Review: Treasures from the Map Room

treasures-map-room-obliqueIf all maps must necessarily be selective, choosing what to show and what to leave out, surely map books must do the same. That thought came to mind as I perused Treasures from the Map Room—no relation—a book that presents maps from Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, collected and curated by the Bodleian Map Room’s senior library assistant, Debbie Hall.

“Although maps have formed part of the Bodleian’s collections from early on, they have been collected actively only since around 1800,” Hall writes in the introduction. Broadly speaking, the Bodleian’s map holdings come from a combination of bequests and legal deposit requirements. The latter in particular means that the Bodleian’s holdings of British maps—including virtually every Ordnance Survey map and a large number of commercially published maps—are very extensive. The bequests are sometimes much better known: maps named for their owners and donors rather than their creators—the Gough Map, the Selden Map—falling into the Bodleian’s hands.

Hall organizes her selection—some 75 maps—into seven chapters organized by theme: Travel and Exploration, Knowledge and Science, Pride and Ownership, Maps of War, The City in Maps, Maps for Fun, and Imaginary Lands. Sometimes those themes make for unlikely juxtapositions: Hall mentions the Tabula Peutingeriana and American highway maps in very nearly the same breath; and Maps for Fun, a chapter dealing with tourism, recreation and travel, includes a 15th-century Holy Land pilgrimage map—Reuwich’s Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam—alongside the MountMaps 3D Navigator Map. But apart from that the chapters present us with some very interesting maps indeed: Travel and Exploration gives us the Gough and Selden maps; Knowledge and Science discusses Mercator, Ortelius and early astronomical maps, John Speed, Christopher Saxton and the Ordnance Survey; Maps of War gives us fortifications and plans, siege and trench maps, but also silk escape maps of World War II; Imaginary Lands ranges from Hole’s Poly-Olbion maps to Leo Belgicus, Tolkien and Lewis, and the art of Layla Curtis.

We get, in other words, a taste of just about everything—but only a taste. The breadth of Treasures of the Map Room is both a blessing and a curse. We’re made aware of the volume and diversity of the Bodleian’s map holdings, but we never get a chance to drill down beyond the most cursory of examinations, never more than one example of something. On the other hand, Hall’s approach brings to the fore maps that might not otherwise be included in books like this—books that can privilege the rare and the ancient over the more mundane but more significant. For example, the map I found myself staring at the most was the 1864 Ordnance Plan of the Crystal Palace and its Environs, a 1:2,500 map of incredible detail and delicacy. You might find yourself lingering over some other map. Discoveries like this are, I suspect, the whole point of book that is, after all, about a library’s hidden treasures.

I received a review copy from the North American distributor for this book, the University of Chicago Press.

Treasures of the Map Room edited by Debbie Hall (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2016). Hardcover, 224 pp., £35/$60. ISBN 978-1-85124-2504. Buy at Amazon.

Previously: Treasures from the Map Room.

The Chimney Map

The big news in the map world this week is a 17th-century map that was found in Aberdeen, Scotland, stuffed up a chimney to stop drafts. Discovered during renovations, the map was handed over to the National Library of Scotland, which found it to be in very bad shape: the 2.2×1.6-metre map, identified as work by the Dutch engraver Gerald Valck, was disintegrating, with pieces falling off every time it was moved. The Library’s restoration process is featured in an article in the winter 2016 issue of their magazine, Discover (direct PDF link), and in two videos about the map: one I’ve posted above, plus another, shorter video. You should take a look at them all: they present a fascinating look inside the conservation process. More coverage at Atlas ObscuraBBC News and Smithsonian.com.

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.

