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.
Temascaltepec, ca. 1579-1580. Archivo General de Indias. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España.
Texcaltitlán, ca. 1579-1580. Archivo General de Indias. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España.
Tuzantla, ca. 1579-1580. Archivo General de Indias. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España.
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.”
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]
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.