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.
08 July 2020
We have come to the fourth and final qualifying group of our British Library world map world cup, and in it we have four extraordinary and breathtaking examples of cartography from between the 11th and 20th centuries. I hope the following descriptions, links and images will provide you with what you need to make your difficult choice.
Vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps). The top two maps will go through to the quarter finals tomorrow, Friday July 10th.
1.Beatus of Liébana world map. Drawn in Burgos, Spain, between 1091 and 1109 (Add.MS 11695)
The 15 surviving 'Beatus' maps are included in textual commentaries on the Apocalypse of St John (from the New Testament Book of Revelation) written by the Spanish theologian Beatus of Liébana (fl.776–86). The British Library’s example, arguably more powerful and brooding than the others, is a diagrammatic image with powerful pictorial elements. These include fishes swimming in the sea encircling the world, the‘molehill’ mountains and the unforgettable image of the Garden of Eden at the top of the map, in the east. It was produced in northern Spain (in the monastery of San Domingo de Silos) in around 1109, and as a result reflects Islamic pictorial influences that had spread from northern Africa.
Link to digitised example: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/beatus-world-map
Further reading: Peter Barber, 'Medieval world maps; in Paul Harvey, The Hereford World Map: medieval world maps and their contexts (London: British LIbrary, 2006).
2. The Contarini-Rosselli world map. Engraving, published in Florence in 1506 (Maps C.2.cc.4).
This is the earliest surviving printed map to show any part of the Americas. It was published in Florence in 1506, only a decade or so after Christopher Columbus's first voyage in 1492. The map, which is by the Venetian Giovanni Matteo Contarini and Florentine Francesco Rosselli, has been celebrated for its American content ever since this only known copy was purchased by the British Museum in 1922. But it is an extremely early and partial glimpse of eastern America: Newfoundland and Labrador are shown cemented on to Kamchatka, Cuba and Hispaniola are floating next to Japan, and South America is joined to the vast Southern Continent.
Link to digital copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/first-known-printed-world-map-showing-america
3. Aḍhāīdvīpa. Painted in Rajasthan in 1830 (Add.Or. 1814).
This is a map showing the structure of the world of Jainism, a religious system founded in northern India in the sixth or seventh century BCE. The map, which is in Sanskrit, was painted onto cloth in Rajasthan in 1830, and like many of the European medieval mappamundi, it illustrates a fusion of human and sacred geography. At the centre is the recognisable, terrestrial world of people (Mount Meru is at the centre, as it is in the Korean Ch’ ōnhado maps). Surrounding it is the spiritual world: green concentric-ringed continents illustrated by lunar symbols and separated by fish-filled oceans, beyond which is the outer land of the jinas or prophets.
Link to digital copy: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_Or_1814
Further reading: Joseph E. Schwartzburg, 'Cosmological mapping' in The history of cartography volume two, book one: cartography in the traditional Islamic and South Asian societies (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994).
4. Self determination world map, by F. Klimesch. Published in Berlin in around 1919 (Maps CC.5.b.29).
The only 20th century world map to make it into our World Map World Cup competition (not that there aren't many great 20th century world maps, just a mere 16 places to fill), is a German map produced in the wake of the peace treaties following the defeat of Germany and the end of the Great War, 1914-1918. It shows the victorious allies Britain, France, Russia and the USA as soldier figures, holding leashes attached to their respective national beasts. These beasts have been placed over the colonies they controlled.
The title explains why: 'What would be left of the entente if it made serious the right of self-determination of their own people and let go of the reins!' The map calls out the Allies' decision to confiscate German colonies under the principle of 'self determination,' but to retain theirs regardless. Given the century-long process of decolonisation that ensued, and ensues, the map is profoundly and powerfully prescient.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/was-von-der-entente
23 June 2020
The previous part of this article discussed the introduction of photography into maps and mapmaking over the first hundred years after its invention in the 1830s. Photography was initially used to complement information found on the map, by recording topographical views or objects of antiquity, and it was incorporated into the map production process from the 1850s. In this early period photographers also began to capture the work of survey teams in the field. Soldiers in the British Royal Engineers were specially trained in the use of cameras for this purpose. This group photo from circa 1860 was taken by one such soldier-photographer, and shows colleagues posing in a cutting cleared through the forest to enable survey work along the border between the United States and Canada.
