Excellent Twitter thread from Jeannette Ng talking about old maps in the context of fantasy map design. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart: fantasy maps are essentially modern maps whose design language post-dates 16th- or 17th-century mapmakers like Olaus Magnus and Joan Blaeu; Ng talks about what are essentially the non-geographic purposes of old maps, and as I understand things she is entirely correct. Start here and scroll down.
Atlas of Nebraska by J. Clark Archer et al. (Bison Books). “Far more than simply the geography of Nebraska, this atlas explores a myriad of subjects from Native Americans to settlement patterns, agricultural ventures to employment, and voting records to crime rates.” [Amazon]
Update (30 Oct.): Jonathan Land Evans writes with information on overseas orders for his book, Bermuda Maps: “The most direct way by which people overseas may order copies is by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, as the museum now uses The Bookmart bookstore in Bermuda for all order-fulfillment involving shipping to addresses outside Bermuda. The hardback book is a large one, handsomely illustrated in colour, and costs $65 plus postage.”
Beginning particularly in the eighteenth century, philosophers began to debate what role each of our senses has in this experience. For eighteenth-century philosophers, the crucial distinction was between sight and touch. Would we, they asked, be able to experience depth and understand size without our sense of touch? George Berkeley and Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, among others, hypothesized that touch, in fact, was primarily responsible for our experience and understanding of space. All visual knowledge about depth and size, they suggested, derived from tactile experiences. In other words, we needed touch to teach us to see. But what happens to the map if we take seriously this challenge to a visual understanding of space?
All maps in this exhibition toy with the relationship between touch and sight. For some, their interest in touch and sight is ornamental. Either by delighting in the visual illusion of tactility or by referring to a visual cliché, these maps enliven their design—and attract buyers—by appealing to our hands. For others, their interest in touch and sight is about knowledge itself. Either by depicting cartographers’ tools and materials or by tempting us to touch what is not there, these maps play with our sense of what a map is and where it comes from. Paradoxically, they teach us visually about particular places while also questioning the basis for their own visual instruction.
Though I haven’t seen it, the most recent issue of Maps and History reports on the discovery of a fragment of an early portolan chart in the departmental archives of the Vaucluse. The so-called Avignon Chart (Carte d’Avignon)1 dates to around 1300, making it one of the earlier portolan charts known to exist. If you can read French, the Brussels Map Circle’s website has a lengthy article about the chart by Jacques Mille and Paul Fermon that discusses, among other things, the chart’s provenance and how its approximate age was determined. (I don’t know whether this is the same article that appears in Maps and History.) [Tony Campbell]
Maps are artifacts of the era in which they were created: they reflect not only what people knew about the world, but how they saw it. That’s the thrust of Amelia Soth’s article for JSTOR Daily about The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences, and Marvels for the Eyes, a Fatimid-era cosmography compiled in Egypt in the 11th century; the Bodleian Library’s example is a late 12th/early 13th-century copy.
There is a philosophy underlying the geography. It pins abstract concepts to points in space, placing civilization and order at the center and wilderness and chaos at the edges. The medieval Arab world inherited the Greek conception of geography—in particular, that of Ptolemy, who separated the world into seven climates. The concentric arcs marked on the map represent these climates. The world is mapped as a circle with a center and a periphery; the regions grow hotter to the south and colder to the north, buffeted by different kinds of winds on the eastern and western sides, while the land at the heart of the map enjoys a harmonious balance of elemental forces. The people living at the center benefit from the temperate weather and grow up beautiful and healthy.
In the 1770s British surveyor George Gauld mapped the Florida Keys, taking careful note of the location and depth of Florida reefs. A study published last month in Science Advances compares Gauld’s maps with modern-day satellite imagery and concludes that half of the area occupied by coral in the eighteenth century has disappeared. As the Washington Post reports, the cause of the coral’s disappearance is unclear, though several potential human and natural factors are put forward. [WMS]
Historic Maps of the Southwest, an exhibition at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts in Los Lunas, New Mexico (just south of Albuquerque), features maps on loan from the Albuquerque Museum. Opened on 9 September and runs until the end of December. The Valencia County News-Bulletin has details: “Most of the maps in the exhibit are originals of the Spanish colonial era, the Mexican era, the New Mexico Territorial period and the early statehood period, such as the 1926 and 1928 automobile trail maps.” [WMS]
Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below opened last Friday at the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center and runs until 25 February 2018. The theme: subsurface mapping. “In this exhibition, you will see how ancient Romans carved vast underground catacombs, how minerals and natural resources have been studied, engineered and transported since the 19th century, how today’s scientific and cartographic advancements have enabled us to picture the entire ocean floor, and what lies below the streets of Boston.”
Finland in Ancient Cartography, an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, is being hosted by the National Archives of Finland in Helsinki, in cooperation with the Embassy of Italy in Finland and the Italian Institute of Culture. “The exhibition focuses on the depiction of Finland and offers a journey through ancient cartography history and the representation of the country from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. It places special emphasis on satirical cartography between the end of nineteenth century and the First World War, as these periods are strictly connected to Finnish independence. More than 40 maps from the Gianni Brandozzi Collection and the National Archives are displayed.” Opened 21 September; runs until 17 November. [WMS]
Maps aren’t always named for their creators. The Gough map and the Selden map are named the people who owned them last before bequeathing them to the Bodleian Library. The Cantino planisphere, a Portuguese map of the world showing that country’s discoveries in the Americas and along the African coast, is named after the person who, ah, acquired it: in 1502 Alberto Cantino, undercover agent for the Duke of Ferrara, smuggled it out of Portugal, where maps were state secrets. Here’s an article about the Cantino planisphere from the March/April 2017 issue of National Geographic History magazine.
Two related map exhibitions are taking place right now in the Netherlands. Mapping Japan runs until 26 November at the Japan Museum SieboldHuis in Leiden. Its focus is on 18th- and 19th-century Japanese maps from the Leiden University Libraries’ collections. “The impressive scroll painting of the Japanese coast and the personal maps belonging to Philipp Franz van Siebold (on display for the first time) are unquestionably the highlights of this exhibition.” (Possessing those maps got Siebold in considerable trouble in Japan.) Also in Leiden, Mapping Asia runs until 14 January 2018 at the Museum Volkenkunde. Its focus is on the objectivity (or lack thereof) in cartography, and features maps of both European and Asian origin. One highlight is a digitally reconstructed map of the Chinese Empire. [WMS/WMS]
Inside the lab, conservators talk about the care of antique maps like a doctor discusses a patient’s condition and treatment in an intensive care unit.
Conservators will lay a given map on a table for an exam and diagnose the issue: Is it brittle or burned? Damaged by water or tape? Crumbly, delaminated or peeling? Then they record the treatment in a chart of sorts so that years later, the next caretaker will know what remedy was given.
The repair process of a map—like that for a more than 200-year-old, torn illustration of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—typically takes several hours, though sometimes the conservators will spend days working on just one.