Remains of Lost Fortifications in Gibraltar Found Thanks to 18th-Century Map

The remains of a fortified wall, originally part of Gibraltar’s northern defences but since lost to rubble, vegetation and time, was re-discovered and excavated thanks to an eighteenth-century map of the territory held by the British Library.

The map clearly indicated the location of the Hanover Wall, which had stretched from the Tower of Homage—the Moorish castle at the pinnacle of the defences—down to the Hanover Batteries lower down the Rock, but whose location had been lost. The Hanover Wall appears (under another name) on other maps at least as far back as 1627, when Spain held Gibraltar.

Workers directed by Carl quickly found the remains of the wall, which remained intact, although fully submerged under dirt and foliage. The efforts of these men revealed the long-lost wall, a critical part of the Northern Defences which had been lost amidst the rapid changes in Gibraltar throughout the 20th Century.

John G. Bartholomew, 100 Years After His Death

John G. BartholomewA short piece in the Edinburgh Evening News last April noted the 100th anniversary of the death of John G. Bartholomew (1860-1920), the fourth of six generations of mapmaking Bartholomews; their firm, John Bartholomew and Son, was responsible for the Times atlases before they were taken up by HarperCollins.

Speaking of his ancestor’s legacy, great-grandson, John Eric Bartholomew, told the Evening News that the fact John George Bartholomew is recognised as the man credited with being the first to put the name Antarctica on the map remains a great source of pride.

Little known is that, in 1886, Bartholomew had a brief flirtation with considering the name “Antipodea” for oceanographer John Murray’s map depicting the continent, before settling for Antarctica.

More about John G. Bartholomew at the Bartholomew family’s website and the NLS’s Bartholomew Archive. [WMS]

Previously: Robert G. Bartholomew, 1927-2017.

Antietam Battlefield Map Shows Burial Locations

Map of the Battlefield of Antietam (1864)
S. G. Elliott, “Map of the Battlefield of Antietam,” 1864. Map, 87 × 66 cm. New York Public Library.

A map of the battlefield of Antietam held by the New York Public Library that shows the location of graves of soldiers killed in the 1862 U.S. Civil War battle is the subject of a piece in today’s Washington Post.

Civil War historians are hailing it as an important new way to visualize the toll of the huge battle outside Sharpsburg, Md., in 1862.

“Every one of us who’s looked at this absolutely flips out,” said Garry Adelman, chief historian for the Washington-based American Battlefield Trust, which works to preserve historic battlefields. “This will reverberate for decades.”

The map is the only one of its kind known to exist. It was digitized by the New York Public Library, which owns it, and was spotted online by local historians a few weeks ago.

The map doesn’t just mark graveyards, it notes the burial locations of specific regiments and brigades—and in 45 cases, individual soldiers.

Mapping the Global Imaginary

In February 2019 a conference on the blurred line between factual and fictitious mapping in history, Mapping the Global Imaginary, 1500-1900, took place at Stanford University’s David Rumsey Map Center. Which I somehow missed. But no worries: videos of the conference panels are available online (see above for the first one), as is the talk by the keynote speaker, Sumathi Ramaswamy.

Maps of Antarctica at the British Library

“South Polar Chart,” The Scottish Geographical Magazine (1898). BL Maps 162.

Two recent posts at the British Library’s Maps and Views Blog provide “a whistle-stop tour through maps held in the British Library that chart Antarctica’s gradual emergence from obscurity into light.” The first covers maps of Antarctica through the nineteenth century, when the continent went from unknown to unexplored; the second the twentieth century, where maps of the continent “[reflect] the switch made by cartography to digital data from the latter part of the twentieth century.”

Engravers: The Unsung Heroes of Mapmaking

The Bodleian’s Map Room Blog (no relation) has a post about the “unsung heroes” of mapmaking: the engravers.

Until the nineteenth century, virtually all printed maps were produced by engraving the map on a sheet of copper—or later on, steel—as a mirror image of how the finished map would look. The plate was then inked and the image printed onto a sheet of paper in a printing press. This was incredibly skilled work, but often only very discreetly acknowledged, the engraver’s name appearing in tiny, modest letters in the bottom margin.

Identifying the engravers for cataloguing purposes—something a library like the Bodleian tries to do—can be a challenge.

