Picturing Places and the Klencke Atlas

From the Klencke Atlas, c. 1660. British Library.

This week the British Library launched an online collection of digitized “topographical materials” (i.e., views of and writings about places) called Picturing Places. More than 500 items—paintings, prints, drawings, texts and yes, maps—so far, sorted by theme and with dozens of accompanying articles.

Picturing Places demonstrates that topography involves far more than straightforward ‘pictorial evidence’ of what a place looked like in the past. We showcase some of the Library’s most treasured topographical materials, including Tudor views collected by Robert Cotton and maps and views owned by George III. But much of this material remains uncharted, and is being brought to wider attention for the first time. The first phase of Picturing Places features over 500 collection items, most never published before, and over 100 articles providing fresh perspectives and new ideas.

One of these digitized items is one of the Library’s crown jewels: the gigantic Klencke Atlas presented to Charles II in 1660, all of the pages of which can now be viewed online. How do you digitize an atlas that is 1.76 by 2.31 metres wide when open? Not with a flatbed scanner, you don’t. Here’s how:

Previously: British Library Digitizing George III’s Map Collection.

Engraved Copper Plates Retrieved

The British Library has acquired nine engraved copper plates, used to print maps of India for the East India Company in the late 18th and early 19th century, from a scrap metal dealer. Another plate had been acquired in 1988 from a Norfolk farmer, who had intended to use it as a mudguard for his tractor. The plates were apparently diverted to the scrap metal trade during a move in 1860; how they managed to avoid being melted down for their copper in the intervening 150 years is a minor miracle. Daily Mail. [WMS]

Previously: Copper Plates Used to Make Topo Maps on Display.

The British Library on Fantasy Maps

Bernard Sleigh, "An ancient mappe of Fairyland," 1918. British Library.
Bernard Sleigh, “An ancient mappe of Fairyland,” 1918. British Library.

British Library curator Tom Harper writes about fantasy maps, which make up a major component of the Library’s current exhibition, Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line (previously).

Fantasy maps increased in number during the 20th century due to the rise of science fiction and fantasy writing, and the birth of television and video games.

Many of them are products of the wildest imaginations, and are immersive places of escapism. Yet all of them retain vestiges of the ‘real’ world in which they were created—whether because of a particular feature illustrated in it, the way in which it has been drawn, or even the ‘real-world’ contexts which inspired it.

Harper’s examples aren’t what someone well-versed in fantasy fiction would expect: they include Milne and Tolkien, but also Sleigh’s 1918 map of Fairyland (above), San Serriffe, and other maps of the unreal from outside genre fiction. (A reminder that fantasy map does not only mean map accompanying a secondary-world fantasy novel in the Tolkien tradition.)

Opening Today: British Library Exhibition on 20th-Century Maps

Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line opens today at the British Library. It runs until 1 March 2017. Admission is £12, with reduced-price and free admissions in some cases.

The Guardian’s Mark Brown and the Spectator’s Stephen Bayley have long and thoughtful pieces about the exhibition. The Independent’s Simon Calder is somewhat more solipsistic, but observes that this exhibition “might prove to be a wintry retrospective on the summer of peak cartography.”

There was also a segment on BBC Breakfast (using music from The Lord of the Rings was a bit of cognitive dissonance); the clip is available on Twitter:

The British Library’s Maps and Views blog has a sample of the maps on display.

maps-20th-drawing-line-book-coverAs you’d expect from a major exhibition like this, a companion book is out this week from the British Library. It’s available from Amazon UK in both hardcover and paperback; those of us in North America will have to wait a bit until it turns up here.

Previously: British Library Exhibition on 20th Century Maps Opening in November.

British Library Exhibition on 20th Century Maps Opening in November

The British Library’s upcoming exhibition, Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, runs from 4 November 2016 to 1 March 2017. Tickets are now on sale.

Two World Wars. The moon landings. The digital revolution. This exhibition of extraordinary maps looks at the important role they played during the 20th century. It sheds new light on familiar events and spans conflicts, creativity, the ocean floor and even outer space.

It includes exhibits ranging from the first map of the Hundred Acre Wood to secret spy maps, via the New York Subway. And, as technology advances further than we ever imagined possible, it questions what it really means to have your every move mapped.

The Evening Standard and TimeOut London look at one item going on display: Harry Beck’s original sketch of what would become the iconic Tube map.

British Library Digitizing George III’s Map Collection

On New Year’s Eve The Arts Newspaper reported on the British Library’s efforts to digitize the 50,000 maps and plans that make up the King George III Topographical Collection. (George III was apparently quite the map collector, one not above choosing not to return maps he borrowed.) They’re about a quarter of the way through so far. The collection’s crown jewel, so to speak, is the ludicrously large (176 × 231 cm) Klencke Atlas.