Cutting on the 49th Parallel, on the Right Bank of the Mooyie River Looking West, c.1860. Image courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum, Museum No. 40090.
Cameras were also employed to record advances in cartographic technology and instrumentation. The following scenes were set up to demonstrate use of the latest levelling instruments by staff at the Survey of India in 1909. Beyond this original purpose, the first image also illustrates the colonial hierarchy in the division of labour that was based on race.
Observer with Cylindrical Level and Recorder (above) and General Walker’s Staves Erected upon Pegs (below), in Account of the Operations of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, Vol 19, Levelling of precision in India, 1910. BL IOR/V/19/20.
Another later image demonstrates the same division of labour in Africa amongst members of the Anglo-Belgian Congo-Zambesi Boundary Commission, as European surveyors take observations from a trig point around 1930. A contemporary account of the survey published in The Geographical Journal highlights the pressure the Commission was under from the two European administrations to agree and demarcate this African boundary quickly, so that valuable mining rights could be settled between them.
Observing from Trig. Point, Congo-Zambesi Boundary Commission, 1927-34. BL shelfmark not yet allocated.
After the First World War there was a drive to realise the potential of aerial photography in new fields of geographical and archaeological analysis away from the battlefield. In 1919 G.A. Beazley published an article entitled Air Photography in Archaeology, in which he described wartime aerial survey work carried out around Samarra in modern-day Iraq. The survey had revealed the layout of an ancient city, details of which were transferred to the military map, below, though they were evident only from the air.
Detail of Central Quarter of the City with Public Gardens, in The Geographical Journal Vol. 53, No. 5 (May, 1919), pp. 330-335. BL Maps 159. [Detail also appears on ‘Tigris Corps’ map sheet T.C. 109, held at BL Maps C.14.s.]
Another pioneer of aerial archaeology was O.G.S. Crawford, who was appointed the first archaeological officer at the Ordnance Survey in 1920. He used air photographs made by the RAF to measure the length of the Avenue at Stonehenge, and later joined with Alexander Keiller to make an aerial survey of archaeological sites in several British counties. Together they published Wessex from the Air in 1928.
Hambledon Hill, in Wessex from the Air, 1928. BL General Reference Collection 7709.t.13. Image courtesy Digital Library of India.
With the introduction of black and white infra-red photographic film in 1931, a new kind of geographical analysis became possible. Infra-red film responds to different wavelengths of light from the panchromatic type, and was useful in indicating high tide lines and different types of vegetation. The glass slide below shows an infra-red image from the 1930s, in which bare hills appear dark and sharply distinguished from the characteristically bright areas of cultivation at their feet. The water in the meandering river also shows up black.
Early infra-red film slide, location unknown, 1930s. BL shelfmark not yet allocated.
With the outbreak of the Second World War the use of infra-red film was amongst a number of techniques trialled with aerial photography to map the gradients of enemy-held beaches. In the end, the most successful method used air photographs taken with panchromatic film to determine the shape of the seabed by studying the shapes and velocities of wave patterns as they came to shore.
W.W. Williams, The Determination of Gradients on Enemy-Held Beaches, in The Geographical Journal Vol. 109, No. 1/3 (Jan. - Mar., 1947), pp. 76-90. BL Maps 159.
This crucial element of wartime invasion planning appears in the following beach map of an island off the coast of modern-day Myanmar. The diagrams in red, on the right, were derived from air photographs and show the beach gradients at different numbered points on the map.
Detail of Hind 603 beach map [Burma], 1944. BL Maps 13496.
Photography fulfilled other roles in wartime invasion planning. During the Second World War German forces created volumes of geographical intelligence by country, in preparation for the invasion of foreign nations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. These volumes included photographs that complemented the information found on maps by giving a visual impression of the lie of the land, and by providing additional geographical intelligence. Pictures illustrating local geomorphology appear alongside images of industrial buildings, harbours and fortifications.
