The BAnQ has more than 20,000 maps in its digital collection, ranging from the 16th century to the present day; said holdings include maps from before the Conquest, maps of cities, towns and villages (many of them fire insurance maps), and historic topo maps.
What’s often omitted, however, in discussions of Humboldt’s scientific legacy is the role that his pioneering maps and scientific illustrations played in shaping his thinking. By creating visualizations of data that had previously been bound up in tables, Humboldt revealed connections that had eluded others, says historian Susan Schulten of the University of Denver. “He’s really a visual thinker,” she says.
According to Schulten, Humboldt was one of the first scientists to use maps to generate and test scientific hypotheses. One example was his use of what he called “isotherm” lines to indicate regions of the globe with the same average temperature. These lines are ubiquitous on weather maps today, and they seem so obvious we take them for granted. But when Humboldt published a map using them in 1817, it caused scientists to rethink the widely held assumption that the average temperature of a region depends primarily on its latitude. The isotherm lines on Humboldt’s map had ups and downs that deviated from lines of latitude. This prompted him and others to look for explanations, and eventually led to an understanding of how ocean currents, mountain ranges, and other features of geography contribute to local climates.
Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps (Thames & Hudson, October) is a look back at Booth’s idiosyncratic and judgey block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London (his maps described the “lowest class” as “vicious, semi-criminal,” for example). The final maps, hand-coloured, are famous in map terms: there was an exhibition back in 2011. The book adds preparatory maps, “selected reproductions of pages from the original notebooks, containing anecdotes related by Londoners of every trade, class, creed and nationality together with observations by Booth’s interviewers that reveal much about their social class and moral views.” Plus essays and infographics to put the whole thing in a modern context. Mapping London has a review.
Despite the imminent shutdown of Yahoo Groups, and the lamented demise of MapHist in 2012, discussion lists are still a thing, it seems: H-Net, that venerable purveyor of academic discussion lists since I was in academia, has, with the collaboration of the International Society for the History of the Map, launchedH-Maps, “an international digital forum in the historical study of the making, circulation, use and preservation of maps from the ancient to the contemporary period.” Scholarly in focus, to be sure.
Tony Campbell lists other discussion lists related to map history here.
A new exhibition opens today at the Archives Nationales in Paris: Quand les artistes dessinaient les cartes (“When Artists Drew Maps”), an exploration of vues figurées —what we might refer to today as chorographic maps or panoramas—drawn by artists from the 14th to the 16th century. “Presented for the most part for the first time to the public, these works shed new light on the landscapes and scenes of everyday life at the turn of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”1 Nearly 100 original maps on display. At the Hôtel de Soubise site in Paris until 7 January 2020, 8€/5€. [Tony Campbell]
New from me at Tor.com this morning, the latest instalment in my series on the history and design of fantasy maps. “Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?” looks at the influences on and origins of the fantasy map style—the existing traditions, stretching back as far back as the sixteenth century, that the fantasy map drew upon when it came into being in the early to mid-twentieth century. (Tolkien couldn’t have made it up out of whole cloth, after all.)
This is a speculative piece that draws upon a large and diverse number of sources—everything from Forlani to Berann, from bird’s-eye views of cities to children’s book illustrations—to come up with … well, something interesting, at least. To do proper justice to the subject would require a Ph.D. dissertation. This is a start.
When I was looking at those maps in dealers’ shops or catalogs, I often saw other maps that I thought were fun and interesting. I didn’t quite understand them all—unusual maps, strange maps of different kinds. The kind of maps that dealers refer to as “cartographic curiosities” (which basically means, “This doesn’t fit into one of my pigeon-holes…”). These were kind of fun and interesting, and they were inexpensive so, on a lark, I would buy them when I saw them and then I would kind of try to figure out what they were.
Much study has been devoted to the Gough Map, a late medieval map of Great Britain, exact date and authorship unknown, that was donated to the Bodleian Library in 1809 by the map’s now-namesake, Richard Gough. (An interactive version is available online.) A new project led by Catherine Delano-Smith and Nick Millea explores the map on several levels: as physical object, combining hyperspectral imagery, pigment analysis and 3D scanning; the process of how the map was drawn (and redrawn); and a close analysis of the places and names found on the map. Some of the project’s early findings were published in Imago in 2016.
First You Make the Maps, a Story Map produced for Lapham’s Quarterly by Elizabeth Della Zazzera, surveys maps and mapmaking for sea navigation from the 15th through the 18th centuries.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, European powers sent voyagers to lands farther and farther away from the continent in an expansionist period we now call the Age of Exploration. These journeys were propelled by religious fervor and fierce colonial sentiment—and an overall desire for new trade routes. They would not have been possible without the rise of modern cartography. While geographically accurate maps had existed before, the Age of Exploration saw the emergence of a sustained tradition of topographic surveying. Maps were being made specifically to guide travelers. Technology progressed quickly through the centuries, helping explorers and traders find their way to new imperial outposts—at least sometimes. On other occasions, hiccups in cartographic reasoning led their users even farther astray.
Cartographic Beasts of North America is an interactive story map from the Harvard Map Collection. It zooms in on various mythical and real creatures embellishing a 19th-century copy of a 17th-century map of North America, ranging from cows and beavers (real) to hippocampi and manitous (um, not). [Maps Mania]
In case the Talking Maps exhibition (previously) was insufficient cause for you to visit the Bodleian Library in Oxford this year, here’s another. The Sheldon Tapestry Map of Oxfordshire, one of four tapestry maps of English counties commissioned in the late 16th century by Ralph Sheldon, is on display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library. The tapestry is partially complete—intact it would have measured 3.5 × 5.5 metres—and on display for the first time in a century, having gone through a “painstaking” restoration. BBC News, Londonist.
The Oxfordshire tapestry map replaces a display of the Worcestershire tapestry map that had been running for the past four years: both were donated to the Bodleian by Richard Gough in 1809. The Bodleian acquired a sizeable section of the Gloucestershire map in 2007 (it went on display the following year); other parts are in private hands. The fourth tapestry map, of Worcestershire, is the only one that is completely intact and not missing any pieces: it’s owned by the Warwickshire Museum, where it’s on display at the Market Hall Museum.