Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians


Our earliest map appears on a coin made in the Roman Empire and our latest appears as pixels on a computer screen. In between we have the most complete set of Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain, the grand collection of an 18th-century king, secret maps made by the Soviet army as well as the British government, and a book that stands taller than the average person. Read more

08 June 2015

A Bohemian rhapsody*?

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Within the many treasures of George III’s Topographical Collection, comprising some nearly 40,000 maps and views of all areas of the world, is a curious map of Bohemia by Jodocus Hondius (1594 or 1595-1629) that is amalgamated from two separate copperplates, printed on two separate sheets, and joined here to form one map.

1Maps K.Top.89.15. – the join of the two sheets is just visible beneath the mileage scale and extends across the whole width of the map.

The southern portion of the map, beneath the join, expands the geographic detail to include the River Danube with the cities of Linz and Vienna prominent. This “extension” is printed on a separate piece of paper from a separate copperplate and is carefully joined to the “original” map on the sheet above. This additional portion of the map also includes a statement of responsibility on a plinth at lower left, directly beneath the title cartouche on the initial sheet:

Ornatißimo Doctißimq. viro D. Ioanni Wilhemo Bogardo, reipublicae Amstellodamensis Scabino, et vice-Capitaneo, observantiae ergo, D. D. Iudocus Hondius. A.o Domini 1620.


Maps K.Top.89.15. – detail of the title cartouche and statement of responsibility, with the paper join visible between the two.

The map is dedicated to an alderman (?) of Amsterdam “Ioanni Wilhemo Bogardo” (Jan Willem van den Boegaerde?), about whom further information is sought.

However, the printed date of 1620 perhaps offers a contextual reason for the map’s geographic extension into Austria at this time. Peter Barber was quick to point out that the map makes no reference to “Bila Hora” (= “White Mountain”) near Prague, suggesting a date of production in 1620 prior to the important battle there in November. After the defenestration of Prague in 1618 Catholic governors Vilém Slavata of Chlum and Košumberk and Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice, along with their scribe Philip Fabricius, fled Prague for Vienna and the support of their fellow-Catholic, the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, also King of Bohemia (1617–1619 and 1620–1637). The Bohemian Revolt (1618–1620), the Protestant uprising against the rule of the Catholic Habsburg dynasty that had deposed Ferdinand II as King of Bohemia for the Protestant Frederick V (King of Bohemia 1619 – 1620), culminated in 1620 with the Battle of the White Mountain outside Prague when Ferdinand II regained the crown and drove the Protestant “Winter King”, Frederick V (the Elector Palatine), into exile in the Netherlands.

Perhaps the market dictated the need for a map illustrating the ever-changing events in Bohemia by showing routes between Prague and Vienna - this map’s extension to both cities renders it rather topical! One might conclude that the map was published (in Amsterdam) during the short reign of the “Winter King”.

3Maps K.Top.89.15. – detail showing Prague and environs.

No other institutional examples of the map with this extension have been located thus far.

Following this map within the collection is another example of the Hondius map of Bohemia without this seemingly unique extension. Maps K.Top.89.16. is a more standard version of the map that was published in the 1631 Latin text edition of the atlas Appendix Theatri ... et Atlantis. It is identified as such by the Latin text to verso with the signature "DDDDDD" at the bottom of the page (see Van der Krogt, P. Koeman's Atlantes Neerlandici,Volume II, atlas 2:021, map 83, page 42).


Maps K.Top.89.16.

The Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third, etc., London, 1829, which was essentially the collection inventory on its transfer from George IV to the British Museum that has been masquerading as its catalogue since publication in 1829 (thus highlighting the value in the current cataloguing project), listed this second Hondius Bohemia map as "Eadem Tabula" (= “the same map”) where the previous listing was "Bohemiae Tabula per Judocum Hondium, 1620”. They are clearly not the same map and their differences are cartographically, bibliographically and historically important.

To further support the K.Top cataloguing project and the potential for subsequent discoveries please visit the British Library website.

Kate Marshall 

* rhapsody, n. “3. gen. a. A miscellany or medley; esp. a muddled collection of words, ideas, etc. Now rare.” From the Oxford English Dictionary online.

05 May 2015

A British Reverse in East Africa - from the War Office Archive

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The recent attack by al-Shabab gunmen on a university in Garissa, north-eastern Kenya, demonstrates the threat still posed by the group, despite its losing control of the main cities and ports in Somalia. Conventional military tactics often prove ineffective against them, as they melt away and blend into the civilian population, then re-group to strike, as one BBC article put it, ‘like mosquitoes in the night’.

Two sheets in the War Office Archive reveal the use of similar, light-footed tactics, albeit in a different scenario, against British military forces there over 100 years ago -

Detail of WOMAT/AFR/BEA/32

In November 1900 the British Sub-Commissioner in Jubaland, Arthur Jenner, was killed while making a tour of the interior through areas inhabited by the nomadic Ogaden tribe. This part of southern Somalia was at that time under British administration within the East Africa Protectorate, and had in the preceding months been largely peaceful – Jenner was travelling with only a light escort, and was probably killed at the instigation of an Ogaden chief whom he had previously detained on suspicion of the murder of Somali policemen. According to one contemporary account, ‘It was well known that [the] murder was due to personal motives and should not have been treated as a political revolt’. However, a caravan of local traders had also recently been attacked, and shortly afterwards a report was sent back to London suggesting the imminent uprising of the whole Ogaden tribe.