In the volume dedicated to the South Coast of England a number of what appear to be pre-war tourist postcards have been reproduced. The example below shows location 255 on the map of the Isle of White that follows. The accompanying text explains its inclusion - ‘Narrow sandy beach in front of the bank fortification, is exposed at low tide.’
Militärgeographische Angaben über England, 1940. BL Maps 47.g.13.
Advances in aerial photogrammetry had continued between the wars with the invention of multiplex instruments in Italy and Germany in 1930, which allowed a single operator to map large areas quickly from small scale air photographs. In the United States the technique was adopted by USGS, the national mapping agency, and was widely used to map agricultural areas under New Deal public works projects, so that by the start of the Second World War a large number of trained photogrammetrists was available for the American war effort.
Many of these photogrammetrists were put to work creating photomaps of islands in the South-East Asian Theatre, producing innovative sheets that consisted of a conventional line map on one side and a rectified photomap on the reverse.
Iloilo Town, Central Philippines 1:25,000 photomap, 1944. BL Maps Y.2602. Image courtesy University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.
Similar advances had been made in large-scale aerial photogrammetry with the invention of the slotted template method in the United States in 1936. This was a development of radial line plotting techniques first promoted by the British Air Survey Committee in the 1920s, and provided a method of adjusting and correlating large numbers of overlapping air photographs.
One of the most intensive periods of large-scale aerial survey activity during the war came with the secret preparation of the so-called ‘Benson’ series of maps, named after the RAF station in Oxfordshire from which many of the survey and reconnaissance flights departed during 1942–43. The series was completed in advance of the D-Day landings in 1944, and features an overprint showing German defences along the Normandy coast of France. The British Library is currently conserving a representative set of materials used in the compilation of these secret maps, which will be made available at shelfmark BL Maps Y.4169. The material includes a US Army report that compares the accuracy of a sheet made by the multiplex method with one made by the slotted template technique.
Benson Series, Creully sheet, 1944. BL Maps MOD GSGS 4347 [Defence O/P].
The final chapter will lead this brief survey up to the present day...
09 June 2020
Since the invention of photography in the late 1830s, the camera’s ability to record and document its surroundings has made it a natural partner of the mapmaker. From the beginning, photographers recorded landscapes in the manner of artists’ topographical views, providing ‘scientific’ perspectives to complement the view from the map. Subsequently, photographs became integral to the mapmaking process – by capturing data that is incorporated into maps, or by transformation into maps themselves. Cameras also recorded the methods, tools and people employed in making maps; and in the world of art, photographers showed the influence of cartography’s ordered aesthetic.
A Crossing of the Single Track Sandau-Schonhausen Railway Line and the Main Berlin-Hannover Line, by Robert Petschow, in Das Land der Deutschen, 1933. BL General Reference Collection J/X.802/4246.
With the help of items held in the British Library collection, this first of three articles provides a brief introduction to the varied uses of photography in and around mapping up to the 1930s.
In 1855 photographer and army officer Linnaeus Tripe was included amongst the members of a diplomatic mission sent from the Government of India to Upper Burma. Here he fulfilled instructions to record the country and the people of the region by making over 200 architectural studies and landscape views. Many of his photographs appeared in the official published account of the mission (BL General Reference Collection 2354.h.7.), where they accompanied sketches, watercolours and maps to form an important record of the region that was little known by outsiders at the time.
No. 107. Rangoon. Shwe Dagon Pagoda, by Linnaeus Tripe, 1855. BL Photo 61/1(107).
In the same period, photographers were employed for the first time by the British Ordnance Survey. Colonel Sir Henry James, Superintendent of the OS, introduced photography into the process of map production in 1855, and encouraged a role for photography in the recording of objects of antiquity, which he saw as integral to the wider work of survey and mapping. In 1864 he ordered the Survey of Jerusalem, where surveyor-photographer James McDonald of the Royal Engineers made 87 photographs showing various views of the Holy City. The images were published in their own separate volume of the official report (BL Maps 30.e.19.).
West entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, by James McDonald, 1864. BL AdF72/27947 (27b).
The first recorded photographs taken from the air also date from this early period. In 1858 French photographer Nadar took pictures of Paris from a hot air balloon tethered near the Arc de Triomphe. Oblique views obtained in this way from balloons or from cameras tethered to kites were sometimes labelled to identify streets and landmarks, arguably making these the earliest photomaps, but of higher value to cartographers were images taken from cameras that pointed vertically down to earth. Cecil Victor Shadbolt made the first such photograph of the UK still in existence, from a hot air balloon over Stamford Hill, London on 29 May 1882.
An aerial view showing Stonebridge Road, Stamford Hill, and Seven Sisters Curve, part of the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction Railway, taken from 2000ft, by Cecil Victor Shadbolt, 1882. Image courtesy Historic England Archive.
The British Library holds another of Shadbolt’s aerial photographs, made in 1884 over Blackheath (BL Maps C.44.d.49.).
By the turn of the twentieth century, rockets were also employed to carry cameras into the air. Even pigeons were fitted with miniature cameras, a technique first demonstrated in 1907. Soon after, aeroplanes joined this list, offering a more stable and controlled platform for airborne cameras.
Pigeon with German miniature camera, during the First World War. Wikipedia.
After the outbreak of the First World War, these methods were used for reconnaissance purposes, gathering intelligence about enemy trenches or build-ups of troops and artillery, and became of major importance in the planning of engagements. Mosaics of overlapping images were put together to cover entire trench systems.
Map. No. 5522. Air photo mosaic sheet 36 I 26. Image courtesy Imperial War Museum. © IWM Q 47658.
The need to revise and re-draw maps led to the development of systematic aerial survey techniques. During the course of the war, the major combatant nations employed a variety of methods - optical techniques involved projecting aerial photographs onto existing maps and tracing points from one to the other, while graphical methods allowed points to be plotted from perspective grids that were drawn onto and correlated between the images and the existing maps.
The high value placed on the contribution of aerial survey to the war effort is indicated by the sheer volume of images made - in the first nine months of 1918, British forces alone took over five million aerial photographs. They could be processed and delivered in under one hour from the time the pictures were taken.
Reserve Army Front: vertical of Thiepval village, and German front-line and support trenches, while undergoing bombardment by British artillery. Image courtesy Imperial War Museum. © IWM Q 63740.
Attempts were also made to transfer to vertical imagery a set of techniques previously developed for horizontal imagery – terrestrial photogrammetry, as it was known, utilised overlapping pairs of horizontal views taken from the ground in combination with stereoplotting devices to recreate and plot the landscape. However, the trials met with little success, as inconsistencies in the angles of the vertical images could not be eliminated.
Terrestrial photogrammetry continued to be used and developed after the war. The glass plates shown below carry overlapping negative images taken by British surveyors during the Iraq-Turkish Boundary Survey of 1927, and were made with a photo-theodolite, in which a camera was inserted into the surveying instrument.
Glass plates made by the Iraq-Turkish Boundary Commission using the Wild photo-theodolite, 1927. BL shelfmark not yet allocated.
Despite the high costs associated with aerial survey, the technique brought with it significant advantages over traditional land-based methods. The images below, made by the Anglo-Italian Somaliland Boundary Commission in 1929, demonstrate its use in mapping large areas of inaccessible terrain. However, aerial surveys supplemented, rather than replaced land parties, who still surveyed control points onto which the imagery was to be fixed. In this early example they even constructed marks on the ground to guide the flights taking photographs above.
Vertical aerial photographs made by the Anglo-Italian Boundary Commission, 1929. BL WOMAT/ADD/87/1/7.
The image above demonstrates the complexities involved in identifying and interpreting features from the air. The following British War Office lecture slide from around the same era provides guidance in the art of black and white aerial photo interpretation.
