Antique Globes, Virtual and Real

British Library digital globes
British Library

The British Library is digitizing its collection of globes, with the first seven virtual globes scheduled to be released online next week.

The digital globes will be available to view on the British Library website—www.bl.uk/collection-items—from 26 March, via a viewing platform which includes an augmented reality function (available on phone or tablet via the Sketchfab app). This online access will allow unprecedented up-close interaction with the globes from anywhere in the world and means that for the first time, a variety of previously illegible surface features on the globes can be read.

A total of 30 globes are being scanned this way. [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Grabar Art Conservation Center is restoring the State Historical Museum’s badly dilapidated pair of Blaue globes. Work on the terrestrial globe has been completed; the celestial globe is next. This video (in Russian) documents the process. See also TVC Moscow (also in Russian). [WMS]

Building Boston, Shaping Shorelines: A Harvard Map Collection Exhibition

Harvard Library

Building Boston, Shaping Shorelines is a Harvard Map Collection exhibition going on now at Harvard Library’s Pusey Library Gallery. “This exhibition allows you to trace the projects to reclaim land and build the infrastructure that has produced a city out of a peninsula. Come learn how much of Boston is on man-made land and what impacts that has had and will have on the city.” There is no online version, but Harvard Magazine has a writeup. Until 1 May 2020.

Previously: The Atlas of Boston History.

Restoring the Grand Canyon Relief Model

A large relief model of the Grand Canyon, created by Edwin Howell in 1875, has resided in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Science Hall since 1980. The History of Cartography project’s offices are also in Science Hall. Lindsey Buscher, an editor on that project, wanted to include a photo of the relief model in the forthcoming fifth volume (which covers the 19th century), but the model was in too rough a state to be photographed. So they hired a professional conservator to restore the model: the results can be seen above. Now not only will the model’s photo be in the book, it’ll be on the cover. [Tom Patterson]

In Search of Lost Islands

Three books look at islands that never were.

We expect maps to tell the truth; indeed we need them to on a fierce and primal level. “I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe,” wrote Charles Blow last fall; he was writing in response to Trump’s petty defacement of a hurricane forecast map with a marker. The reaction to Trump’s stunt, was, I thought, revealing. It’s part and parcel with what Matthew Edney refers to as the ideal of cartography: striving toward a universal, unbiased and perfect map.

When a map has a mistake on it, when it’s wrong, it does something funny to our heads. We obey our phones and dashboard GPS navigators even when they send us off a cliff. We concoct nutty theories about ancient civilizations because a 16th-century portolan chart had a funny bend on a coastline. We wonder, because someone wrote “here be dragons” on a map, whether dragons were actually real. We make brain pretzels trying to force maps to be truthful even when they are manifestly wrong.1

Maps have to tell the truth. They simply have to. Maybe that’s why stories about mistakes on the map, and the havoc those mistakes cause, fascinate us so much. Which brings me to three books, all published for the first time in 2016, that talk about map errors of an older kind: islands and other features that appeared on maps, sometimes for centuries, that in the end turned out not to exist.

Continue reading “In Search of Lost Islands”

Major Collection of Revolutionary Maps Donated to Mount Vernon Library

Lewis Evans, “A general map of the middle British colonies, in America” (1755). Map, 49 × 65 cm. Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon’s library is the recipient of a major donation of 18th-century maps, images and other documents pertaining to the American Revolution that is valued at around $12 million. The Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection, named for the private collector who donated them, features more than 1,000 items dating from between 1740 and 1799. Of those items, 292 have been digitized so far. Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington took possession of most of the donation last month. [WMS]

Inō Tadataka, Surveyor of Japan

National Diet Library

Britain had the Ordnance Survey, France the Cassini family. Japan had Inō Tadataka (伊能 忠敬, 1745-1818), who over a series of expeditions in the early 19th century conducted a systematic survey of Japan using modern techniques. Writing for Nippon.com, Inō’s biographer, Hoshino Yoshihisa, writes a long introduction to Inō’s life and work that is well worth the read. [Tony Campbell]

For more on the history of Japanese cartography, see Cartographic Japan, a collection of academic essays edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko and Cary Karacas that was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016.

