The Map That Came to Life


As part of National Map Reading Week, the British Library’s map blog points to at least one example of how map reading used to be taught.

One of the most celebrated 20th century children’s map reading guides is showcased in our forthcoming exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. Published in 1948, Ronald Lampitt and James Deverson’s The Map that Came to Life follows the story of John and Joanna who use an Ordnance Survey map to walk to town. As they pass over fields, past houses and along footpaths, their surroundings are compared with map adjacent on the same page. The fields turn into contoured blank spaces, houses become black cubes, footpaths dashed lines. Map literacy is acquired by the reader as they accompany the children on their virtual journey, matching map with reality.

In The Map that Came to Life the map is portrayed as an objective, precise and above all truthful mirror of nature. And this inherent trustworthiness enabled maps to become important features of the lives of successive generations of people.

The idea that maps are objective and truthful is not something that would fly today, I think, but in the context of entry-level map education, which in Britain always seems to be specifically in terms of how to read an Ordnance Survey map, rather than maps in general, it seems harmless enough.

A complete scan of the book is available on this website. Back in 2008, Philip Wilkinson talked about the book on the English Buildings blog.

A Historical Atlas of Tibet

historical-atlas-tibetKarl E. Ryavec’s Historical Atlas of Tibet (University of Chicago Press, May 2015) was reviewed in India Today by an unusual personage: Nirupama Rao, who among other things has served as India’s ambassador to China and the U.S. Rao calls it “a much-needed and welcome work of scholarship that should benefit and enlighten committed scholars and Tibet aficionados alike. This is a 200-page atlas that is a revelation in itself.” [Tony Campbell]

Gregor Turk’s Conflux

Gregor Turk, Choke: Hormuz- Land (left) & Water (right). | wood and rubber | 20" x 20" x 3"
Gregor Turk, Choke: Hormuz — Land (left) and Water (right). Wood and rubber, 20″×20″× 3″.

Gregor Turk’s Conflux is on display at Spalding Nix Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia until October 28. Conflux “features wall-mounted box-like maps of global choke points, strategic locations where passage by land or sea is constricted.  Coastlines are depicted as alternating positive and negative cut-outs, framed in a grid and wrapped with repurposed rubber (bicycle inner tubes). Shadows and negative space come into play with the stark structures.” Turk’s past art includes ceramics and public art installations inspired by topographic and city maps; see also his 49th Parallel Project. [The Map as Art]

Pluto Globe Announced

pluto-globeAstronomy magazine has announced a new globe of Pluto based on data from the 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet by the New Horizons probe. The 12-inch globe is limited by what New Horizons was able to see: it’s low-resolution in some areas and blank in others. In addition, 65 surface features are labelled—a brave move considering that all the names are provisional until the IAU approves them. The globe sells for $100.

Atlas of Improbable Places

atlas-improbable-placesTravis Elborough’s Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners came out last month from Aurum Press. The maps are by Alan Horsfield. “With beautiful maps and stunning photography illustrating each destination, Atlas of Improbable Places is a fascinating voyage to the world’s most incredible destinations. As the Island of Dolls and the hauntingly titled Door to Hell—an inextinguishable fire pit—attest, mystery is never far away.”

This appears to be another entry in the curated-collection-of-unusual-places genre, typified by such books as Atlas Obscura (my review), the Atlas of Remote Islands, the Atlas of Cursed Places (my review) or Unruly Places/Off the Map (my review).

Related: Map Books of 2016.

Free Workshop on How to Value Antique Maps

The Fry-Jefferson Map Society is hosting a free workshop on how to value antique maps. It takes place at the Library of Virginia in Richmond on Saturday, 5 November 2016 and is led by Eliane Dotson, co-owner of Old World Auctions. I’d attend this if I could; I used to get a lot of questions from readers asking how much their maps were worth, enough that I had to add it to the FAQ, so I’d love to know a little about it. [WMS]

Matthew Picton Exhibition in Portland, Oregon

Matthew Picton, Berlin Alexanderplatz (left); Moscow, The Master and Margarita (right).
Matthew Picton, Berlin Alexanderplatz (left); Moscow, The Master and Margarita (right).

An exhibition of Matthew Picton’s art is taking place at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The Fall runs until 29 October.

Matthew Picton’s wall-mounted sculptures constructed from paper and vellum provide aerial views of urban environments. Unlike street maps, Picton’s representations are at once cartographic, topographical and cultural, incorporating period-specific texts and popular culture ephemera. In The Fall, Picton aims to illuminate periods of struggle and transition in societies and cultures that underwent seismic upheavals through the lens of literary and cinematic imagery. These works place elements of film posters and stills within the cartographic landscape of the city in which they are set, exploring the inversions of power and authority and the moral upending of society and civilization.