‘With Savage Pictures Fill Their Gaps’: Chet Van Duzer on Horror Vacui

Chet Van Duzer’s presentation about the lack of empty spaces on old maps—horror vacui—at the November 2017 meeting of the New York Map Society has now been uploaded to YouTube.

As I’ve said before, the subject of empty spaces on maps is of considerable interest to my own research on fantasy maps: fantasy maps tend to be full of empty spaces not germane to the story, whereas real-world maps were covered in cartouches, sea monsters, and ribbons of text. As a result I’m very interested in what Van Duzer has to say about the subject, and have been looking for something exactly like this recorded talk for some time.

I wasn’t disappointed. Van Duzer lays out, with some particularly over the top examples, how empty spaces on maps were consumed (his term) by text, ships, sea monsters and other embellishments that were designed for that very purpose. Some of those embellishments were absolutely enormous, others curiously redundant: a single map does not need four identical scales or a dozen or more compass roses, for example. “Everything we’re seeing here was a choice on the part of the cartographer,” he says at one point; “all this information could be disposed differently.”

Previously: Horror Vacui: The Fear of Blank Spaces.

British Library Exhibitions and TV Programs Revisited

BBC Four is rebroadcasting The Beauty of Maps, a four-episode series that coincided with the 2010 Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library. Two episodes broadcast so far, with the third this evening and the fourth tomorrow. They’ll be on iPlayer for the next month.

Meanwhile, the British Library’s 2016 Maps and the 20th Century exhibition (previously) is now available in virtual form—as in, you can “walk” through a virtual recreation of the physical exhibition. Articles related to the exhibition are available here, and of course the companion volume, Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, edited by Tom Harper, is still available: Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop.

The History of Cartography’s Fourth Volume, Now (Almost) Out

I believe that today is (nominally) the publication date of the fourth volume in the History of Cartography Project: The History of Cartography, Volume 4: Cartography in the European Enlightenment.

The History of Cartography, Vol. 4As with other volumes of the project, it’s a massive piece of work: two physical volumes and nearly two thousand pages. Edited by Matthew H. Edney and Mary Spondberg Pedley and featuring the work of more than 200 contributors, this book “offers a comprehensive overview of the cartographic practices of Europeans, Russians, and the Ottomans, both at home and in overseas territories, from 1650 to 1800.”

I say “nominally” because, Edney reports, “the entire print run of the book is being held at the printers in Manitoba until the pandemic recedes and there is someone at the press warehouse to receive the shipment and get the hard copies into everyone’s hands. So, please be patient.” The ebook version is in preparation.

The History of Cartography Project is being published a bit out of sequence. Volume six, covering the twentieth century, came out in 2015. Still to come is volume five, which covers the nineteenth century. Volume five editor Roger Kain has some thoughts on the history of the History of Cartography project.

While quite expensive to purchase, each volume is made available for free download on the History of Cartography project website 24 months after publication. Volumes one through three and six are available now; check back for volume four in the spring of 2022.

Previously: History of Cartography Project’s Sixth Volume Now Out; History of Cartography Project’s Sixth Volume Now Available Online; History of Cartography Project Updates.


The History of Cartography, Vol. 4, Part 1The History of Cartography, Volume 4: Cartography in the European Enlightenment
edited by Matthew H. Edney and Mary Spondberg Pedley
University of Chicago Press, April 2020
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography

Two editions of Star Maps

The March 2020 issue (PDF) of Calafia, the journal of the California Map Society, has as its theme the mapping of space. It also has something from me in it: my review of the third edition of Nick Kanas’s Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography. An excerpt:

It’s important to remember a book’s target audience—its imagined ideal reader. In the case of Star Maps this is Kanas’s younger self, who came to map collecting via his lifelong interest in amateur astronomy. “I was frustrated that there was not a single book on celestial cartography that could inform me about the various aspects of my collecting,” he writes in the preface to the first edition. “What I needed was a book that not only was a primer for the collector but also had sufficient reference detail to allow me to identify and understand my maps. Nothing like this appeared, so I decided to write such a book some day” (p. xxi). In other words, for a compendium this is a surprisingly personal book, one that reflects his own journey into the subject and, presumably, his interests as a collector.

I’ll post the full review on The Map Room once I’ve checked my draft against the published copy. In the meantime, check out the issue of Calafia (PDF) in which it appears. (Update, 24 Jun 2020: Here it is.)


Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography
3rd edition
by Nick Kanas
Springer Praxis, Sept 2019
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

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”