A Kickstarter Project to Rediscover 19th-Century Atlases

Alejandro Polanco’s latest Kickstarter, Geography 1880, is in the vein of some of his previous ones: restoring and reprinting works from the late 19th century. This time he’s looking to create an anthology of maps from family and school atlases of the era.

The idea is to give shape to a new atlas that brings together maps forgotten in time that were once enjoyed again and again, by the light of a fire or gas lamps, from the great era of family atlases. To this end, I am undertaking a process of scanning the atlases of the period between 1860 and 1900 that I have in my library. Alongside this material, the book includes maps from various map libraries around the world (from USA, Spain, UK and Germany), with the corresponding attribution. All this forms an atlas full of authentic 19th century works of art that I hope will spark the imagination of my backers just as it was in the 1880s. Alongside the maps and illustrations of the period, my descriptive commentaries include details of the graphic styles, cartographers and geographical curiosities that appear on each page.

Hardcover, softcover and PDF versions will be produced, the hardcover in a 100-copy limited edition that has already been spoken for.

Previously: A Project to Restore a 19th-Century Treatise on Hand-drawn Mapping.

The Unreal Ebstorf Map

A screenshot from the interactive Ebstorf Map (British Library)

The Ebstorf Map, a 13th-century mappa mundi, was destroyed by bombing during World War II; it survives only as black-and-white photographs and colour facsimiles of the original. Those images were used by the Leuphana Universität Lüneburg to create a digital version in 2008. And now that digital version has been used to create an interactive version of the Ebstorf Map using a video game engine. The British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts blog has the details.

The British Library has collaborated with Escape Studios’ School of Interactive and Real Time to create an interactive version of the Ebstorf map. A team of students and graduates participated in the ‘Escape Pod’ incubator to create a 3D version of the map, using the digital facsimile created by Leuphana Universität Lüneburg.

The interactive map, created in Unreal Engine, has been set in a fictional medieval scriptorium to suggest the tone of the space in which it was created. All aspects of the room were imagined, researched and created by the students at Escape.

The interactive map ties in with the British Library’s ongoing exhibition, Alexander the Great: the Making of a Myth; the map’s 15 clickable points of interest relate to Alexander. Details here.

It sounds like overkill, albeit a fun kind of overkill. It’s a free download, but requires a PC with a graphics card (i.e., no integrated graphics) running Windows 10, so I can’t try it out. But if you can, and want to, you can download it here.

New Boston-Focused Map Exhibitions at the Leventhal Center

Atlas of the city of Boston, Roxbury: plate 14 (1931)
From Atlas of the City of Boston (1931). Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

Opening today at the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center, Building Blocks: Boston Stories from Urban Atlases is an exhibition that explores street-level changes to Boston in the period between the Civil War and World War II. Media release.

Building Blocks: Boston Stories from Urban Atlases features rare materials from the BPL’s historic collection of maps and atlases alongside lithographs, photographs, and sketches of familiar local landscapes. Visitors will discover how the atlas collections opens up a world of fascinating stories, with vignettes including the city’s first African Meeting House in the heart of Beacon Hill, landmarks of leisure like the “Derby Racer” and “Giant Safety Thriller” amusement rides in Revere, public health infrastructure on Gallops Island in Boston Harbor, and many more.

The in-person exhibition at the BPL’s Central Library opens today; a digital version will follow online. Runs until 19 August 2023. A curatorial introduction will take place next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a permanent exhibition, Becoming Boston: Eight Moments in the Geography of a Changing City, also opens today at the Leventhal: “In the eight cases of this exhibition, we follow the changing spatial forms of the place we now call Boston—from before the landscape carried that name all the way through the struggles, clashes, and dreams that continue to reshape the city today.”

See the Leventhal’s exhibitions page and their preview of 2023 events for more details.

A Christmas Map Roundup

Detail from Willem Barentsz, <em>Map of the Polar Regions</em>, 1598, showing a man wearing a red suit in a sleigh being driven by reindeer.
Detail from Willem Barentsz, Map of the Polar Regions, 1598. Newberry Library.

The Newberry’s David Weimer explains the presence, in a 1598 map of the Arctic Circle, of a man in a red coat riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Maps Mania links to two Santa trackers: NORAD’s and Google’s.

In a post from last year, James Cheshire notes how Indian and Chinese laws about depicting their contested borders are reflected in Christmas ornaments made in each country. [Mappery]

Georeferencing Familiar Places

On the Leventhal Map Center’s website, Ezra Acevedo describes what it’s like to georeference a century-old atlas of your hometown. “Spending many hours poring over maps of such a well known place was really exciting. My knowledge of the town coupled with its resistance to change meant that the historic maps of Ipswich weren’t all that difficult to line up with the modern map. However, I did learn four important lessons while georeferencing my hometown.”

New Book About Emma Hart Willard

Book cover: Emma Willard: Maps of HistoryA book about the work of Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) is coming out this month from Visionary Press. The book, Emma Willard: Maps of History, includes an essay by Susan Schulten (who also edited the book) along with reproductions of Willard’s maps, atlases and time charts (for example, the 1828 set of maps that accompanied her History of the United States, or Republic of America), which proved hugely influential in terms of using maps in pedagogy, as well as historical maps and graphical depictions of time. The book is part of a series, Information Graphic Visionaries, that was the subject of a successful Kickstarter last year. Outside of that crowdfunding campaign, the book can be ordered from the publisher for $95 (it’s on sale right now for $85). [Matthew Edney]

Previously: Emma Willard’s History of the United States; Women in Cartography (Part 3).