George III’s Collection of Military Maps Now Online

George Louis Le Rouge, Plan de l’Armée de Cornwallis attaquée et faitte Prisoniere dans York Town, le 19 8bre, par l’Armée Combinée Francaise et Americaine, 1781. Map, 34.9 x 43.5 cm. Royal Collection Trust.

More than 2,000 military maps and related items collected by George III have been posted online by the Royal Collection Trust to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his death. As the Guardian reports, the collection “features material from the 16th to 18th centuries, from highly finished presentation maps of sieges, battles and marcheso rough sketches drawn in the field, depictions of uniforms and fortification plans, providing a vivid contemporary account of important theatres of war in Britain, Europe and America.”

George III was apparently an avid map collector. At his death his collection numbered some 55,000 maps: the maritime and topographic maps were given to the British Library; the military maps were kept by George IV for his own use. “Not all of them were collected by George III in the first instance: like most collectors, he not only purchased individual items but also acquired the collections of others.” [Tony Campbell]

Priore, Schulman Plead Guilty to Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts

Between 1992 and 2017, more than 300 rare books, maps and other items were stolen from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library. News of the thefts broke in April 2018, and in July of that year former Carnegie Library archivist Gregory Priore and rare book seller John Schulman were arrested and charged.

Yesterday Priore and Schulman pled guilty: Priore to one count of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, Schulman to a charge of forgery and another of theft by deception and receiving stolen property. (They were facing a total of 10 and 20 charges respectively, but the remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.)

Sentencing is scheduled to take place on April 17; each man faces up to 20 years in prison (the plea deal does not include sentencing).

News coverage: Associated Press, CNN, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Washington Post.

Previously: 314 Rare Books and Maps Stolen from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; New Details Emerging in Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts; Arrests Made in Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts; Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Theft Update.

In Search of Thoreau’s Missing Map

A 1970 article about a 1912 expedition to Maine’s Mount Katahdin that mentioned “a diagram that Thoreau had made in the middle of the last century when he paid Katahdin what was to become a famous visit” has set off a modern-day search for that map of Thoreau’s. Only, as the Lewiston Sun-Journal’s Steve Collins reports, no one seems to has a copy of, or even heard of, said map. [WMS]

Old Maps of Montreal

Map of the City of Montreal (1843)
Adolphus Bourne, Map of the City of Montreal, 1843. 36 × 23 cm. Collection Saint-Sulpice, BAnQ.

MTLBlog digs into the digital holdings of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) to present some vintage maps of Montréal.

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.

Humboldt’s Maps

David Rumsey Map Collection

Writing for Smithsonian.com, Greg Millar looks at the maps of pioneering naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

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.

For more on Humboldt generally, Andrea Wulf’s biography, The Invention of Nature, is a marvellous read.

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps

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.

Related: Map Books of 2019.

H-Maps, a New Discussion List About Map History

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, launched H-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 Persuasive Cartography Roundup

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, “Next!” Puck, 7 Sept 1904. P. J. Mode Collection, Cornell University Library.

Cornell University Library has been home to the P. J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography since 2014, and that collection is very much available online. Today, though, a new exhibition of maps from that collection opens at the Carl A. Kroch Library’s Hirshland Exhibition Gallery. Latitude: Persuasive Cartography runs until 21 February 2020.

Cornell isn’t the only repository of maps intended to persuade or propagandize. The Library of Congress acquired a collection of 180 such maps, focusing on war and propaganda in the first half of the 20th century, in 2016.

Previously: Persuasive Cartography; Another Look at Persuasive Cartography; Persuasive Cartography Collection Expands, P. J. Mode Interviewed.

Out Next Week: The A-Z History of London

Out next week from Collins: The A-Z History of London, a coffee table book by Philip Parker that looks at the last century of maps of London. Londonist has some examples. Ollie O’Brien’s review at Mapping London explains what the book is about: “What the book is not, is (just) a history of the A to Z map. Rather, it is a book about the history and geography of London, with A to Z maps used to frame the narrative.” [Amazon, Apple Books]

Parker is also the author of History of Britain in Maps (Collins, 2017); his History of Britain in 12 Maps (Michael Joseph) has apparently been pushed back to June 2020. (I need to update the Map Books of 2019 page.)