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:
“A world map tells a lot about the person who has made it, or about the market it is made for,” says Frans Blok. The edges of equatorial projections are determined so as to put the map’s audience at the centre of the map: European maps put the Bering Strait at the edges, Australian and Asian maps the Atlantic, American maps break Asia in two. If, however, only the polar regions were habitable—or if you were making a map for penguins—you might use a polar projection centred on Antarctica.
“And no, for European use this map is less suitable. But there aren’t that many penguins living here,” says Blok. [ICA]
Under orders from King George III to reform the colonies, the Board of Trade dispatched surveyors to map far-flung frontiers, chart coastlines in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, sound Florida’s rivers, parcel tropical islands into plantation tracts, and mark boundaries with indigenous nations across the continental interior. Scaled to military standards of resolution, the maps they produced sought to capture the essential attributes of colonial spaces—their natural capacities for agriculture, navigation, and commerce—and give British officials the knowledge they needed to take command over colonization from across the Atlantic.
Britain’s vision of imperial control threatened to displace colonists as meaningful agents of empire and diminished what they viewed as their greatest historical accomplishment: settling the New World. As London’s mapmakers published these images of order in breathtaking American atlases, Continental and British forces were already engaged in a violent contest over who would control the real spaces they represented.
Finally, Daniel Foliard’s Dislocating the Orient: British Maps and the Making of the Middle East, 1854-1921 (University of Chicago Press) “vividly illustrates how the British first defined the Middle East as a geopolitical and cartographic region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through their imperial maps. Until then, the region had never been clearly distinguished from ‘the East’ or ‘the Orient.’ In the course of their colonial activities, however, the British began to conceive of the Middle East as a separate and distinct part of the world, with consequences that continue to be felt today.” [Amazon, iBooks]
Daniel Raillant-Clark’s map of Montréal’s Métro with anglicized station names (in most cases) is full of awful translations in both directions and puns in both languages (example: “Georges-Vanier” becomes “George Go Deny It” because va nier means go deny). To see what the hell this map is messing with, the real Métro map is here. [MTL Blog/Reddit]
France held the first round of its presidential election this past Sunday. Unlike U.S. presidential elections, it’s by popular vote, with the top two vote-getters moving on to a second round in two weeks’ time.
The major candidates’ support was distributed unevenly around the country. Media organizations used several different methods to show this. The New York Times used a choropleth map, showing who among five candidates (including Lassalle, excluding Hamon, who finished fifth but does not appear to have won a commune: ouch) finished first on a commune-by-commune basis. Of course, when you have four candidates finishing within a few points of one another, when you win a district, you don’t necessarily win by much. The print edition of Le Figaro included choropleth maps detailing five candidates’ regional support as well.
Both the Times and Le Figaro use geographical maps, which can be misleading because of the number of votes concentrated in large cities, as Libération’s Julien Guillot points out. (This comes up in most countries’ elections, to be honest—certainly the ones where it’s the popular vote, rather than the constituency, that’s being looked at.) Slate uses a cartogram to compensate for that. (Both of these pages are in French.)
For those seeking local results rather than analysis, several French media organizations provide them through a very similar map interface: see, for example, the online results pages for France 24, Le Figaro and Le Monde. Each begins with a map of France: clicking on a département provides results for that département that includes a map showing each commune, which can also be clicked on. For some reason neither France 24 nor Le Monde show actual vote totals at the local level, which doesn’t seem sensible in an election by popular vote.
Finally, a couple of outliers. This page looks at the results from all presidential elections under the French Fifth Republic. And this page marks the 56 communes in which Marine Le Pen received not a single vote.
More than 500 maps have just been added to the P. J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography at the Cornell University Library. That’s almost double the number they began with. Via email, P. J. Mode also says that “Cornell has implemented a much-improved image browser with a very robust search function. I hope there are some things that you’ll find new and interesting!”
Published late last month, Mark Monmonier’s new book, Patents and Cartographic Inventions: A New Perspective for Map History (Palgrave Macmillan) is on a somewhat more arcane and non-obvious subject than his usual fare. It’s an exploration of the U.S. patent system that focuses on map- and navigation-related inventions. The publisher’s description: “In probing evolving notions of novelty, non-obviousness, and cumulative innovation, Mark Monmonier examines rural address guides, folding schemes, world map projections, diverse improvements of the terrestrial globe, mechanical route-following machines that anticipated the GPS navigator, and the early electrical you-are-here mall map, which opened the way for digital cartography and provided fodder for patent trolls, who treat the patent largely as a license to litigate.” Actually sounds interesting as hell; the book is quite expensive, though. Amazon, iBooks.
Natasha Pairaudeau: “Imagine maps as big as bedsheets, and then imagine the sheets big enough for beds made wide enough to sleep extended families. Only such a double stretch of the imagination can provide the scale of the three Burmese maps in the University Library’s collection, which have recently been made available online in digital format.” [Cartophilia]
Transport for London also operates river buses along the Thames; their maps of the London River Services are very much in the Tube map vein, in both tourist and non-tourist versions:
Of the tourist version Ollie O’Brien of Mapping London says this: “We like the pseudo-tube-map styling, although it could of course be simplified even further, with the Thames just being shown as a straight line. The inclusion of isometric squares showing the major landmarks near each pier is a nice touch. TfL has never really decided whether its river services are for tourists or commuters, but this map should satisfy both.”