The Map That Came to Life

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.

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.