Detail of WOMAT/AFR/BEA/32

By January 1901 a force of 600 troops, the Ogaden Punitive Force, had assembled at Kismayu on the Somali coast with a transport of 590 camels, around 900 porters and a number of carts, donkeys and oxen. A plan of Kismayu shows new infrastructure put in place in advance of their arrival. The official report states -

‘Preparations for the expedition were now hurried on... A trolley line 1,200 yards long was laid down from the pier to the town, where two sheds were prepared for the storage of rations, etc. The water supply was improved and extra wells were dug for the large number of transport animals which were expected… The defences of the town were at the same time strengthened and a hospital was established.’

Detail of WOMAT/AFR/BEA/28

 Detail of WOMAT/AFR/BEA/28

The troops marched inland from Kismayu across hostile terrain - labels indicating ‘Thick Bush’, ‘Dense Thorn’, ‘Very dense Thorn’, and the description ‘Dry’ pepper the expedition map – as far as Afmadu, where the Ogaden Sultan was quickly captured and sent down to the coast. From there a flying column of almost 400 men continued into unknown territory to the north-west, where the chiefs linked to Jenner’s murder were said to be.

Detail of WOMAT/AFR/BEA/32

For days as they advanced the troops saw fresh tracks around them in the sand, but at no point did they see the enemy they knew was there. Eventually, at a place on the map marked ‘Samasa’, they halted to make a reconnaissance, and even as they pitched camp a force of Ogaden militia rushed from the surrounding bush.

Detail of WOMAT/AFR/BEA/32

The attack was repelled, but the British beat a retreat, first to Afmadu, accompanied by the Ogaden at a distance, and from there back to Kismayu, where they arrived on 12 March.

Three months later the Ogaden Punitive Force relinquished its activities and left the area, after the captured Sultan ‘promised on behalf of the tribe to pay a fine of 5,000 cattle and to do his best to obtain the surrender of Mr Jenner’s murderers’.

But back in London the expedition was considered a fiasco. Commenting on the difficulty of making war in this terrain against such nimble opponents, the Commissioner of the East Africa Protectorate, Sir Charles Eliot, declared, ‘If our officers will avoid getting murdered in future we had better let the Somali alone, and avoid such conflicts between a lion and a swallow.’


Nicholas Dykes

The British East Africa portion of the War Office Archive is being conserved, catalogued and digitised with generous funding from the Indigo Trust.

Further Reading:

Mary Harper, Somalia's al-Shabab: Striking like mosquitoes, 26 Feb 2014,

Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Compiled in the Intelligence Branch Division of the Chief of the Staff Army Head Quarters India, Vol. 6, 1911

H.R. Tate, Some Early Reminiscences of a Transport Officer: Ashanti Field Force and Ogaden Punitive Force, in Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol 41, No. 163, April 1942

T.H.R. Cashmore, Studies in District Administration in the East Africa Protectorate (1895-1918), Nov 1965



24 April 2015

Maps lie in a new online course

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At first maps were only thought of as representations of the places and the things they showed.

But in the 1980s (thanks in part to Jorge Luis Borges' tatty old lifesize cloth map) postmodernist historians began to see more power in them, and they became understood not as surrogates but as the prime reality of the places they were supposed to be showing. Given that one can't see an entire country very easily (apart from from space), it is easy to see how maps can become not just virtual, but actual realities to those who look at them.

From this point it is just a short leap to the position that maps - truthful, believable maps - are being used to persuade, hoodwink and indoctrinate. And so we come to the British Library, the University of Nottingham and FutureLearn's new and FREE  online course entitled 'Propaganda and Ideology in everyday life.' Designed to explore how propaganda interacts with us on a daily basis, in positive and negative ways, the course uses content and ideas from our 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' exhibition, and maps from our more recent 'Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage'. 

The maps include a Russian 'Atlas of the Arctic', a powerful high-end and symbolic cartogrpahic product, but maps don't just function in the corridors of wealth and power. Maps for schools,  including this Russian one from 1903, persuaded schoolchildren, by means of  beautiful colourful decoration, that Russia had lots of food and produce. It was in fact in the middle of a famine, but if the map shows it, it must be true. Right?


Наглядная карта Европейской Россiи. Составлена М.И. Томасикомъ. Дополнена и издана кружкомъ учителей подъ редакцией В.В. Урусова. M. I . Tomasik, Warsaw, 1903. British Library Maps Roll 537. 

The British Library contains one of the vastest and most powerful map archives the world has ever seen. Millions of virtual (or are they actual?) worlds are contained in our vaults. But I'm not the only person surrounded by maps. You are too. What is great about this course is that it encourages its students to notice and collect maps in everyday life. Maps are all around us, and their shapes and symbolism works powerfully upon us- especially powerfully, since we don't really notice it happening.

If you take the course (which starts on 11 May) have your eyes opened to propaganda in your everyday life. It will be especially potent during the General Election campaign. Use the underground / metro / subway and you will see far more maps down there than just the tube map. Look around you!