BNSF’s Map Archives

BNSF is one of the largest railways in North America. It’s the end product of a series of rail mergers, and as such it has records for all its antecedent railroads. Including, as an item posted to its website this month reveals, maps, which BNSF is now in the process of digitizing.

Some of the most historically significant maps that BNSF has are maps filed by our predecessor railroads. These maps depicted the beginning of the railroad as we know it, and were often the first official survey of some of the more remote areas of the developing West.

Many of our vital maps were found in boxes or stashed in file cabinets or storage rooms. “We went to 200-plus locations going through thousands, if not tens of thousands of boxes,” said Obermiller of the conversion. “Now we are preserving the most vital maps to ensure we are retaining our vital records and are good stewards of our heritage.”

No word in the piece as to whether those records are available to researchers or the public.

16th-Century Hand-Drawn Maps Imitate the Style of Printed Maps

Seven maps from late 16th-century Mexico are the focus of a 2018 study by University of Seville researcher Manuel Morato-Moreno (Cartographica article, press release). Part of a series of maps sent back to Spain by local administrators, the maps are hand-drawn, but imitate the style of printed maps: the hatching deliberately evokes woodcuts, while the animals are reminiscent of cartouches, sea monsters and other illustrative elements. But the maps also incorporate Indigenous design elements.

Although all the maps were done in the European style, they also show some characteristics that suggest the influence of indigenous cartography, like footprints on the routes and eddies in the rivers, in which fish can also be seen on the surface of the water. Having these indigenous conventions in coexistence with European cartographic characteristics suggests an effort to adapt the two cartographic styles to each other. “The authors of these maps might have unconsciously mixed European and native conventions,” the researcher adds.

In addition, the experts have identified the influence of another renaissance practice which originated in the portolan charts: drawings of figurative scenes of indigenous people and animals of the region, like deer, rabbits, vultures and armadillos. “Possibly the disproportionate representation of these animals is a way of emphasising the animal species that were characteristic of the region, or, as in the case of the armadillo, highlighting those exotic species that were unknown in Spain.”

More at, and via, Atlas Obscura.

Map Digitization Updates from the Library of Congress

Bird's eye view of the city of Jamestown, Chautauqua County, New York
Bird’s eye view of the city of Jamestown, Chautauqua County, New York, 1871. Map, 50 × 71 cm. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

In a year-in-review post earlier this month, the Library of Congress’s map blog took a look at some of the maps that had been digitized for the first time in 2018. (Here’s the equivalent post for 2017.) For more frequent updates, the Library’s Geography and Map Division provides monthly lists of maps that have been scanned and added to their online collections, but they’re PDF documents and not very readable.

Another Book Roundup

Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theater of the World is reviewed in the Washington Post by Lorraine Berry. See previous entry. [WMS]

The Huffington Post excerpts some maps from The Golden Atlas: The Greatest Explorations, Quests and Discoveries on Maps, and talks a bit with the book’s author, Edward Brooke-Hitching. [WMS]

The British newspaper i looks at a recent rush of coffee-table map books, starting with DK’s History of the World Map by Map: they interview retired journalist Peter Snow, who wrote the introduction to that book. [WMS]

We’ve seen a flurry of pieces about the future of paper maps lately; that’s the jumping-off point for PBS News Hour’s interview with Betsy Mason, one of the co-authors of All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey, which I reviewed last month. [NYPL]

Providence, Provenance and an 1841 Map of Lafayette

Colby Bartlett “took a chance” on a water-stained 1841 map of Lafayette, Indiana he found at a pawn shop, where the asking price was $80. But his research into the map’s origins took a completely unexpected turn. The Lafayette Journal and Courier has the story about how Bartlett inadvertently discovered the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s missing copy of the map before the library realized it had gone missing. Believe me, you want to read this. [Tony Campbell]

A History of America in 100 Maps

In my review Tuesday of Tom Harper’s Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library, I spent some time talking about the choices made when assembling a collection of maps. Susan Schulten’s third (solo-authored) book, A History of America in 100 Maps, out now from the University of Chicago Press in the Americas and the British Library in the U.K., also draws upon the British Library’s map collection, particularly in the early chapters. (This may come as a surprise, seeing as it’s a book about America.) In a few instances the same map makes an appearance in both books. But in terms of what the two books do with the maps, their approaches are quite different.

Schulten, a history professor at the University of Denver, is the author of The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950 (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Chicago Press, 2012). These are social histories of maps and mapmaking, which is very much my kind of thing, and I’ve been meaning to check out Schulten’s (and Martin Brückner’s) work for some time. From what I gather, Schulten’s work focuses on how maps were made and used—the function of maps.

Continue reading “A History of America in 100 Maps”

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

Continue reading “Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library”

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.

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 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.

Emma Willard’s History of the United States

David Rumsey Map Collection

Atlas Obscura looks at the cartographic work of early American educator Emma Willard, who in 1829 published a series of maps to accompany her History of United States, or Republic of America, a school textbook that came out the previous year. The book was an early example of a historical atlas: it was “the first book of its kind—the first atlas to present the evolution of America.”

Scotland: Defending the Nation

In Scotland: Defending the Nation (Birlinn, 4 October), Carolyn Anderson and Christopher Fleet “explore the extraordinarily rich legacy of Scottish military mapping, including fortification plans, reconnaissance mapping, battle plans, plans of military roads and routeways, tactical maps, plans of mines, enemy maps showing targets, as well as plans showing the construction of defences. In addition to plans, elevations and views, they also discuss unrealised proposals and projected schemes. Most of the maps—some of them reproduced in book form for the first time—are visually striking and attractive, and all have been selected for the particular stories they tell about both attacking and defending the country.”

For more on the book, Chris Fleet has a post on the National Library of Scotland’s blog that focuses on maps made by military aggressors; and there’s a page on the NLS website with a sample chapter and images. [WMS]

Along with Manchester: Mapping the City (see previous entry), which came out at the same time, this is the latest in a series of map books from Birlinn, many of which focus on Scotland: see, for example, Scotland: Mapping the Nation (2012), Scotland: Mapping the Islands (2016), The Railway Atlas of Scotland (2015), and books about maps of Edinburgh (2014), Glasgow (2015) and the Clyde River (2017). There’s also a Scottish maps calendar for 2019.

Toronto’s Cartographic Birth Certificate?

Jean-Baptiste Franquelin, Carte pour servir à l’éclaircissement du papier terrier de la Nouvelle-France, 1678. Map in 8 tiles, 1.09 × 1.91 metres. gallica.bnf.fr/Bibliothèque nationale de France

A 1678 map of New France by Jean-Baptiste Franquelin may be to Toronto what the Waldseemüller map is to America: a so-called “cartographic birth certificate”—i.e., the first instance of a name to appear on the map. The label “Tarontos Lac” on what is now Lake Simcoe isn’t legible on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France’s online version, but when Canadian geographer Rick Laprairie ordered a high-resolution print of the map from BNF, he was surprised to discover it. Laprairie, who notes that three other maps with “Toronto” in the name have come from maps believed to be created later, is writing this up for Ontario History magazine, but in the meantime see coverage from CBC News and the Toronto Star.