Detail of Air Photographs, General Idea of Relative Depth of Tone, glass lantern lecture slide from the British War Office, c.1930. BL shelfmark not yet allocated.
The aesthetic of aerial photography soon spread into wider culture, and was taken up by European artists such as Robert Petschow and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy with an art movement called New Photography. The patterned and grid-like images represented their ideas around the influence of mechanisation on society at the time, and held out the hope of finding a new, ‘objective’ way of viewing the world.
Parking Lot in Chicago, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1938. Image courtesy National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
The next article will continue this story through the Second World War...
14 May 2020
In the vaults of the British Library, amongst sheets in the ‘War Office Archive’ once used to make and revise military maps, lie a handful of sketches and notes made by that iconic figure of the First World War, T.E. Lawrence. These documents provide an insight into exploration mapping of their time, and express some of the character of the man who made them.
Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was renowned for his part in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Perhaps less well known was his earlier role stationed in Cairo with the Arab Bureau, where he was responsible for maps supplied by the Survey of Egypt.
Towards the end of 1915, when a Turkish invasion of Egypt seemed likely, Lawrence was put in charge of gathering information concerning the Hejaz railway, a Turkish line built to connect Damascus in the north with Medina in the south.
A contemporary map shows existing pilgrimage routes from the coast to the southern end of the railway.
Outline Map of Hejaz, in Handbook of Hejaz, 1917. IOR/L/MIL/17/16/12. Image available from Qatar Digital Library
In December 1916 Lawrence drew the following sketch on headed notepaper bearing the name, ‘Arab Bureau, Savoy Hotel, Cairo’. The sheet depicts the region between Yenbo on the coast (‘Yambo El-Bahr’ on the sheet above) and the railway, and provides corrections for a sheet of the existing 1:500,000 scale map series (GSGS 4011). Lawrence appears to make the recording of place names a priority - he takes care to list each of the four springs at ‘Sueig’ and the five springs at ‘Sueiga’, while the pencilled detail of the topography is in places hard to make out.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1916.
Lawrence was said to have an eccentric appearance, but an incisive mind – epithets which might also describe his mapmaking. By the high standards of military cartography, this and other sketches appear roughly drawn, or perhaps hastily made, and bear signs of Lawrence’s own quixotic and sometimes rebellious nature, as we shall see.
But they undoubtedly contributed to the correction of major inaccuracies on the maps available at that time. Lawrence would also have been aware that a skilled cartographer could make a fair copy from sketches such as this. The following sheet was traced from an original by Lawrence.
Womat. Arabia. 29(c), 1918.
On the back of the Yenbo sheet, two small sketches provide corrections to a region lying closer to Medina, while a separate note describes a stretch of Wadi Ais in characteristically poetic terms - ‘For the first 20 or 30 miles its course is E. with a trifle of South in it’.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1916.
Another sheet bears a sketch of three villages at Um Lejj, situated on the coast between Yenbo and Wejh to the north. His short visit there, alighting briefly from HMS Suva in January 1917, is described in his personal account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The sketch bears the same date as his visit, and appears on the back of naval signal notepaper.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
Lawrence takes the opportunity to note ‘New names’ for a revised map, and also provides, for the military cartographer who will receive it, an ironic description of the symbols he has drawn – ‘The three dots are the 3 villages of Um Lejj: the other things are palm-trees and hills. The trees are not really a mile high.’
By early 1917 Lawrence had left the Arab Bureau and was leading attacks himself on the Hejaz railway, in a British campaign to restrict Turkish forces stationed in Medina. The sheet below covers an area between the coastal settlement at Wejh and the railway - a mountainous region of desert that Lawrence crossed on camel-back before attacking the railway twice, first at Abu El Naam, and then at Madahrij. A powerful account of the expedition appears in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
The sheet itself was made a month later, and bears the date 8.5.17 - the day before he set off on his epic and well-known march across the desert to make a surprise attack from inland on Turkish-held Aqaba.
