all areas, the only standard topographic map prior to the Ordnance Survey mapping in the 19th century. As part of the King George III Topographical Collections, it has always been a treasured item within the British Library’s holdings, and fortunately more recent digital technologies have allowed its wider availability online, as well as transcription projects like this.
Our project to record all of the names on the Roy Map was based on the long interest in the map from those hunting for the existence and location of particular places, especially for local and family history purposes. Place name researchers have also regularly examined the Roy Map as a key documentary source for the 18th century. Many of the textual entries on the map allow other types of research too, confirming the location of things like mills, kirks, castles and estate grounds. Many significant elements of the pre-Improvement landscape - such as the smaller kirk towns and cottar towns, as well as things like moors and commonties - are clearly shown too. But libraries lack the manpower for major gazetteer recording projects, and although machine-learning and artificial intelligence continue to make strides, we felt that the only way to achieve our objective at present was by gathering a volunteer group as part of a crowdsourcing project.
In January 2022 we asked for volunteers to help with three new map transcription projects, and were thrilled (and relieved!) to find over 650 people signed up to take part. We were able to create the interfaces for recording the names using the open-source web-mapping software behind the NLS maps website, and this was helpful, as we continued to change and update these interfaces in response to feedback. We also set up an online discussion forum for participants, which has been very heavily used - 142 members, and over 210 posts over a 5 month period. Successive phases of the project revised and checked the initial names, and their related Ordnance Survey names, so that all of the names were reviewed and edited several times over. The success of the project owes itself very much to these volunteers, who have not only put in several months of hard work, but also continued to suggest changes as we went along to improve the results. As with all website projects, we also have the ability to keep revising and correcting names in response to feedback - the Gazetteer will become ever more perfect over time! Although we have just now launched the Gazetteer, some minor revision work is still ongoing, and we are happy to receive suggestions and corrections from the wider community.
Would William Roy have approved? We certainly hope so - as the “father” of what became the Ordnance Survey, he would have fully understood the value of national initiatives to gather geographic and topographic information. He would surely have delighted in the detailed scrutiny which his ‘magnificent military sketch’ was still getting, over 250 years after its original creation. That said, he might feel puzzled and worried about all the tartan, now very visibly on sale only a stone’s throw from where his Military Survey was drawn in Edinburgh Castle!
View the results of the Roy Military Survey Gazetteer Project:
- Roy Gazetteer information page
- Search all the Roy Names with a map
- Browse all the Roy Names as a list
By Christopher Fleet,
Map Curator, National Library of Scotland.
21 February 2022
The Map collection is offering a 3-month placement for a PhD candidate to work with the British Library’s collection of pre-1900 Japanese produced maps. With the deadline for applications fast approaching this Friday 25th February, here is a final attempt to whet your appetites.
The collection of 350 Japanese-produced maps is one of the finest held outside of Japan. It includes printed and hand-drawn maps of the world, East Asia, Japan itself and its various subdivisions, towns and coasts, dating from the 17th 18th and 19th centuries. It includes route maps, bird’s-eye views, administrative maps, military maps and historical maps. Some of them are rather large.
A number of the maps came to the British Museum, now British Library, via the founding collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in the 1750s. Sloane had acquired the Japanese-related collections of Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1716) in the mid-1720s, who had collected them during his time in Japan, working as a doctor for the Dutch East India Company. Many other maps formed part of the collection of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), which was purchased by the British Museum in 1868.
Today the maps are split between two areas. The majority are held in the map collection (part of Western Heritage Collections), which contains over 4 million maps and global coverage of the period 1540 to 2022. A smaller number of maps are held in the Library’s Japanese collections, a section of the Asian and African Department.
Catalogue records for the maps are available on Explore the British Library, and the collection was digitised in partnership with Ritsumeikan University in 2019 (and can be viewed on their MapWarper here).
The key aims for this placement are the enhancement of the maps’ cataloguing data. This will include collecting key physical and cartographic information from the maps, such as dimensions and annotations, that have not previously been recorded, and improving terminology and adding translations to improve the collection’s discoverability. There will be opportunities to write and research, work with curators and British Library staff from a variety of areas, gain insights and training, and receive some strong learning and development experiences.
Once again, the deadline for applications is this Friday at 5pm. For further details go here and scroll down to download the full project profile.
09 December 2021
The India Office map catalogue of 1878, now released online for the first time on the British Library Shared Research Repository, is a valuable finding aid to one of the world's most complex and mercurial map collections.
The catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps, etc., of the Indian Surveys, deposited in the map room of the India office, compiled by Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916), was the first published listing of the working map archive of British East India Company, and the administration of British India from London. As the title suggests, it contains a wide variety of geographical materials, from maps to written sources and much else. Its principal geographical focus – about 70% of it - is upon the area of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, but it also takes in adjacent areas, and more generally British imperial activity across the world, with the bulk of the material dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1947 the collection, along with the rest of the India Office Records, passed into the care of the Commonwealth Office (various iterations), and in 1982 was deposited with the British Library.
As late as the 1970s the catalogue was still being used to manage the map collection; the copy we have released is the one used by archivists to record the multiple changes to the map collection that had occurred between 1878 and 1947. These changes include annotations and inserted leaves listing maps that were added to the collection after 1878, and crossings-out of material that had been removed. These latter include material relating to the Great Trigonometrical Survey which was sent to the Survey of India in 1924, and large-scale maps and plans for infrastructure projects sent to Indian provincial public works departments.
The catalogue is an indispensable aid for researchers looking to identify historical geographical sources for India and South Asia, and to order material to view onsite in the Library’s reading rooms. The ‘X’ numbers – the modern pressmarks or 'call numbers' for each unit (the material accessioned up to 1878 has the number range IOR/X/1 to IOR/X/4999), can be entered into the ‘request other items’ page of Explore the British Library under the Asia, Pacific and African Collection subset. There is also an incredibly useful alphabetical index to facilitate searching.
The catalogue is also valuable evidence of the history of the role of maps and geographical materials in the government of British India, and of imperial map archives in general. The arrangement and contents inform us of the particular mindsets and priorities of the administration (inevitably, the focus and dates of maps in the archive broadly matches Company and administration activity) and how these shifted over time.
We hope you find this a useful resource, and would be very glad to receive feedback on the sorts of ways you are making use of it in your research. You can read more about the research repository, and explore other resources available there.
15 July 2021
Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.
What have we added?
So much! Here are some highlights:
Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John Speed, Moses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.
Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
How can you access them?
The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views, was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).
Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy. The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.
Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.
We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.
Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!
In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.
We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.
Now off you go and explore.
25 November 2020
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.
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].
2. Map and survey of Plymouth Harbour, 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.’
3. Aquatint view of Kingston-upon-Thames, 1813
Thomas Horner, Kingston upon Thames. 1813
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
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., 
5. The United States of America, 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].
13 October 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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 email@example.com, we’d love to hear from you.
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.
21 July 2020
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.
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)
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.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- Norden and Van den Keere: Two seventeenth century atlases digitised and online
- The new Roy Military Survey Gazetteer
- PhD placement opportunity - Japanese maps
- Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- King's Topographical Collection: curator's pick
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- World Map World Cup: what happened and five things we've learnt
- World Map World Cup: Group 3
- Help us choose the British Library's favourite world map