A Guide to the Library of Congress’s Collection of Fire Insurance Maps

Fire insurance maps are an invaluable tool for history research: they give a detailed snapshot of a city’s built environment at a given point in time. And they were made for just about every city, town and village. The Library of Congress has 50,000 fire insurance maps (700,000 individual sheets) in its collection, most of which were produced by the Sanborn Map Company. The Library has just released a resource guide to help researchers navigate its collection, and explain which maps are available (copyright is an issue with more recent maps). Announcement here.

Previously: Fire Insurance Maps Online.

Another Maps Issue from Library of Congress Magazine

Library of Congress Magazine (cover)The May-June 2021 issue of Library of Congress Magazine is entirely given over to maps: a lot of short one-page features on all sorts of subjects from Ortelius to COVID. Direct link to the PDF file (6 MB). [Edney]

This isn’t the first time the magazine has done this: the September-October 2016 issue (2.9 MB) was also almost entirely dedicated to maps. Previously: Library of Congress Magazine’s Map Issue.

The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps

The Eternal City (cover)Something I often do when reviewing a book is talk about it in terms of the expectations of its potential readers—particularly if readers might come to a book with expectations that the book does not meet, because the book is doing something different. If you’re expecting The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, written by the art historian Jessica Maier and published last November by the University of Chicago Press, to be basically A History of Rome in 100 Maps, it isn’t: the count is more like three dozen. This doesn’t mean that The Eternal City is a slight book—it most certainly is not, though at 199 pages it’s a bit shorter than, say, A History of America in 100 Maps (272 pages).

But counting maps would miss the difference in Maier’s approach. To invoke xkcd, this is depth-first rather than breadth-first: there are fewer maps here, but they’re discussed in much more depth than the two-page spreads of the hundred-map books, and provided with much more context. This is a history of Rome in maps in which history, Rome and maps all get their proper share of attention.

Continue reading “The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps”

New Exhibition: Mapping the Islamic World

Map from Kâtip Çelebi’s Cihannüma, 1732. Barry Ruderman Map Collection. Creative Commons licence.

A new online exhibition at Stanford Libraries’ Rumsey Map Center: Mapping the Islamic World: The Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires. Curated by guest curator Alexandria Brown-Hejazi, the exhibition, which opened last week, “explores maps of the Islamic World, focusing on the ‘Gunpowder Empires’ of Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Persia, and Mughal India. […] A rich cartographic exchange took place between these three empires and European powers, as maps were used to chart their expansive territories, military campaigns, and trade routes.”

Fire Insurance Maps Online

Penn State University Libraries’ collection of Pennsylvania Sanborn fire insurance maps dates to 1925, which means that as of this year they’re in the public domain—and freely available to use. Meanwhile, Maps Mania has a roundup of other fire insurance maps resources. The Library of Congress has a collection of 50,000 Sanborn atlases, 35,000 of which are available online (collections, navigator). In the United Kingdom, fire insurance maps were produced by Charles E. Goad Ltd.; Goad maps are available via the British Library and the National Library of Scotland.

Fire insurance maps are an invaluable resource for historical researchers: they’re extremely detailed snapshots of the built environment of virtually every city and town, and there are usually several such snapshots (I’ve seen at least three for my little village, for example), so you can chart a town’s growth over time at a level of detail an OS, quad or topo map can’t match.

More About ‘Time in Maps’

Book cover: Time in MapsWhile you’re waiting for me to review Kären Wigen and Caroline Winterer’s Time in Maps: From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era, here is some more information about this collection of essays about how maps have been used to depict time. Time in Maps is the end product of a conference held at Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center in November 2017, and the editors are history professors at Stanford, so naturally the university’s media channels are all over it: Stanford Today published a piece last week that coincided with the book launch, and there’s also a short video.

Previously: New Books from the University of Chicago Press.

 

New Books from the University of Chicago Press

Two books from the University of Chicago Press

I received as review copies the following books from the University of Chicago Press, both now available:

In The Eternal City: A History of Rome in Maps, Jessica Maier “considers Rome through the eyes of mapmakers and artists who have managed to capture something of its essence over the centuries. Viewing the city as not one but ten ‘Romes,’ she explores how the varying maps and art reflect each era’s key themes. Ranging from modest to magnificent, the images comprise singular aesthetic monuments like paintings and grand prints as well as more popular and practical items like mass-produced tourist plans, archaeological surveys, and digitizations.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Edited by Kären Wigen and Caroline Winterer, Time in Maps: From the Age of Discovery to Our Digital Era collects nine essays on the “ingenious and provocative ways” maps have attempted to depict time. “Focusing on maps created in Spanish America, Europe, the United States, and Asia, these essays take us from the Aztecs documenting the founding of Tenochtitlan, to early modern Japanese reconstructing nostalgic landscapes before Western encroachments, to nineteenth-century Americans grappling with the new concept of deep time.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Related: Map Books of 2020.

A History of Maps in Games

Matthew Edney explores the history of maps and games, beginning with the three basic forms of early map games: playing cards, board games, and puzzles, all of which had the “improvement” of youth as their aim. Over time game maps became more abstract (grids, simplifications) and puzzle pieces didn’t follow territorial boundaries. Edney doesn’t get very far into modern-day computer games, where the map becomes synonymous with the playing field, but that’s understandable: it’s too big a subject on its own (I’ve left it out of my fantasy map work for that reason).

