Maps of the Pacific

Carte très curieuse de la Mer du Sud
Henri Abraham Chatelain, Carte très curieuse de la Mer du Sud, 1719. Map, 76.6 × 137.9 cm.

Maps of the Pacific is an exhibition of the State Library of New South Wales’s holdings of maps, charts atlases and globes relating to the Pacific Ocean. “This exhibition traces the European mapping of the Pacific across the centuries—an endeavour that elevated the science and art of European mapmaking. Redrawing the map of the world ultimately facilitated an era of brutal colonisation and dispossession for many Pacific First Nations communities.” Open now at the library’s exhibition galleries in Sydney, the exhibition runs until 24 April 2022. Free admission.

In related news, the library’s Mapping the Pacific conference (previously) has been postponed to March 2022.

‘The Vinland Map Is a Fake’

The Vinland Map
The Vinland Map

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.

British Library Completes Flickr Release of George III’s Map Collection

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!”

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

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.

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.

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.

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]

Smithsonian Magazine Explores the Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts

The September issue of Smithsonian Magazine has a very good piece summing up the case of the Carnegie Library rare book and map thefts, coverage of which has made regular appearances here on The Map Room. In 2017 Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library discovered that more than 300 rare books, maps and other items, worth around $8 million, had been stolen from their collection. Library archivist Greg Priore, who had physical access to the items, and bookseller John Schulman, who acted as his fence, were eventually arrested and charged; they pled guilty to a reduced set of charges last January. With everything that’s been happening, I missed their sentencing last June; the Smithsonian piece provides the details: Priore was sentenced to three years of house arrest and 12 years of probation, Schulman to four years of house arrest and 12 years of probation, sentences that some consider unconscionably light.

Previously: 314 Rare Books and Maps Stolen from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; New Details Emerging in Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts; Arrests Made in Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts; Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Theft Update; Priore, Schulman Plead Guilty to Pittsburgh Rare Book and Map Thefts.

Pandemic Mapping and Posterity

The flurry of COVID-19 maps that have emerged in the first half of this year will be something that future cartographers and librarians will look back on, both in terms of historical records that need preserving, which is the subject of this CityLab interview with Library of Congress map librarian John Hessler, and in terms of best practices for disease mapping—what to do and what not to do when mapping a pandemic—which is the subject of this Financial Times video interview with Kenneth Field. (Both from early May; I’m playing catchup right now.)

Maps of Antarctica at the British Library

“South Polar Chart,” The Scottish Geographical Magazine (1898). BL Maps 162.

Two recent posts at the British Library’s Maps and Views Blog provide “a whistle-stop tour through maps held in the British Library that chart Antarctica’s gradual emergence from obscurity into light.” The first covers maps of Antarctica through the nineteenth century, when the continent went from unknown to unexplored; the second the twentieth century, where maps of the continent “[reflect] the switch made by cartography to digital data from the latter part of the twentieth century.”

Engravers: The Unsung Heroes of Mapmaking

The Bodleian’s Map Room Blog (no relation) has a post about the “unsung heroes” of mapmaking: the engravers.

Until the nineteenth century, virtually all printed maps were produced by engraving the map on a sheet of copper—or later on, steel—as a mirror image of how the finished map would look. The plate was then inked and the image printed onto a sheet of paper in a printing press. This was incredibly skilled work, but often only very discreetly acknowledged, the engraver’s name appearing in tiny, modest letters in the bottom margin.

Identifying the engravers for cataloguing purposes—something a library like the Bodleian tries to do—can be a challenge.

Map Talks Online, Past and Future

Map Time is “a series of short conversations with experts on maps and mapping from across the globe” hosted by the Harvard Library and the Leventhal Center on Instagram Live. Held every Thursday at noon, through August. Schedule and upcoming speakers here. Past talks are available on YouTube.

How to Do Map Stuff is a full day of live online mapping workshops that will take place on Wednesday, 29 April. Coordinated by Daniel Huffman, speakers will host their own livestreams at announced times (the working schedule is here).

Presentations made at last year’s British Cartographic Society/Society of Cartographers conference were recorded on video. The BCS reports that they’re now available online via this web page.

British Library Exhibitions and TV Programs Revisited

BBC Four is rebroadcasting The Beauty of Maps, a four-episode series that coincided with the 2010 Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library. Two episodes broadcast so far, with the third this evening and the fourth tomorrow. They’ll be on iPlayer for the next month.

Meanwhile, the British Library’s 2016 Maps and the 20th Century exhibition (previously) is now available in virtual form—as in, you can “walk” through a virtual recreation of the physical exhibition. Articles related to the exhibition are available here, and of course the companion volume, Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, edited by Tom Harper, is still available: Amazon (Canada, UK), Bookshop.