[The Map as Art]

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas

nonstop-metropolisAnother book coming out this month: Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro (University of California Press, 19 October). It’s the third and apparently final book in a series of city atlases authored or co-authored by Solnit — you may remember Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (2010) or Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (2013). If you do, you’ll have some idea of what Nonstop Metropolis is likely to be about. Curbed New York’s Nathan Kensinger has a piece on it, in case you don’t. [MAPS-L]

Hazard Maps of Yukon Communities

Old Crow Landscape Hazard Risk Map (detail).
Old Crow Landscape Hazard Risk Map (detail).

Several Yukon communities are built on permafrost. In the context of climate change, that’s something of a problem. CBC News reports on a six-year research project that has produced hazard maps of seven Yukon communities; the maps evaluate the risk to future development from permafrost melting, flooding and ground instability. [CCA]

Maggiolo Planisphere of 1531 to be Auctioned

Vesconte Maggiolo Planiphere of 1531. Daniel Crouch Rare Books.
Vesconte Maggiolo Planiphere of 1531. Daniel Crouch Rare Books.

A 16th-century portolan chart is being auctioned later this month at TEFAF New York. “The map, which was created by a Genoese cartographer named Vesconte Maggiolo in 1531, is one of the first depictions of America’s eastern seaboard. It’s also the first (extant) map, ever, to show New York harbor,” Bloomberg’s James Tarmy writes. The asking price is $10 million—which would tie it with the Library of Congress’s copy of the Waldseemüller map as the most expensive map ever. The seller, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, has produced a detailed, lavishly illustrated 56-page booklet befitting a map with an eight-figure asking price. [WMS]

New Map Books for October 2016

October is a busy month: I’m aware of six new map books coming out. Two deal with the mapping of war, three with the rich cartographical history of Great Britain, while the sixth is a colouring book.

maps-of-warMaps of War: Mapping Conflict Through the Centuries by Jeremy Black (Conway, 11 October). “There is little documented mapping of conflict prior to the Renaissance period, but, from the 17th century onward, military commanders and strategists began to document the wars in which they were involved and, later, to use mapping to actually plan the progress of a conflict. Using contemporary maps, this sumptuous new volume covers the history of the mapping of land wars, and shows the way in which maps provide a guide to the history of war.”

war-map-bookWar Map: Pictorial Conflict Maps, 1900-1950 by Philip Curtis and Jakob Sondergard Pedersen (The Map House, 6 October). This is a companion book to the Map House’s exhibition of pictorial conflict maps, which I told you about last week.

Scotland: Mapping the Islandsscotland-mapping-islands by Christopher Fleet, Charles W.J. Withers and Margaret Wilkes (Birlinn, 20 October). A follow-up to Scotland: Mapping the Nation (Birlinn, 2012), this book explores the Scottish islands through maps from the National Library of Scotland’s collection.


Art and Optics in the Hereford Map: An English Mappa Mundi, c. 1300 by Marcia Kupfer (Yale University Press, 25 October). Reinterpretation of the Hereford Mappa Mundi from an art history perspective. “Features of the colored and gilded map that baffle modern expectations are typically dismissed as the product of careless execution. Kupfer argues that they should rightly be seen as part of the map’s encoded commentary on the nature of vision itself.”

great-british-colouring-mapI told you about the Ordnance Survey’s Great British Colouring Map (Laurence King, 10 October) last July; it’s available this week. “Based on the accurate maps of Ordnance Survey, the colouring pages explore the coasts, towns, forests and countryside of England, Scotland and Wales. Includes detailed maps of cities and other places of interest such as Britain’s most recognizable tourist and historical locations, plus a stunning gatefold of London.”

britains-tudor-mapsBritain’s Tudor Maps: County by County (Batsford, 13 October) reproduces  the maps from John Speed’s 1611 Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. These apparently include the first individual county maps of Great Britain, so this is a work of some historical significance.

New Website About the 1507 Waldseemüller Map


A Land Beyond the Stars is a major new website dedicated to Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map. Announced last week, it’s a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy; the latter institution is responsible for the multimedia presentation.

[The website] brings the map’s wealth of historical, technical, scientific and geographic data to a broader public. Interactive videos explain the sciences of cartography and astronomy and the state of navigational and geographic knowledge during the time of Waldseemüller. Developed with materials from the Library of Congress and other libraries around the world, the name of the website stems from Waldseemüller’s use of a passage from Roman poet Virgil, which can be found in the upper left corner of the 1507 map.


Trump, Clinton and the Gender Gap

A pronounced gender split is emerging in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Based on national polls in October, Nate Silver writes, “on average, Clinton leads Trump by 15 percentage points among women while trailing him by 5 points among men. How would that look on the electoral map?” Silver does a quick-and-dirty estimation by adding or subtracting 10 points to/from the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Moving 10 points to Clinton’s column approximates what the electoral map would look like if only women voted:


Moving those 10 points to Trump’s column approximates the results if only men voted:


You’ve almost certainly seen these maps make the rounds of social media. This is where they came from and how they were made.