New Map Exhibition in Leiden

“When looking at maps, we should always be mindful of the question: Who is mapping what and for what purpose?” A new exhibition at the Museum Volkskunde in Leiden, in collaboration with Leiden University Libraries, Kaarten: navigeren en manipuleren [Maps: Navigating and Manipulating], which opened last month, gathers together contemporary art and antique maps from their respective collections to explore the question of truth and perspective in maps. One example: a “serio-comic map” from the Crimean war (in Dutch). Another video, also in Dutch. Runs until 29 October 2023. Tickets 15€ or less.

New Osher Exhibition on Mapping New England’s Textile Industry

Title image for Industry, Wealth and Labor exhibition (Osher Maps Library)

The Osher Map Library’s latest physical exhibition, Industry, Wealth, and Labor: Mapping New England’s Textile Industry, opened last Thursday. “Inspired by the map library’s recent acquisition of a collection of textile mill insurance plans and historic maps from the American Textile History Museum, this exhibition addresses the temporal, geographic, and demographic components of New England’s cotton textile industry from the early 19th century until the middle of the 20th century.” Free admission; runs until 30 June 2023.

Yale’s Work on Map Forgeries

As the keepers of the Vinland Map, the folks at Yale’s Beinecke Library might be expected to have a few thoughts about map forgeries, seeing as the Vinland Map is arguably the best known example. In an article posted to the Beinecke Library website last July, Raymond Clemens discusses the work of Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage to determine the Vinland Map’s inauthenticity, and detecting map forgeries in general. Yale seems to be making a point of studying map forgeries, to the point of adding known forgeries to their collections.

Southeast Asia Historical Maps

Mercator, Insulæ Indiæ orientalis præcipuæ, 1606
Mercator, Insulæ Indiæ orientalis præcipuæ, 1606.

The Digital Historical Maps of Singapore and Southeast Asia project, hosted by (the soon-to-be-defunct) Yale-NUS College in Singapore, curates a collection of pre-1900 maps of southeast Asia. The maps are drawn from the Bodleian, Beinecke and Leiden libraries, as well as Singapore’s National Library Board. [Maps Mania]

The Idea of North

Thony Christie explores the question of why north is at the top of modern maps by looking in detail at medieval and early modern maps, which had no consensus. “I think that the re-emergence of the Ptolemaic world map at the beginning of the fifteenth century and the development of modern cartography that it triggered which eventually led to the dominance of north orientation in mapmaking, perhaps combined with the increased use of the magnetic compass.”

The Gough Map and the Lost Islands of Cardigan Bay

Gough MapA paper in Atlantic Geoscience is basically arguing that the Gough Map offers evidence that the Welsh legend of the sunken kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod —a sort of Welsh Atlantis—is real. Actually, no. Not quite. That’s clickbait—and the headline for the BBC News story about the study.

In their paper, the complete text of which is available online, physical geographer Simon Haslett and professor of Celtic David Willis are trying to reconstruct the post-glacial evolution of Wales’s Cardigan Bay using historical and folklore sources as well as bathymetric data and geological evidence. (It’s pretty obvious which author contributed what.) The Gough Map shows two islands that don’t correlate to any real island in Cardigan Bay; the study suggests that the islands may have in fact existed and have since been lost to flooding, erosion and other post-glacial changes to the shorelines. There are several submarine highs in the bay that may match up with the lost islands. The paper hypothesizes that the Cantre’r Gwaelod legend is a folk memory from when the coast was much different: that there were islands in Cardigan Bay, that they disappeared during the human era, and this legend is one of their traces.

In other words, a bit different from taking an old map at entirely too much face value (which, to be sure, has been enough of a thing that it was first to mind when I saw the story). They’re using the map and the legend to try and figure out the shoreline’s history—not using the map to prove the legend.

The World in Maps: New Exhibition at Yale’s Beinecke Library

An exhibition at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library opens this Friday: The World in Maps, 1400-1600.

This exhibition presents many of the most historically significant manuscript maps from the late medieval and early modern period from the Beinecke Library’s vast collection of maps. It is focused on portolan charts—large, colorful charts that showed the shoreline of the Mediterranean, and were used by sailors to navigate from port to port. These maps were crucial to the expansion of European trade in the fiftieth and sixteenth century. Yale University Library has one of the most significant map collections of this period and owns some unique items not found in any other collection. […]

This exhibition presents maps from several different historical groups and demonstrates how maps functioned to place people within a larger world context. While primarily focusing on European maps, it also includes Middle Eastern and Asian world maps to illustrate common elements and also highlight significant differences. In addition, the exhibition presents some map forgeries and how they were determined to be fakes using scientific and historic analysis.

On that last point, yes, the Vinland Map will be a highlight of the exhibition, as will the Aguiar and Beccari portolan charts, the Martellus world map, and the Abenzara map.

The exhibition runs until 8 January 2023. Lectures will be taking place in the fall.

Allegorical, Dissected and Spiritual

Writing in Commonplace, Janet Moore Lindman looks at the use of spiritual maps in early America, focusing in particular on a curious 1794 combination of dissected map (a jigsaw-like map puzzle) and allegorical map (where  virtues or vices or other abstract ideals are depicted as countries on a map) produced for the education of Quaker children.

The production of Dillwyn’s allegorical map was unusual for Friends who disdained the visual arts as worldly and pernicious. Quaker abhorrence of art makes this image singular at the same time it demonstrates their adaptability to a new mode of educational instruction. Yet Quaker plainness was retained. Dillwyn’s map made use of little color, had few illustrations, contained no human figures, and relied heavily on the written word to convey meaning.

[WMS]