The first map produced by the Ordnance Survey, their blog reminds us, was this map of Kent. Published in 1801 at the scale of two inches to one mile (1:31,680), it took three years to complete; the OS started in Kent over fears of a French invasion. As such, the map “focused on communication routes and included hill shading to ensure men at arms could interpret the landscape with precision. Over time, this map design became less focused on these elements and was developed to appeal to a much wider audience.”
Speaking of the Ordnance Survey, here’s a potted history of the OS from the BBC’s Bethan Bell. The definitive history, of course, is Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation (2010), which I reviewed in 2012, but it only covers the first century or so. Bell’s piece is full of factoids—scattershot, random access—from both the 19th and 20th centuries. [A-Z Maps]
Today is the publication date for The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book (Trapeze), a collection of map quizzes and puzzles—a “mix of navigational tests, word games, code-crackers, anagrams and mathematical conundrums” contrived by Gareth Moore—based on some 40 Ordnance Survey maps dating as far back as 1801. It’s out in the U.K. only; North Americans will have to try third-party sellers on Amazon (or elsewhere) or order directly from British vendors.
The Guardian reports on the worst-selling Ordnance Survey map, which I suspect will very quickly cease to be the worst-selling map thanks to the news coverage. It’s OS Explorer 440: Glen Cassley and Glen Oykel, a 1:25,000-scale map of a remote region of the Scottish Highlands. (Buy it at Amazon.) The area covered by the map is apparently spectacularly empty, at least as far as humans are concerned, with only “a few dozen houses,” most of which are used for vacation or hunting purposes. In a blog post today, the Ordnance Survey goes into more detail, listing the 10 least popular maps in the U.K.: they’re all in Scotland, so they also give the least popular maps for England and Wales.
If the purpose here is to point to the route less travelled, well and good, but I suspect the effect will be rather like what happens when a travel guide raves about an out-of-the-way, hidden gem of a restaurant.
At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? You may want to check out The OS Map Fan Club, an hour-long solo performance about Ordnance Survey maps that sounds relevant to our interests. Written and performed by Helen Wood, The OS Map Fan Club has been making the fringe and festival circuit this year and has been getting good reviews (see here, here and here). At the Edinburgh Fringe until 18 August; details and tickets here. [Map of the Week]
Now seems an odd time to be launching a line of standalone, single-purpose GPS devices, but the Ordnance Survey has gone and done so: they’ve announced a total of four devices, ranging in size from the cycling-friendly Velo to the robust Aventura and in price from £370 to £500. The OS has been offering third-party devices from the likes of Garmin and Satmap through its online store; it’ll be interesting to see how people see these as measuring up against those devices—or against an app on the smartphone they may already own. More at Road.cc.
The Ordnance Survey isn’t above an April Fool’s prank, it seems. For the April 2018 issue of Country Walking magazine, they created a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean that “had been lost to the sea centuries ago, only for it to have now mysteriously risen out of the waves in need of mapping.” (Its name, “Hy-Breasal,” might have been a tip-off.) In a post on the Ordnance Survey’s blog, cartographer Mark Wolstenholme explains how he used existing OS mapping to create a made-up island in a very short time frame.
After an aborted attempt at cutting up Lundy, I chose the Outer Hebrides’ isle of Pabbay for the main part of our new island. To disguise its origin, I flipped and rotated the island. To achieve that, all the names, symbols and vegetation had to stripped off, and because OS Explorer mapping is a raster image, that meant a lot of pixel selecting in Photoshop. Another restriction with the raster, meant I could only rotate the island by 90 or 180 degrees. Any other angle would re-interpolate the pixels and the print quality would be lost.
To further disguise the island, I looked for a smaller island to add, this time taken from the Orkney Islands. This was joined by the addition of an area of sand and reworked low water line. To finish the shaping, I added a handful of rocky outcrops around the coast as well as some mud, sand and a redrawn high-water line through the dunes. A bigger loch was hand drawn and is unique to this island.
Adding new features and Easter eggs in Illustrator and Photoshop came next. Read the post for the details.
Two things about CityGuide’s beginner’s guide to map collecting. One, it’s not so much for beginners as written by a beginner; the author, Chris Sharp, is recounting his own journey into map collecting. Which brings me to the other thing: what kind of map collecting he’s talking about, which is to say, the “collecting all the OS Landranger maps” kind of map collecting, not the “paying exorbitant sums for a rare and ancient map that might be a forgery or sliced out of a volume from a library’s rare books collection” kind of map collecting. I don’t want to invoke Dunning-Kruger here, but I’m not sure he knows how much more there is out there. I suspect that he’s going to find out. Not being British myself, I don’t know to what extent Ordnance Survey maps are the gateway drug to a serious map collecting jones, but I have my suspicions. [WMS]
The Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps mobile app now has a new augmented reality mode. “Using the phone or tablet’s camera view, hills, mountains, coastal features, lakes, settlements, transport hubs and woodland in the vicinity are identified and labelled. If a label is pressed and there is a data connection, a page of useful information about that location is displayed, including nearby walks, photos and places to stay.” AR is very neat but battery-intensive; nevertheless this strikes me as a very useful application of the technology. [iOS App Store, Google Play]
One of the most celebrated 20th century children’s map reading guides is showcased in our forthcoming exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. Published in 1948, Ronald Lampitt and James Deverson’s The Map that Came to Life follows the story of John and Joanna who use an Ordnance Survey map to walk to town. As they pass over fields, past houses and along footpaths, their surroundings are compared with map adjacent on the same page. The fields turn into contoured blank spaces, houses become black cubes, footpaths dashed lines. Map literacy is acquired by the reader as they accompany the children on their virtual journey, matching map with reality.
