THE BRITISH LIBRARY 

Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

Introduction

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

27 April 2016

Less of a Random Mapper: a new feature for Georeferencer

Tropical Australia

Above: a map of tropical Australia, from the 'Australia and New Zealand' subset.

Those of you who have used the British Library's Georeferencer in the past will know that it has an interesting quirk; you don't get to choose the map you are working on. This was added to the design for good reason, to make sure even the difficult maps in the selection get worked on, but it also has disadvantages. You see, the random pool is quite small, around 30, and doesn't change unless a map is georeferenced; this means that, with a challenging set of maps like those currently in the program, the same unpopular maps can just keep circling around until someone bites the bullet and gets that map pinned down. All of which means, it can become a bit of a drag for even the most devoted Georeferencers.

Map of Kendale (Kendal)

Above: 'A map of Kendale' from the 'North West' subset.

Thankfully, some of our wonderful volunteers have worked on creating a solution to this problem. A new page on Wiki Commons now lists all the maps requiring georeferencing by their rough location (i.e. a country) or some other subject marker (such as the map being about 'anthropology'). Next to each subject line is a link saying 'to georef', click on this and your route to selecting material to work on in the Georeferencer begins. All you need do from here is  click on a map on the Flickr page you have been directed to and on the map’s page click the ‘View this map on the BL Georeferencer service’ link. You are now at the Georeferencer interface for this map, simply log in and continue the georeferencing process as normal.

Georeferencer subject page (Flickr)

Above: a view of the 'Anthropology and Ethnology' subset page.

Using this process you can continue to find, select and georeference maps of your choosing, working your way through an entire list or flitting from one subject to the next. The choice is yours. Since I last wrote we've progressed up to 27% of the maps from the current batch georeferenced, that's a whopping 13,434 maps! Plus, all this data is now being ingested into the Library's catalogues and should be available on the public interface soon.

As I always say when I close these posts, if you've not started working on the georeferencer yet please do come and have a go. Now is a better time than ever to start.

[PJH]

23 February 2016

'Whither the Fates Carry Us': Bermuda goes Off the Map

Maps_k_top_123_127Above: Mappa ÆSTIVARUM Insularum, alias BERMUDAS dictarum [BL: Maps K Top 123.127]

It's time for another 'Off the Map' competition here at the British Library and GameCity, with this year's theme being built around our upcoming Shakespeare exhibition. You can find out more about the competition here, get sounds inspiration here, read more about mysterious islands here, and find some inspiration built around The Tempest below.

The coat of arms of Bermuda isn’t the most cheerful in the world, as it depicts a ship in danger of being wrecked on the rocks, but its motto, Whither the Fates Carry [Us], is slightly more hopeful than you first think. In 1609 the Sea Venture, flagship of the Virginia Company, foundered on rocks after the commander in charge, Admiral Sir George Somers, decided his crew would survive this situation better than riding out the storm which bore down on them. All hands survived and found themselves on the island of Bermuda, the beginning of English settlement there. The story of the Sea Venture is not just one of oceanic derring-do, though. The narrative published about the discovery of the island also inspired some of the most famous writings in the English language.

Various accounts of the wreck of the Sea-Adventure were published, many of them becoming best sellers as they gripped the public imagination. A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels, A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia,and True Reportory are just a few of the pamphlets although my favourite tells the whole story in its title; Newes from Virginia, The Lost Flocke triumphant, with the happy Arriual of that famous and worthy knight, Sr Thomas Gates, and the well reputed and valiant Captaine Mr, Christopher Newporte, and others, into England, With the manner of their distresse in the Hand of Deuils (otherwise called Bermoothawes), where they remayned 42 weekesy and builded two Pynaces in which they returned into Virginia. Some other clues are found in these titles as to how these accounts of shipwreck could inspire Shakespeare, the mention of the ‘Ile of Divels’ (Isle of Devils)  fires the imagination while other details in the accounts clearly connect to elements of the narrative of The Tempest.

