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.
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]
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.
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).
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.
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.
As 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.
The 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
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.)
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.
The Map Books of 2020 page is now live. It lists all the books scheduled to come out this year—at least the ones I’m aware of. I’ll do my best to keep this page as up to date as possible. If there’s a book coming out in 2020 that should be on this page, let me know: I’m keen to find out about any and all books on cartography, maps and related subjects that are in the works.
If The Map Room’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide still leaves you wanting for ideas, and the additional books in the Map Books of 2019 page don’t do it either—maybe you just don’t want a book—here are some other map-related gift guides curated by colleagues and reviewers:
Over at Map Dragons, Betsy Miller posts 10 Great Gifts for Map Lovers that include not just books, but posters, wallpaper, notebooks and even rugs. Many items, like Eleanor Lutz’s Atlas of Space, Jim Niehues’s book of ski resort maps, and Anton Thomas’s still-forthcoming pictorial map of North America, will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.
Mapping London’s Christmas list focuses on recent books about maps of London, as you might expect.
The New York Times’s Tina Jordan looks at recent map books, starting, as you might expect, with the latest National Geographic Atlas of the World (“If you’re going to buy just one atlas this fall . . . ”). Her list also includes a couple of 2019 releases I somehow managed to miss:
An Atlas of Geographical Wonders: From Mountaintops to Riverbeds (Princeton Architectural Press, September), by Gilles Palsky, Jean-Marc Besse, Philippe Grand and Jean-Christophe Bailly, explores nineteenth-century scientific maps and tableaux, beginning with those by Alexander von Humboldt.
Every year at about this time I post a gift guide that lists some of the noteworthy books about maps that have been published this year. If you have a map-obsessed person in your life and would like to give them something map-related—or you are a map-obsessed person and would like your broad hints to have something to link to—this guide may give you some ideas.
As before, this guide is organized loosely by theme. Its focus is on books of interest to the general reader: even though a lot of good academic work was published this year, it’s not the sort of thing to put under the tree. I’ve been maintaining a somewhat more complete list of books published over the year at the Map Books of 2019 page.
Also, this is not a list of recommendations: I haven’t even seen most of the books on this list, much less reviewed them (this has not been a good year for my reviewing). These are simply books that, based on the information available, seem fit for giving as gifts.
The 2019 World Fantasy Awards were announced yesterday at the World Fantasy Convention, held this year in Los Angeles; Lewis-Jones won in the Special Award—Professional category.
Winners in each category are decided by a panel of judges.
Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps (Thames & Hudson, October) is a look back at Booth’s idiosyncratic and judgey block-by-block survey of poverty and the social classes of late 19th-century London (his maps described the “lowest class” as “vicious, semi-criminal,” for example). The final maps, hand-coloured, are famous in map terms: there was an exhibition back in 2011. The book adds preparatory maps, “selected reproductions of pages from the original notebooks, containing anecdotes related by Londoners of every trade, class, creed and nationality together with observations by Booth’s interviewers that reveal much about their social class and moral views.” Plus essays and infographics to put the whole thing in a modern context. Mapping London has a review.
Related: Map Books of 2019.
The Atlas of Boston History, edited by Boston historian Nancy S. Seasholes, came out last week from the University of Chicago Press. It features 57 full-colour spreads—for a complete list, plus some examples, go here—that trace the city’s history from the post-glacial period to the present day through maps, photos, illustrations and accompanying text from three dozen different contributors. (The maps are original to this volume: this is a historical atlas, not a collection of old maps, in case that needs saying.) Looks impressive and interesting.
Related: Map Books of 2019.
World atlases are still a thing, and the first of this month saw the publication of two new editions of venerable world atlases.
First, the National Geographic Atlas of the World, a new edition of which comes out every four years. This year’s is the 11th.
I have to confess that I’m fond of the National Geographic: compared to other atlases it does its own thing with political maps that eschew coloured relief and explain every little boundary dispute and controversy in little red letters. It’s also enormous, larger in dimension than the Times Comprehensive (though not as heavy) and with a list price of $215/£170 is slightly more expensive. National Geographic’s page doesn’t go into detail as to what changes were made for the 11th edition, which is a pity. (Does it have Eswatini and North Macedonia, for example?)
The Oxford Atlas of the World is a lot smaller and more affordable. At $90, it slots between the Times Universal and Concise atlases in terms of list price, though its page count is that of the more expensive Concise. It’s also updated every year; this year’s edition is the 26th. And the publisher’s page does list some of the updates. (Eswatini and North Macedonia? Yes!)
As for the Times line of atlases, the most recent to be updated was the third-tier Times Universal Atlas ($50/£80), the 4th edition of which came out in August. Prior to that, the 5th edition of the affordable Times Desktop Atlas ($35/£20) was released in February. The 15th edition of the top-of-range Times Comprehensive Atlas ($200/£150) came out in the fall of 2018: I reviewed it here.