Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library

Every year, at about this time of year, gorgeous hardcover collections of maps start appearing in bookstores. The timing is not coincidental: map aficionados need gifts bought for them, after all. But there’s something about these books, usually assembled from a single library’s massive collection, that’s worth thinking about. The British Library, for example, has more than four million maps in its vaults—how does an author preparing a book based on that collection decide which of those maps to include? (Some maps will be no-brainers: they cannot not be included.) And less obviously, but more critically, how do you organize the book, if it has no specific theme or focus? If you’re going to put out a book that says, essentially, “look at all these maps we’ve got locked up here,” you have to decide on some kind of order.

There are several ways to do it: Treasures from the Map Room, Debbie Hall’s 2016 collection of maps from the Bodleian Library (reviewed here), organizes itself by subject, for example. Whereas the book under consideration here, Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library (The British Library, 11 October), curated by the Library’s Tom Harper, organizes its many interesting and beautiful maps by continent. This is exactly the structure of a world atlas, and explains Harper’s choice of title. The chapters on each continent are bookended by chapters on the universe, world maps, seas and oceans, and fantasy worlds; and the continents are deliberately and pointedly arranged in alphabetical order, with Africa leading and Europe last.1

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Stanfords Is Moving

British map and travel bookstore Stanfords is moving its London store from its venerable Long Acre location, where they’ve been since 1901 (!), to a new building on Mercer Walk, all of 200 metres away. They cite a need for more back-office space for their online business. The new store is officially scheduled to open in January, but the ground floor will be open as a gift boutique later this month. [TimeOut London/MAPS-L]

A 1947 Diagrammatic Map of London’s Trolley Routes

Trolleybus & Tram Routes (1947)

Maps of bus, tram and trolley networks are, I think, more likely to use geographical maps of the city’s road network as their base layer than subway and rail maps. That’s not always the case—nor has it always been the case. Take this 1947 map of London’s trolleybus and tram routes, executed by Fred J. H. Elston. Cameron Booth finds that it has “more in common with modern best practices for transit diagrams than with something that’s now 70 years old.” On the other hand, Ollie O’Brien, writing at Mapping London, thinks that this map proves that “the simplicity of the tube map doesn’t translate very well to London’s complex road network. So perhaps this is why the idea almost didn’t survive for above-ground networks, and London’s more modern bus maps (now discontinued) have always used the actual geographical network.” Christopher Wyatt, sharing the map on Twitter, notes a big, Westminster-shaped hole in the trolley network that matches London’s speed limit map: “It does seem as though there is a historical pattern of aversion to transportation equity from Westminster.”

The First Ordnance Survey Map

The first map produced by the Ordnance Survey, their blog reminds us, was this map of Kent. Published in 1801 at the scale of two inches to one mile (1:31,680), it took three years to complete; the OS started in Kent over fears of a French invasion. As such, the map “focused on communication routes and included hill shading to ensure men at arms could interpret the landscape with precision. Over time, this map design became less focused on these elements and was developed to appeal to a much wider audience.”

The definitive history of the early years of the Ordnance Survey is Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation, which I reviewed in 2012.

How to Navigate the Seas of a Flat Fantasy World

How does navigation work on a flat world? Admittedly this is not a question that comes up outside flat earth societies, at least not in the real world, but fantasy worlds aren’t always spherical. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, for example, started off as a flat world, but became round during a cataclysmic event. Before that, the Númenóreans (Aragorn’s ancestors, for those not totally up on their Tolkien lore) were held to be the greatest seafarers in the world: “mariners whose like shall never be again since the world was diminished,” as The Silmarillion puts it. The problem is, a flat earth has implications for navigation: many known methods simply wouldn’t work.

“Mithlond” by Jordy Lakiere

In a piece I wrote for Tor.com,The Dúnedain and the Deep Blue Sea: On Númenórean Navigation,” I try to puzzle out how they could have navigated the oceans of a flat world. I come up with a solution or two, within the limitations of my math abilities. (I’m sure readers who have more math than I do will be able to come up with something better.) It assumes a certain familiarity with Tolkien’s works, and it draws rather heavily on John Edward Huth’s Lost Art of Finding Our Way, which I reviewed here, not at all coincidentally, last month.

Using Machine Learning to Map Fictional Worlds

Mapping Fictional Worlds is a project to create maps and virtual spaces from literary texts. This seems to be a machine learning project: using natural language processing to build a world around a text that didn’t necessarily come with a map. One component, highlighted by the Guardian, is LitCraft: creating literary worlds using Minecraft. Such as Treasure Island. More at the project’s Chronotopic Cartographies blog. [David Garcia]

Atlas Obscura Wants Your D&D Maps

Atlas Obscura is looking for your Dungeons and Dragons maps. “Not unlike the maps found in many fantasy novels, DIY D&D maps act as blueprints to imaginary spaces. Usually, once a campaign is complete, these maps get tossed out or put up on a shelf somewhere, but it doesn’t have to be this way! We want to help share your dungeon maps with the world.” There’s a form at the link, and instructions on how to share your map; they’ll post their favourites in an upcoming article.

Worlds Imagined Redux

If you missed Worlds Imagined, the imaginary maps exhibition at Texas A&M University last year, fear not. The 100-page exhibition catalogue is still available for download (if no longer in print), and while it doesn’t always show the entire map, it’s a hell of a reference, equal in scope and comprehensiveness to J. B. Post’s 1979 Atlas of Fantasy, only more up to date. The exhibition curators also put together a video tour: the full version (above) is 25 minutes long; there’s a three-minute quick tour as well.