Germany’s Elusive Map Thief

Writing at Atlas Obscura, Jeffrey Arlo Brown has the frustrating story of a German map thief—the extraordinarily slippery eel Norbert Schild—and the decades-long attempts by librarians to catch him, or when caught convict him, or when released stop him from stealing again.

All over Germany, librarians waited for the Bonn state prosecutor’s investigation to proceed. But they never filed charges against Schild. The evidence was largely circumstantial: While libraries could show that Schild used the damaged books, they couldn’t necessarily prove that he was the one cutting out the pages. A search warrant executed at Schild’s home on November 22, 2002, turned up “tools of the trade,” such as bibliographies and lists of historical materials at Germany libraries, but no actual stolen maps. Prosecutors in Bonn were busy, and the stakes may have seemed low—old books, not human lives. The charges in Trier—where Schild was caught red-handed—were dropped due to negligibility, after damages were estimated at just €500. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Bonn declined to comment.

Astonishing. [Tony Campbell]

British Library Makes 18,000 of George III’s Maps and Ephemera Freely Available

Mathew Dixon, “”A General Plan with a Project for the Defence of the Arsenals of Plymouth,” 1780. Map, 65 × 95 cm. King’s Topographical Collection, British Library.

At his death, King George III had a collection of some 50,000 maps, plans, illustrations and related ephemera. The military maps were kept by his son George IV; earlier this year more than 2,000 of those maps were posted online by the Royal Collection Trust. But the vast majority went to the British Library, where it makes up the King’s Topographical Collection (“K.Top”). The collection is wide-ranging and diverse—George III was a bit grabby when it came to maps—and includes maps made from 1540 to 1824; it also, famously, includes the Klencke Atlas.

For the past few years the Library has been engaged on a project to digitize the 40,000 items of the Collection; last month they announced that the first batch—some 18,000 images—has been released to Flickr—see this Flickr album—where they may be freely accessed and downloaded.

More from the British Library’s Maps and Views Blog here and here.

Previously: British Library Digitizing George III’s Map Collection; Picturing Places and the Klencke Atlas; George III’s Collection of Military Maps Now Online.

Mapping an Atlantic World, circa 1500

Amazon (Canada, UK)
Bookshop

Out tomorrow from Johns Hopkins University Press, Alida C. Metcalf’s Mapping an Atlantic World, circa 1500 explores how sixteenth-century European maps conceptualized a new, Atlantic-centred world. From the publisher: “Metcalf explains why Renaissance cosmographers first incorporated sailing charts into their maps and began to reject classical models for mapping the world. Combined with the new placement of the Atlantic, the visual imagery on Atlantic maps—which featured decorative compass roses, animals, landscapes, and native peoples—communicated the accessibility of distant places with valuable commodities. Even though individual maps became outdated quickly, Metcalf reveals, new mapmakers copied their imagery, which then repeated on map after map. Individual maps might fall out of date, be lost, discarded, or forgotten, but their geographic and visual design promoted a new way of seeing the world, with an interconnected Atlantic World at its center.” [WMS]

New Map Books: Early October 2020

New map books released in early October include:

The 27th edition of the Oxford Atlas of the World (Oxford University Press); this atlas is updated annually. This edition includes more satellite imagery, a new feature on plastics pollution, and an updated cities section. Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop

The 14th edition of the Times Concise Atlas of the World (Times Books). One step below the Comprehensive in the Times Atlas range, and a bit more than half the price. Available now in the U.K., next month in Canada, and next March in the United States. Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop

A History of the Second World War in 100 Maps by Jeremy Black (British Library) “selects 100 of the most revealing, extraordinary and significant maps to give a ground-breaking perspective on the Second World War. It follows the British Library’s enormously successful A History of America in 100 Maps, published in 2018.” Out tomorrow in the U.K.; the U.S. edition is out from the University of Chicago Press later this month. Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop

Philip Parker’s History of World Trade in Maps (Collins), in which “more than 70 maps give a visual representation of the history of World Commerce, accompanied by text which tells the extraordinary story of the merchants, adventurers, middle-men and monarchs who bought, sold, explored and fought in search of profit and power.” Also out now in the U.K. but later in North America. Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop

Finally, the paperback edition of Tom Harper’s Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library, which I reviewed here in 2018, is out tomorrow from the British Library. Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop

Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps Online

Screenshot

Last year I told you about Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps, a book collecting and analyzing the maps produced by Booth’s block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London. Somehow I missed the fact that there has been an online, interactive version of said maps for several years now. [Open Culture]

Previously: Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps.

Osher Library Launches Fundraising Campaign

The Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education has launched a fundraising campaign to support their map conservation efforts.

In recognition of Maine’s Bicentennial, and in conjunction with our newly launched exhibition, “Mapping Maine: The Land and Its Peoples, 1677-1842,” we are raising funds to conserve historic maps of Maine and beyond to ensure that students and researchers of all ages continue to have access to cartographic resources vital to understanding the history of the world, the nation, the land we now call Maine, and our local communities. When historic maps, atlases, and globes come into our collections (via donations by individuals and organizations or by purchase)—like the 1855 Wall Map of Old Town, Penobscot County, Maine, displayed below—they often arrive in fragile condition due to their age, the nature of the materials, and how they have been used over time. While we protect and store the items in our world-class climate controlled storage facility, many items need conservation in order to be displayed and utilized by our patrons of all ages.

The fundraising target is $50,000. Help them get there. [Osher]