118_f_14_037Above: The Bermudas: or, Summer's Islands [BL: 118.f.14]

Shipwreck, wilderness and the nature of authority all feature in these accounts and their evocative descriptions but it is probably the evocative description of Bermuda and its landscape which most captured the public, and Shakespeare’s, imagination. Bermuda was eventually to capture the attention of capitalists and plantation owners, as the map above shows. Here the wilderness encountered by the Sea Venture crew has been replaced with a landscape of sugar plantations and settlement, as shown by the many names and plots inscribed on the landscape. However, one element of the map provides a bridge between the moment of encounter and this settled, developed present, the illustration in the lower left corner. This is the same coat of arms discussed above, already bearing the Sea-Adventure in peril and the saying, ‘Whither the Fates Carry [Us]’. It also reminds us that, as violent winds were important to the settlement of Bermuda so they were important to the plot of The Tempest, with Prospero raising a storm to bring Antonio and his crew to the island on which he is exiled.

2302_b_14_vol1_tempest_frontispiece - CopyAbove: a frontispiece depicting The Tempest, from Nicholas Rowe's, 1709, The Works of Mr. William Shakespear: in Six Volumes [BL: 2302.b.14]

For ‘Off the Map’ the possibilities provided by this map, the Bermuda accounts and other items made available, such as the above from Nicolas Rowe’s 1709 edition of The Tempest, are wonderful to think about. Exploring a terrifying, open world island (don’t worry, Bermuda’s only small) after being ship-wrecked by spirits? A Lost-style adventure thriller where you and your crew have to figure out where exactly you’ve ended up (with or without polar bears)? Or, my personal favourite, perhaps something a little bit more ‘Secret of Monkey Island’, where your only hope of escape is to evade exiled sorcerer-kings, and pirate daemons, fight them off with root beer and find a ship to get home to your one true love? In short, Bermuda has already inspired one of the greatest works of English theater, now it’s over to video games.

[PJH]

08 February 2016

Money for old charts: printing maps in the nineteenth century

History of Kent

Above: A map from Henry Francis Abell's, History of Kent, as overlaid by the Georeferencer.

With 2016 well underway it is a great pleasure to see work on the 50,000 maps held in the Georeferencer continuing apace. It looks like our volunteers were very busy over Christmas and the numbers processed have jumped, heading well beyond the 20% mark with a total of 11,644 now georeferenced. I must confess I had intended to provide a festive post to showcase some of our more wintry maps but in the excitement of the run up to Christmas completely forgot to post it. And so the Georeferencer’s yuletide treats have to pass unmarked – until next year.

For today’s post I’ve been paying more attention to the UK maps being worked with in the Georeferencer. These make up a significant proportion of the content being processed and the UK is the densest area of pinned maps both for this element of the project and the Georeferencer work as a whole. Having recently moved to Kent I decided to have a dig around the maps pinned here, hoping to find some interesting items. This turned out to be a success but not in the way you would necessarily expect.

The above map comes from Henry Francis Abell’s, History of Kent, with original sketches and maps which, as you can see, makes a significant amount of of the ‘new maps and illustrations’ contained in the work. The only issue is that Abell had previously published a children’s history of Kent which contained exactly the same map and now the Georeferencer hosts them both side by side, highlighting Abell’s recycling of old map plates. Aside from being an insight into a slightly disingenuous writer or publisher’s practice of selling books these two maps open a door on a much wider practice of nineteenth century illustration production.

The BL 1 Million stream of images, from which this map is pulled, have allowed digital humanities researchers to analyse the content in various ways, comparing and contrasting images with each other. One of these researchers, Mario Klingemann, (recently awarded a BL Labs prize for his work) noted the prevalence of reproducing and slightly amending previously published illustrations in order to drive down the cost of production for publishers. In short, what Abell is up to with his maps was a relatively well established nineteenth century practice, especially where cheaper books were concerned.

Railroad GB

Above: Map of the Railroads of England designed for Edward Churton's, The Rail-Road Book.

One other item worth drawing attention to is this railroad map of Great Britain, which I stumbled across while looking for interesting maps of Lancashire. It reminded me that one of our volunteers, Susan Major, has recently published a work on railroad history - and you won’t be surprised to hear that Susan georeferenced this particular map for the Library. That’s all for this particular georeferencer update, there is more to come about the project and work of our volunteers in March. In the meantime, if you are new to the Georeferencer and would like to get involved, you can find out more here.

[PJH]