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
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 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 Tabulahere.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Manchester: Mapping the City (Birlinn, 4 October), the latest in Birlinn’s line of cartographic histories, is the result of years of research and collecting by authors Terry Wyke, Brian Robson and Martin Dodge. “This book uses historic maps and unpublished and original plans to chart the dramatic growth and transformation of Manchester as it grew rich on its cotton trade from the late 18th century, experienced periods of boom and bust through the Victorian period, and began its post-industrial transformation in the 20th century.” The book’s home page has sample chapters and links to Mancunian maps online. More from the University of Manchester. [Tony Campbell]
The Digital Museum of Planetary Mapping is an online collection of maps of the planets and moons of our solar system. There are more than two thousand maps in the catalogue, some dating as far back as the 17th century, but the bulk of them, understandably, are much more recent; also understandably, Mars and the Moon are the subject of most of the maps (40 and 46 percent, respectively).
The site is more like a blog than a library catalogue: it’s powered by WordPress and the individual listings are blog posts, but that’s perfectly legitimate, albeit less elegant. (But then who am I to judge?)
The project was presented at the European Planetary Science Congress in Berlin last month: for news coverage, see Phys.org and Space.com; the press release is here. [WMS/WMS]
I missed some news stories published in August about the case of the rare books and maps stolen from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. The Caliban Book Shop’s accounts were frozen once owner John Schulman was charged; as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on 2 August, a judge granted Schulman access to the store accounts to enable him to pay his bills and employees’ wages; neither Schulman nor his wife, who co-owns the store, can take money from those accounts, though. Meanwhile the New York Times looks at the impact the arrests of Schulman and former Carnegie Library archivist Gregory Priore has had on the rare books community—especially the buyers who may find themselves in possession of stolen goods. [WMS/WMS]
An exhibition at the Instituto Geográfico Nacional in Madrid: De Iberia a España a través de los mapas (“From Iberia to Spain via Maps”), which looks at the changing cartographic representations of Spain and the Iberian peninsula from classical times to the 19th century. Sixty maps on display, plus books, perspective views and a globe. The year-long exhibition runs until 20 April 2019. Free admission. [WMS]
In The Spectator, Travis Elborough reviews Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theatre of the World: The Maps that Made World History (Hodder & Stoughton, 6 September). This is a translation (by Alison McCullough); the original book appeared in Norwegian as Verdensteater: Kartenes historie last year. Elborough, who is himself an author of map books,1 calls the book “impressively global and touchingly parochial, as his native Norway and Scandinavia in general often and unashamedly take centre stage in the narrative. (A note in the foreword explains that the book has to a certain extent been de-Norwegianised for the English edition.)” But then he goes on to lament the omission of thoroughly British-centric content. Go figure.
Theatre of the World is out now in the U.K.; the U.S. edition, published by Little, Brown, and with its title thoroughly Americanized as Theater of the World, comes out on December 4th.