Previously: Fantasy Maps Exhibit at Texas A&M Library.

Soundings

I’ve been meaning to read Soundings, Hali Felt’s biography of Marie Tharp, since it came out in 2012. Since then I’ve seen a flurry of articles, interviews, videos and other tributes concerning Tharp, whose reputation, which grew during her lifetime, continues to grow in the 12 years since her death in 2006 at the age of 86.

The bare bones of Tharp’s story are therefore fairly well known: while mapping the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, she discovered the presence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—and, more specifically, its rift valley, providing tangible evidence of continental drift. Because continental drift was at that point considered to be a crackpot theory, it took some doing for Tharp’s discovery to be accepted; and when it was her contributions were to some extent minimized.

While Felt’s book is positioned as a biography, its strength is in the details of that pivotal discovery: how and where it was made, and by whom, and in what context. Tharp’s work was not done in a vacuum, and how and why she was where she was is important. Felt sets the stage for us: not only does she take us through Tharp’s early childhood and rather variegated education and her arrival in 1948 at the Lamont Observatory, she gives us a short history of that Observatory, of the theory of continental drift, of her colleagues—notably her lifelong collaborator (and possibly life partner) Bruce Heezen and Observatory director (and sometime antagonist) Maurice Ewing. More than anything else, Soundings provides context for Tharp’s discovery: by the time we’re done, we know how important it was, and why. We’ve been well briefed.

Physiographic Diagram: Atlantic Ocean

Felt is less successful in building a portrait of Tharp herself. Some areas of her non-work life—her childhood, family and college education, for example—are extremely well covered, but other areas have considerable gaps, particularly those involving her personal life. The nature of Tharp’s relationship with Heezen is only hinted at, as is an early, unsuccessful marriage to someone else. Her later life, supported by a motley gang of eccentrics called Tharpophiles, is also incompletely covered. The elisions, however unintended, are frustrating. I suspect the author was a prisoner of her source material, which in places she follows very closely; I would have liked it if more had been done to fill in the gaps.

Soundings was published in hardcover by Henry Holt in 2012. It’s available in paperback and ebook from Picador.

Amazon | iBooks

United States of Apathy

United States of Apathy (Philip Kearney)

In April amateur cartographer Philip Kearney created “United States of Apathy,” a map that imagined the 2016 U.S. presidential election results if nonvoters were counted as a vote for “nobody,” in which case “nobody” would have won the electoral college by a landslide. Esri cartographer Jim Herries recently collaborated with Kearney on an interactive version that explores the phenomenon of apathetic voters in more depth. [CityLab]

Tabula Peutingeriana Animated Edition

The Tabula Peutingeriana is a cartographic marvel—a 13th-century copy of what is supposed to be a 4th- or 5th-century diagram of the Roman road network— but it’s not exactly easy for the modern map reader to parse. The Tabula Peutingeriana Animated Edition abstracts the map into a diagram. It’s part of Jean-Baptiste Piggin’s attempts to draw meaning out of the map; for more of which see his posts about the Tabula here.

Previously: Books About the Tabula Peutingeriana.

A Map of Canada’s Declining Caribou Populations

Chris Brackley, Canadian Geographic

Canadian Geographic maps the decline of Canada’s caribou populations. “All of Canada’s caribou subspecies have increasingly been in the news as the animal’s national population, which once numbered in the millions, has declined drastically and quickly to little more than a million today. Experts are concerned some populations may not survive the threats they’re facing. One herd, British Columbia’s South Selkirk, had just three females left in April 2018.” [r/MapPorn]

A Book Review Roundup

All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey (National Geographic, 30 October) is the book version of Betsy Mason and Greg Miller’s eponymous blog for National Geographic. Kenneth Field reviews the book on his blog; he notes that their background—journalists, not map professionals—makes for a refreshing perspective: “They aren’t burdened by having a list of maps that have to go in their collection (you know the ones … we all know them). They have chosen what they want to go in, and so their list is, in the main, a fresh list and contains many maps you’re unlikely to have seen.”

Another review of Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theatre of the World, this time from Geographical magazine, which calls it “a deeply idiosyncratic history of cartography, geography and surveying, from Stone Age symbols to Digital Age interactive maps. The meandering text features digressions on everything from Sumerian counting systems and ancient origin myths to Scandinavian border disputes, as well as some half-hearted imagined depictions of historical figures at work.” Theatre of the World came out in the U.K. from Hodder & Stoughton in September; the American edition will be published by Little, Brown in December. See previous entry.

I’ll have a review for you soon of Tom Harper’s Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library, which came out last month in the U.K. and comes to North America in the New Year. In the meantime, here’s G. T. Dempsey’s review on GeoLounge, which focuses on its full-page illustrations, “giving this near coffee-table-sized book more the nature of a gloriously annotated exhibition catalog.”

Related: Map Books of 2018.

The D.C. Underground Atlas

Speaking of Washington, the D.C. Underground Atlas is a project to map all the tunnels under the city: utility, transportation and pedestrian tunnels alike, from metro and water tunnels to the underground corridors connecting congressional buildings. The maps are presented as Esri Story Maps and there’s lots of accompanying text. The project is the brainchild of Elliot Carter, who is profiled by CityLab and the Washington Post: both pieces reveal one challenge in mapping the underground infrastructure of Washington—getting past security concerns. [WMS]