The map is supplemented with information from reconnaissance work he had carried out in the days before with members of the Royal Flying Corps, and its purpose again is to provide corrections to an existing sheet of the GSGS 4011 series. However, the brief compilation note near the upper right corner reports the uneven quality of his mapping resources – ‘Map compiled from compass bearings, camel time, & aeroplane observations.’
Detail of Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
Despite the undoubted value provided by Lawrence’s corrections, the limitations of the map series as a whole were acknowledged. Foreign Maps, a US Army Technical Manual made after World War Two, comments, ‘The numerous warning notes appearing on the sheets regarding internal inconsistencies and the lack of adequate control emphasise the unreliability of the series.’
The longer-lasting value of the sheets lies in Lawrence’s documentation of place names as reported to him by local inhabitants. Lawrence has divided this last map with red ink into five regions, within which place names are listed by feature type – hills, valleys, plains, water and railway stations – providing a checklist for the subsequent mapmaker.
Detail of Womat. Arabia. 29(b), 1917.
Later, his publisher queried the multiple spellings of place names found in the text of Revolt in the Desert, an abridged version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom - to which Lawrence replied, ‘I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the [transliteration] systems are.’
Distaste for such systems aside, you can’t help but feel that his maps belie a linguist’s care for words, recorded faithfully, but variously as his informants pronounced them.
These sheets are in line to be catalogued and digitised by the Partnership between the British Library and the Qatar National Library, and will become available for your enjoyment from the Qatar Digital Library.
21 December 2016
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.
But why does Santa Claus not appear on the map? The answer, of course, is that unlike these fantastical characters, Santa is emphatically REAL.
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.
21 November 2016
The British Library’s new exhibition Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line will look at the tumultuous 20th century through the eyes of maps. It is a period which we recognise as one of incredible highs and unimaginable lows, containing episodes ranging from the pinnacles of scientific achievement to the depths of barbarism. This is an exhibition in which we felt it was important not to airbrush the story of the 20th century, but to look at how maps (which can themselves be controversial objects) present multiple perspectives upon what happened in those 100 years.
As a result, Maps & the 20th century will cover a number of aspects of history which some might find difficult or controversial. The first is the inclusion of maps produced in association with war, genocide, humanitarian crises and other episodes which led to suffering and loss of life. As tools of war maps can present a compassion-less and cruel version of the world or, on the other hand, one loaded with emotion. What we have done is to use these maps to try and appreciate these events in the spirit of inquiry and respect.
Maps are ‘children of their times’, and as well as providing singular insights on the past this invariably means that they include language, imagery and perceptions of their times, including some which might appear shocking to a contemporary audience. These can, however, enable a perspective upon the changing values of society.
A handful of important non-western 20th century maps are included in the exhibition. However, the majority of exhibits are European or North American products, produced for audiences based there. This imbalance is not intended to demean or marginalise important non-western mapping practices. It reflects the reality of the 20th collections of the British Library, and is testament to the success of the imperial mapping project in the 19th and early 20th centuries which eradicated much mapping which did not conform to that idea. Much indigenous mapping was, and continues to be in spoken or otherwise ephemeral form more advanced but more difficult to capture than the maps we will display.
A map annotated according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1915-16. Map of Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia. London: Royal Geographical Society, 1916. Add.MS 88906/25/6
Some of the maps we display will show a version of the world which does not correspond with an understanding of the world held by some people. This might concern the location of a border, or even the named ascribed to some places. Whilst not necessarily aligning with any particular world view shown in a map in the exhibition, our reason for exhibiting is to understand why maps should show one certain world view over another. Understanding the motivations of the mapmaker is one of the key methods of unlocking the past through maps, and this is the aim of Maps & the 20th century: Drawing the Line.
Our exhibition is simply one of many countless stories of the 20th century that could be told, but we hope that the maps may allow us to look objectively on the recent past, and in so doing help to inform our future.
17 December 2015
The map researcher and dealer Ashley Baynton-Williams has written a book about some of the weirder and more wonderful historical maps in the British Library's collection. From the hundred maps included in 'Curious Maps', now published, we asked him to select his top three. Ashley.