A Roundup of Canadian Map News

Various items about maps and map history from here in Canada:

Last month former Canadian diplomat Dan Livermore donated his small collection of 17th- and 18th-century maps to the Brock University Library’s Special Collections and Archives, which will digitize the maps. St. Catharines Standard. [Tony Campbell/WMS]

Also last month, the Parry Sound North Star’s John Macfie came into possession of an 1886 map of the area by a local land agent, the history and provenance of which he explores in some detail. [WMS]

As the site of a major aviation base during World War II, the town of Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, is surrounded by crash sites and other historical points of interest; the town and local historical groups are now mapping those sites and creating trails to them. [WMS]

Michael Layland, author of a book about the early maps and charts of Vancouver Island, writes in the Victoria Times-Colonist about his map habit and his research methods for that book. [WMS]

Exhibition Writeups

A couple of reviews of recent map exhibitions that I’ve mentioned before. First, the Arctic Journal looks at the Osher Map Library’s current exhibition, The Northwest Passage: Navigating Old Beliefs and New Realities (see previous entry). And the St. Louis Library’s fantasy maps exhibit (see previous entry), which wrapped up earlier this month, got a writeup from Book Riot. [Book Riot/Osher Maps]

Library of Congress Conference Celebrates 500th Anniversary of Waldseemüller’s Carta Marina

Manuscript Page from the 1516 Carta Marina. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Manuscript Page from the 1516 Carta Marina. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Later this week, the Library of Congress will host a two-day conference celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Waldseemüller’s 1516 map, Carta Marina. Facts or Fictions: Debating the Mysteries of Early Modern Science and Cartography will take place on 6-7 October in the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C. The conference agenda is not limited to Waldseemüller or his 1516 map; notable speakers include Kirsten Seaver, Chet Van Duzer and, with a major lecture, Dava Sobel. Free admission; no tickets or reservations required.

(The 1516 Carta Marina should not be confused with the Waldseemüller map most people mean: it’s his 1507 Universalis Cosmographia that names “America.” Nor should it be confused with Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina.)

Early Map of Detroit Acquired

William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

The University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library has acquired an early hand-drawn map of Detroit—from the period it was a British outpost—that sheds new light on the city’s early history.

A framed 21-by-40-inch map that reveals a plan of the city in 1790 was discovered in a family home in Almonte, Ontario, after the owner contacted historians to check its validity. […]

Historians concluded that the rare, previously unknown hand-drawn, hand-colored map, titled “Rough sketch of the King’s Domain at Detroit,” was indeed an original—drawn on high-quality, watermarked 18th-century paper, and signed by its author, D. W. Smith (Captain David William Smith), dated September 1790.

An exhibition centred on the map is coming in 2017. Detroit News coverage. [WMS]

Treasures from the Map Room

treasures-map-room-obliqueA new book, Treasures from the Map Room, “explores the stories behind seventy-five extraordinary maps” held at the Bodleian Library, including the Gough Map, the Selden Map, and maps by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Edited by Debbie Hall, it’s out now in the U.K. and next month in North America. Buy at Amazon. [Tony Campbell]

Related: Map Books of 2016.

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.

Library of Congress Exhibition: Mapping a Growing Nation

buell
Abel Buell, A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America, 1784. On deposit to the Library of Congress from David M. Rubenstein.

Speaking of the Library of Congress, yesterday it opened a new exhibition both online and at the Library’s North Exhibition Gallery. Mapping a Growing Nation: From Independence to Statehood features the best known copy of Abel Buell’s 1784 New and Correct Map of the United States of North America—“which, among other things, has been recognized as the very first map of the newly independent United States to be compiled, printed, and published in America by an American. Additionally, the 1784 publication is the first map to be copyrighted in the United States, registered under the auspices of the Connecticut State Assembly.” Accompanying Buell’s map are other early maps—often the first maps—of each U.S. state; the maps will rotate on and off physical display for space reasons but will eventually all be featured online. [WMS]

Map Exhibition in Toronto: The Art of Cartography

The Art of Cartography, opening 13 August at the Toronto Reference Library and running until 16 October, is “a new exhibit showcasing the unexpected beauty of maps and atlases from the 16th to the 19th century. The exhibit features world maps, atlases, manuscript maps, sea charts, celestial maps, city plans and other cartographic curiosities from the library’s Special Collections.” The Toronto Star has some selections. [WMS]

The William H. Galvani Rare Maps Collection

Last month KVAL TV of Eugene, Oregon took a look at the recently catalogued William H. Galvani Rare Maps Collection at Oregon State University. The maps, more than a thousand in number, were bequeathed by Galvani, along with more than five thousand books, to what was then Oregon State College in 1947. It’s taken this long to catalogue the collection, which emphasizes military maps and includes maps from the 16th through the 20th centuries. [WMS]