In The Map that Came to Life the map is portrayed as an objective, precise and above all truthful mirror of nature. And this inherent trustworthiness enabled maps to become important features of the lives of successive generations of people.
The idea that maps are objective and truthful is not something that would fly today, I think, but in the context of entry-level map education, which in Britain always seems to be specifically in terms of how to read an Ordnance Survey map, rather than maps in general, it seems harmless enough.
October is a busy month: I’m aware of six new map books coming out. Two deal with the mapping of war, three with the rich cartographical history of Great Britain, while the sixth is a colouring book.
Maps of War: Mapping Conflict Through the Centuries by Jeremy Black (Conway, 11 October). “There is little documented mapping of conflict prior to the Renaissance period, but, from the 17th century onward, military commanders and strategists began to document the wars in which they were involved and, later, to use mapping to actually plan the progress of a conflict. Using contemporary maps, this sumptuous new volume covers the history of the mapping of land wars, and shows the way in which maps provide a guide to the history of war.”
War Map: Pictorial Conflict Maps, 1900-1950 by Philip Curtis and Jakob Sondergard Pedersen (The Map House, 6 October). This is a companion book to the Map House’s exhibition of pictorial conflict maps, which I told you about last week.
Scotland: Mapping the Islands by Christopher Fleet, Charles W.J. Withers and Margaret Wilkes (Birlinn, 20 October). A follow-up to Scotland: Mapping the Nation (Birlinn, 2012), this book explores the Scottish islands through maps from the National Library of Scotland’s collection.
Art and Optics in the Hereford Map: An English Mappa Mundi, c. 1300 by Marcia Kupfer (Yale University Press, 25 October). Reinterpretation of the Hereford Mappa Mundi from an art history perspective. “Features of the colored and gilded map that baffle modern expectations are typically dismissed as the product of careless execution. Kupfer argues that they should rightly be seen as part of the map’s encoded commentary on the nature of vision itself.”
I told you about the Ordnance Survey’s Great British Colouring Map (Laurence King, 10 October) last July; it’s available this week. “Based on the accurate maps of Ordnance Survey, the colouring pages explore the coasts, towns, forests and countryside of England, Scotland and Wales. Includes detailed maps of cities and other places of interest such as Britain’s most recognizable tourist and historical locations, plus a stunning gatefold of London.”
Britain’s Tudor Maps: County by County (Batsford, 13 October) reproduces the maps from John Speed’s 1611 Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. These apparently include the first individual county maps of Great Britain, so this is a work of some historical significance.
The Ordnance Survey is launching a National Map Reading Week, to be held 17-23 October 2016, aimed at improving people’s map-reading skills. The OS cites evidence that a surprising number of people in the U.K. do poorly at maps and geography:
People were asked to plot various locations, from cities to National Parks on an outline map of Britain and we were pretty surprised at the results. Some 40% of people struggled to pinpoint London and only 14% could accurately plot Edinburgh’s location. […]
Even more worrying to us, just 40% of those surveyed felt they could confidently read a map with 10% never having used a paper map.
Now, map literacy and geographical knowledge aren’t the same thing: you can know how to read a map without being any good at placing something on a blank map (at least in theory). Either way, the Ordnance Survey will be producing guides and hosting workshops during the week in question. (In the meantime, they point to these map reading guides.)
As a major publisher of maps, it’s in their interest to do this sort of thing—a map-reading public is a map-buying public, after all—but increasing map literacy is an unquestionably good thing.
Cóilín Parsons is the author of The Ordnance Survey and Modern Irish Literature (Oxford University Press, June 2016; Amazon, iBooks), which links the Ordnance Survey of Ireland to the origins of literary modernism in Ireland. Writing in The Irish Times, Parsons makes a larger argument about the cultural impact of the Irish survey, which resulted in large part from the survey’s precise mapping requirements and the need to hire non-cartographic scholars to get the job done—they were mapping aspects of Irish life that had not previously received official attention.
This unlikely assembly came about because the survey was instructed to make a map at a scale of six inches to one mile. The scale might seem unexceptional to anyone who grew up using the survey’s maps, but at the time it was nothing short of revolutionary—it called for enormous maps of frequently sparsely inhabited areas, and at a level of detail never before seen across such a vast expanse of land. How was the survey to gather the information to fill in such detailed maps? The answer was to task not only the engineers of the army, but also a crew of civilian workers under Petrie’s supervision, to both map the physical features of the landscape and also record every possible aspect of the landscape from its placenames (the initial justification for employing Irish language scholars) and archeology to its productive economy.
Another map colouring book has just been announced, this one from the Ordnance Survey: “The book will take you on an immersive colouring-in journey around Great Britain, from the coasts and forests to our towns and countryside. Expect to see iconic cities, recognisable tourist spots and historical locations across England, Scotland and Wales via the 55 illustrations. The Great British Colouring Map also includes a stunning gatefold of London. We can’t wait to share it with you—it will be on shelves in October.” Pre-order at Amazon.
The Ordnance Survey has created a series of data visualizations showing the most popular walking and cycling routes, based on OS Maps usage. “The 500,000 plus routes were illustrated in a series of beautiful data visualisations by [cartographic designer] Charley [Glynn], who found it amazing that the people who created routes for their outdoors adventures had logged almost every bit of British coastline. It neatly frames the rest of the data and gives the illusion you are looking at a map of Great Britain. The darker, thicker areas illustrate the higher concentration of routes and reveal popularity.” Flickr gallery. [Mountain Bike Rider]