Mapping an Atlantic World, circa 1500

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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 Even though individual maps became outdated quickly, Metcalf reveals, new mapmakers copied their imagery, which then repeated on map after map. Individual maps might fall out of date, be lost, discarded, or forgotten, but their geographic and visual design promoted a new way of seeing the world, with an interconnected Atlantic World at its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

A Crowdfunded, Hand-drawn Atlas of Scotland

Artist and writer Andrew Barr is crowdfunding for what he is calling “the first major Scottish atlas for over 100 years”: a hand-drawn, hardcover Atlas of Scotland:

Produced as a visually striking hardback book, combining text with illustrated maps, the Atlas will shed new light on Scotland’s size and resources, its cultural and political history, as well as its long standing as one of the ancient kingdoms of Europe and the richness of its international connections.

As satellite images replace traditional paper atlases, modern technology leaves us with an incomplete picture of the nation. By returning to map-making in pen and ink, and by retelling the story of Scotland’s history and culture, this Atlas aims to delve deeper into the fabric of the land and reveal one of the world’s oldest nations in a whole new light.

Very much a nationalist project—and a personal project as well, which is not how atlases are usually done nowadays, hand-drawn or not. The atlas is projected to ship in October 2021. [History Scotland]

Underground Cities

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Mark Ovenden has made a career of publishing books about transportation systems and their maps that are both comprehensive and copiously illustrated. These include books about transit maps, railway maps and airline maps, as well as books about specific transit systems like the London Underground and the Paris Metro.

His latest, Underground Cities (Frances Lincoln, 22 Sep), is in some ways a natural progression from his past work: in the introduction he muses on the link between transit geekery and wondering about “what else lies down there beyond the walls” (p. 6). But in other ways this is quite a different book.

Continue reading “Underground Cities”

The Map Books of 2020 page has been updated with new book listings, the latest cover art and updated publishing schedules (which have been just as much in flux as they’ve been in previous years, if not more so). It is as up to date and as complete as I can make it, but it’s a smaller list than usual. If I’ve missed something or something on this list is in error, please tell me.

Map Books of 2020

Marie Tharp at 100

July 30 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of pioneering ocean cartographer Marie Tharp, whose seafloor maps provided evidence of continental drift. Columbia University’s Earth Institute is marking the event with blog posts, interviews, workshops and other social media and multimedia activity. See, for example, this overview of her legacy by Marie Denoia Aronsohn and a reprint of Tharp’s own piece, “Connect the Dots: Mapping the Seafloor and Discovering the Mid-ocean Ridge.”

The anniversary probably explains why two books about Tharp, aimed at children, are coming out this year:

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret
by Jess Keating
Tundra Books, 30 Jun 2020
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

Marie’s Ocean
by Josie James
Henry Holt, 22 Sep 2020
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books

Add those to Robert Burleigh’s Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor (2016), also aimed at young readers, and Hali Felt’s 2012 biography of Tharp (for adults), Soundings, which I review here.

Older posts about Marie Tharp can be found here.

Update, July 30: Suzanne O’Connell at The Conversation: “As a geoscientist, I believe Tharp should be as famous as Jane Goodall or Neil Armstrong. Here’s why.”

An Atlas of the Himalayas

An Atlas of the Himalayas (book cover)In An Atlas of the Himalayas by a 19th Century Tibetan Monk (Brill), Diana Lange explores the origins of six maps drawn by an anonymous Tibetan artist for a Scottish explorer in the mid-19th century, and how those maps ended up in the British Library. For more on Lange’s research into this subject, see her guest post on the British Library’s map blog.

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

What an Atlas Does

Chris Wayne’s article for Directions Magazine, “Stories and Lies: What an Atlas Reveals,” does something interesting that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before (which at this point is saying something): it talks about atlases as a class, exploring what they do and how they’re arranged. For example: “Page pairs are arguably the most effective format for blending narrative and cartography. With two facing pages, a self-contained story is told; then each page pair becomes a building block in the epic of the atlas itself.” In other words, it looks at atlases as objects in themselves. [WMS]

The Guardian Interviews Martin Vargic

Detail from Martin Vargic, “Britannia Under the Waves.”

Yesterday’s Guardian had an interview with Slovak designer Martin Vargic, whom you may remember for his 2015 book Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps [Amazon, Bookshop]. In this interview, Vargic talks about his various projects—he’s been doing this since he was eight, and was a teenager when Miscellany was published. One imagines there’s a bit of a career ahead for him.

Meanwhile, Andrew Liptak wrote about Vargic’s “Map of the Literature II” at Tor.com last October. In November Vargic’s second book, Vargic’s Curious Cosmic Compendium, came out in the U.K. from Michael Joseph.

Previously: Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps.

The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book

The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book (cover)I missed Philip Parker’s Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book when it came out in Britain from British Library Publishing last October, but it seems to be available in North America this month (the logistics of delivering physical books during a pandemic permitting). From the publisher: “It features carefully devised questions inspired by general knowledge, observational skills, cryptic dexterity and mapping history. The result is a highly entertaining and satisfying means to explore some 40 inspirational maps and charts ranging from medieval portolans to the latest digital renderings. It’s beautifully designed and presented in durable flexi binding to allow for portable carto-quizzing.”

As a British Library publication, The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book naturally features examples from their holdings. Another book that does so is Tom Harper’s Atlas, which I reviewed in 2018.

Related: Map Coloring Books and Games (Bookshop).


The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book (cover)The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book
by Philip Parker
The British Library, October 2019
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Most of The Map Room’s revenue comes from affiliate links (i.e., I get a cut when you buy something via a link on this website). That generally means the Usual Guys. But the Usual Guys aren’t for everyone, so I’ve signed up with Bookshop’s affiliate program. Bookshop is an online store that offers some support to independent bookstores: see InsideHook’s piece for details. It’s U.S.-only for now, and the selection is basically limited to what can be ordered through Ingram, but for something just getting off the ground it looks like a viable alternative. The Map Room’s Bookshop storefront is here, but direct links to book listings will appear where appropriate.

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

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

In Search of Lost Islands

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”