NPR and the Washington Post report a fascinating story of how a rare atlas was identified in an unlikely fashion: being posted to Reddit. Last month, reference librarian Anders Kvernberg stumbled across an uncatalogued atlas in the vaults of the National Library of Norway. He could make out that it was an Ottoman atlas from 1803, but not much more than that, since he couldn’t read Ottoman Turkish. He did scan and post one of its maps to Reddit, where Redditors went to work translating the text. Then, a couple of weeks later, another Redditor posted an Ottoman map of Africa, which was identified as part of the Cedid Atlas (Cedid Atlas Tercümesi), published in Istanbul in 1803. The Library of Congress has a copy, which it acquired in 1998, digitized, and put online. Kvernberg went and looked—and, he says, “started recognising the scans. Then I realized this was the very same atlas I had held in my hands a few weeks earlier.” The Cedid Atlas was rare: only 50 were printed, and only 14 were known to be held in public institutions. It turns out that the National Library of Norway has the 15th. [via]
The National Geographic website has an interview with Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen, authors of Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 (W. W. Norton, October 2015). In the interview, Brown says that “some of the best collections of Revolutionary War maps have been among the least used. Historians tended to use the same maps over and over again to illustrate their narratives. What we did is to take the opposite view. We wanted the maps to tell the story, so we picked maps that we thought would tell the story of the battles best.” Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)
Persuasive cartography: it’s a term I haven’t encountered before, though I’ve seen kind of maps it refers to: propagandistic art that uses cartography to make a point—think of all those caricature maps leading up to World War I. Many of them can be found in Cornell University Library’s P. J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography: there are more than 300 maps available online, plus some pages about the genre. (Above: a 1951 map from the French Communist Party that takes a pro-Soviet line against the U.S. military.) [via]
On New Year’s Eve The Arts Newspaper reported on the British Library’s efforts to digitize the 50,000 maps and plans that make up the King George III Topographical Collection. (George III was apparently quite the map collector, one not above choosing not to return maps he borrowed.) They’re about a quarter of the way through so far. The collection’s crown jewel, so to speak, is the ludicrously large (176 × 231 cm) Klencke Atlas.
Hyperallergic has a review of Cities of the World (Taschen, November 2015), a reprint of colour plates from Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum, which appeared in six volumes between 1572 and 1617. From Taschen: “Featuring plans, bird’s-eye views, and maps for all major cities in Europe, plus important urban centers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, this masterwork in urban mapping gives us a comprehensive view of city life at the turn of the 17th century.” Maps from the Civitates Orbis Terrarum can also be viewed online here and here. [via] Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)
Though the effects of the Gulf Stream were known to seafarers for centuries, Benjamin Franklin was the first to name it and chart it. The Library of Congress’s map blog has a post about the maps of the Gulf Stream produced by Franklin with his cousin, Timothy Folger, a ship captain who knew the currents. “Folger and Franklin jointly produced a chart of the Gulf Stream in 1768, first published in London by the English firm Mount and Page. The Geography and Map Division holds one of only three known copies of this first edition (see above), in addition to a copy of the ca. 1785 second edition.”
Mapping Indiana: Five Centuries of Treasures is an exhibition of maps from the collection of the Indiana Historical Society. “Featuring several original—and some never before seen—pieces from our collection, Mapping Indiana explores the ways we think about maps, how we use them and how they have helped to shape Indiana.” From January 16 to April 2 at the Society’s Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis. [via]
Nicolas Crane reviews Jeremy Black’s Metropolis: Mapping the City (Conway, October 2015) for Geographical magazine. “The aim is to explore through time the visualisation of cities, so we start with a terracotta plan of the Mesopotamian holy city of Nippur, in what is now Iraq, then travel through Renaissance cities, New World cities, Imperial cities and mega cities. […] If you’ve ever wondered why cities work, you’ll find the answer in this beautiful book.” Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)
Yesterday the New York Public Library made available high-quality downloads of some 180,000 public-domain photographs, postcards, maps and other items from its digital collection—of which more than 21,000 are maps, based on my quick search. I can see spending an awful lot of time poking around in there, can’t you?
Also from Birlinn, The Railway Atlas of Scotland: Two Hundred Years of History in Maps by David Spaven, which came out last October.
Previously: British Railways, Past and Present.
The National’s Alan Taylor reviews Glasgow: Mapping the City by John Moore (Birlinn, October 2015), an illustrated book of maps of the city dating back to the 16th century (via). This is one of several map books published by Birlinn that cover the history of Scotland in maps: previous volumes include Edinburgh: Mapping the City by Christopher Fleet and Daniel MacCannell (2014) and Scotland: Mapping the Nation by Christopher Fleet, Charles W. J. Withers and Margaret Wilkes (2012).
A 1769 map of New Jersey by the famed colonial surveyor Bernard Ratzer, commissioned to settle a longstanding border dispute between New Jersey and New York, has been uncovered by a Harvard University librarian. The map, criss-crossed by competing and alternate boundary lines, has been digitized and is available to view online as part of Harvard’s Colonial North American project.
The run-up to every holiday season produces a fresh batch of lavishly illustrated map books, and this year does not appear to be an exception. Map: Exploring the World, a collection of “300 stunning maps from all periods and from all around the world,” came out last month from Phaidon Press. The book was assembled by “an international panel of cartographers, academics, map dealers and collectors,” the publisher says; Forbes contributor Bruce Dorminey’s look at this book reveals that one of them was Library of Congress map curator John Hessler.
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well-known and well-connected map dealer, an expert who helped build the Slaughter and Leventhal map collections. Then in 2005 he was caught—on videotape—stealing maps from Yale University’s Beinecke Library. Libraries he had frequented scrambled to check their own holdings and found additional maps missing. Smiley, who cooperated with the authorities, would eventually be sentenced to 3½ years for stealing nearly 100 maps from the British, Boston Public, New York Public, Harvard and Yale libraries, among others. The libraries believed he stole many more.
With The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents a book-length exploration of the Forbes Smiley affair, which stunned map collectors and map libraries alike in 2005. Its publication, coming nine years after Smiley’s arrest and four years after his release from prison, is something of an anticlimax, especially for those of us who followed the case so closely as it unfolded (I blogged about it more than 60 times, myself).
Map thieves fascinate us, even if they themselves are not that fascinating (see, for example, the essential blandness of Gilbert Bland, the subject of a previous book about map thefts, Miles Harvey’s Island of Lost Maps), because of what they steal. As stolen goods, antique maps are a curiosity: like art, but more stealable, because there are few copies, not just one.