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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
The digital globes will be available to view on the British Library website—www.bl.uk/collection-items—from 26 March, via a viewing platform which includes an augmented reality function (available on phone or tablet via the Sketchfab app). This online access will allow unprecedented up-close interaction with the globes from anywhere in the world and means that for the first time, a variety of previously illegible surface features on the globes can be read.
A total of 30 globes are being scanned this way. [The Guardian]
Building Boston, Shaping Shorelines is a Harvard Map Collection exhibition going on now at Harvard Library’s Pusey Library Gallery. “This exhibition allows you to trace the projects to reclaim land and build the infrastructure that has produced a city out of a peninsula. Come learn how much of Boston is on man-made land and what impacts that has had and will have on the city.” There is no online version, but Harvard Magazine has a writeup. Until 1 May 2020.