Mapping the Past

Another book I missed at the time of its publication: Charles Drazen’s Mapping the Past: A Search for Five Brothers at the Edge of Empire (William Henemann, August 2016). It’s a family history: Drazin’s grandfather and brothers were military surveyors from rural Ireland “who travelled around the world as officers in the Royal Engineer Corps—surveying, exploring, mapmaking, fighting— in the twilight years of the British Empire.” [WMS]

The Cultural Impact of the Irish Ordnance Survey

ordnance-survey-irish-literatureCóilín Parsons is the author of The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, June 2016; Amazon, iBooks), which links the Ordnance Survey of Ireland to the origins of literary modernism in Ireland. Writing in The Irish Times, Parsons makes a larger argument about the cultural impact of the Irish survey, which resulted in large part from the survey’s precise mapping requirements and the need to hire non-cartographic scholars to get the job done—they were mapping aspects of Irish life that had not previously received official attention.

This unlikely assembly came about because the survey was instructed to make a map at a scale of six inches to one mile. The scale might seem unexceptional to anyone who grew up using the survey’s maps, but at the time it was nothing short of revolutionary—it called for enormous maps of frequently sparsely inhabited areas, and at a level of detail never before seen across such a vast expanse of land. How was the survey to gather the information to fill in such detailed maps? The answer was to task not only the engineers of the army, but also a crew of civilian workers under Petrie’s supervision, to both map the physical features of the landscape and also record every possible aspect of the landscape from its placenames (the initial justification for employing Irish language scholars) and archeology to its productive economy.


Mapping the Four Corners

mapping-the-four-cornersOut this month from University of Oklahoma PressMapping the Four Corners: Narrating the Hayden Survey of 1875 by Robert S. McPherson and Susan Rhoades Neel. From the publisher: “By skillfully weaving the surveyors’ diary entries, field notes, and correspondence with newspaper accounts, historians Robert S. McPherson and Susan Rhoades Neel bring the Hayden Survey to life. Mapping the Four Corners provides an entertaining, engaging narrative of the team’s experiences, contextualized with a thoughtful introduction and conclusion.” Buy at Amazon. [WMS]

See also: Map Books of 2016.

An Ordnance Survey Roundup


  • Concomitant with the Survey’s map of Mars was a competition to design a map symbol to represent landing sites. The winner has been announced: the OS will use Paul Marsh’s symbol, which incorporates the Mars symbol with landing gear, on its Mars maps in the future.

The Trig Pillar at 80

Blencathra From Skiddaw Trig Pillar. OS BM S1543. Photo by Andrew (CC licence).

The Ordnance Survey are marking the 80th anniversary of the Retriangulation of Great Britain, which began on this day in 1936. More from BBC News. Events include the Trig Pillar Trail Challenge, which invites people to post pictures to social media of one of 25 selected trig (triangulation) pillars (the #TrigPillar80 hashtag is very busy this morning). There are Flickr galleries of various trig pillars from Flickr user Andrew (who took the one above in 2013) and (of course) the Ordnance Survey.