I have always had an interest in maps created by the 'mapmaker at play', maps which have been historically - though not altogether accurately - termed 'cartographic curiosities'. Given the British Library is home to the best printed map library in the world, choosing a hundred of them for inclusion in 'Curious Maps' was a difficult task. Selecting the following three highlights from among them was even more difficult. Many of them were topical productions, produced to illustrate or satirise current events. The following selection shows how little has changed with the passage of time.
Lilian Lancaster, 'United States a correct outline', 1880. British Library Maps cc.5a.230
A recurring figure in the book is Lilian Lancaster, a well-known English actress, singer and stage performer, with a notable talent for drawing cartoons and caricatures, often cartographic in nature. Lilian was on a tour of the United States in 1880, during the final stages of the Presidential election, and the campaigning inspired her to draw two cartoons. Superimposed on the outline of the United States, this manuscript depicts the 'rough-and-tumble' of the campaign, with comic portraits of the two candidates as squabbling children in dresses: James A. Garfield (the Republican challenger) and his opponent Winfield Scott Hancock (the Democratic candidate). Uncle Sam has turned his back on the mayhem, clearly thinking that the future occupant of the White House should be chosen from serious men campaigning in a serious manner, not these two, throwing simplistic sound bite punches.
Thomas Onwhyn, Comic Map of the Seat of War with entirely new features [The Crimean War], 1854. British Library Maps X.6168.
Of all the different genres of curious map in the book my personal favourites are the serio-comic satirical maps of the second half of the nineteenth century. Of these, the best is Thomas Onwhyn's 'Comic Map of the Seat of War with entirely new features', signed 'Done by T.O.'. The initials are rather concealed along the southern coastline of Turkey and only recently spotted, allowing us to properly identify the mapmaker. Onwyn was the son of Joseph Onwhyn, an artist and engraver who had produced a 'Map of Green Bag Land', in 1820 which satirised the increasingly messy attempts by King George IV to divorce Queen Caroline.
The seat of war map was published in 1854 at the onset of the Crimean War between Great Britain, France and Turkey, on one side, and Russia on the other. A skilled production, it has a strong claim to be the very first serio-comic map. There are all manner of satirico-political references, with notably barbed comments about Russia.
However many times I look at it, there is always something new to see. I love the awful British puns (as does my friend, writer and blogger, Tim Bryars) - particularly the alcohol-related ones: Malta is depicted as a tankard of ale (malt beer); the Caucasus Mountains are a row of bottles with corks a-popping, labelled 'Cork as Us Mountains & Bottle him', while Constantinople is represented as a bottle of port, labelled 'The Sublime Port'!
The Crimean war was fought to peg back Russian aggression in south-eastern Europe. The references to the war in the Baltic and Black Seas give a humorous take on war, characterizing it as clipping the Russian bear's claws. This light-hearted approach was not always well received, with one reviewer complaining about this viewpoint while the reality was that men were daily being killed, wounded or dying from other causes.
Johnson Riddle & Co. Hark Hark The Dogs Do Bark, 1914. British Library Maps 1078.(42.).
When the First World War commenced in 1914, a new generation of artists produced comic maps to satirise the protagonists. Many thought that the war would be of short duration. But by 1915, when the human cost of the conflict became apparent, propaganda mapsadopted an altogether darker tone.My third choice is 'Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark!', published by Johnson, Riddle & Co. in 1914. The artist has chosen to depict the different nations as dogs. Many are obvious choices, notably the British bulldog and the French poodle, while Germany (the enemy) is depicted as the funny-shaped and rather harmless dachshund, rather than the German Shepherd (Alsatian) or Rottweiler that a German publisher might have chosen. I like to think that the puppet-master who is controlling the strings of the Royal Navy ships is Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, while others argue that it is simply a generic 'John Bull' figure, and any likeness to Churchill coincidental.
The rather naive jingoism of these two satirical maps makes for fascinating and compelling, images alas, that war could be as harmless and as 'fun' as the cartoons satirising them.
The Curious Map book is published by the British Library and available here.
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