When an exhibition held in Burgos, Spain celebrating Magellan’s voyage wanted to use the Burgos Cathedral’s copy of Pietro Martire d’Angiera’s 16th-century Legatio Babylonica, which contains the first-ever map of the Caribbean, they discovered that the map had been replaced by a fake. El País reports (in Spanish) that prosecutors have closed the case for lack of information—they don’t even know when it was stolen, much less who stole it.
Read David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele’s long Smithsonian article on the conclusion that the Vinland Map is a modern forgery. Among other things, it places the map in the context of mythmaking around Viking history and an anti-Catholic, pro-northern-European narrative of American discovery that aimed to displace the Columbus story.
The general consensus has been for some time that the Vinland Map is a modern forgery. A battery of non-destructive tests by Yale University, which holds the map in its Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, have been performed on the map, and the results of those tests have been announced: the map is a fake.
“The Vinland Map is a fake,” said Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses the map. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”
Basically, the map’s inks contain titanium compounds first used in the 1920s, and an inscription on the parchment was altered to make it seem like the map belonged in a 15th-century bound volume.
Previously: Re-Analyzing the Vinland Map.
“I have a new mapping project on Kickstarter,” writes our friend Alejandro Polanco. “This time it is about recovering some exciting hand-drawn maps by a forgotten craftsman from the 19th century.” This is Alejandro’s second project to digitally recover a 19th-century illustrated book; this time his target is an 1890 edition of a treatise on topographical drawing by Juan Papell y Llenas. The book is full of detailed examples of mapping techniques done only with ink on paper. Alejandro’s restored edition, The Art of Hand-drawn Maps 1890, will be released this fall in digital (€18 pledge) and paper (€32) editions.
The British Library has uploaded another 32,000 images from George III’s Topographical Collection to Flickr. The Library has been engaged in digitizing the King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top), which comprises some 40,000 atlases, views, plans and surveys dating from 1540 to 1824, for the past few years; last year they uploaded the first tranche of nearly 18,000 images to Flickr for free access and download. As of their announcement earlier this month, the Flickr collection (found here, helpfully organized by fonds) “now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We’re working on it!”
The latest exhibition at the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education is deliberately on the nose: Where Will We Go from Here? Travel in the Age of COVID-19 is the Osher’s first crowdsourced exhibition, based in part on more than 140 responses to an online survey about cancelled travel plans and the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The exhibition is divided into five sections, beginning with an introduction to the mapping of pandemics and diseases, and continuing into four themes that emerged from the types of cancelled or postponed trips our respondents wrote about most frequently: Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Family Milestones; Weddings; Work-Related Travel; and Lost Study-Abroad Experiences. The curators selected stories from the survey and matched personal narratives and reflections about trips not taken to historic maps from our collections. We hope that as you walk through the gallery you will take time to read these personal narratives, and that they provide you with an opportunity to engage in quiet reflection about the challenges you and your loved ones have faced this year, and that you will join us in pondering the question: “Where will we go from here?”
At the end of our questionnaire, we asked participants: “Beyond your canceled travel plans, is there anything else you would like to tell us about how the pandemic has impacted your living and working situations?” We were particularly moved by the honest and thoughtful responses to this question; all responses can be read in a scrolling feed on the monitor at the end of the exhibit.
The physical exhibition opened on 13 May and is open to visitors until 15 October 2021. Free admission with timed tickets; no more than six visitors are allowed in the gallery at any one time. The online exhibition starts here; the sections mixing personal narratives and historical maps can be quite poignant.
Taking place on 25 and 26 August 2021 in Sydney, Australia, Mapping the Pacific will be a hybrid (in-person and streamed) conference that will explore “the traditional wayfinding knowledge of the Pacific community, European exploration and the mapping of the Pacific from the early modern era through to the 19th century.” Registration is not yet open.
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.
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]
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.
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.”
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.
While 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.
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.
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).