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

08 December 2016

MacDonald Gill: original drawing goes on show today

One of the key exhibits in Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line - in fact one of the key maps of the 20th century - is a world map of 1942 by MacDonald Gill. Called 'The "Time and Tide" map of the Atlantic Charter', the map was published (in Time and Tide magazine) to commemorate the signing of a wartime agreement between Britain and the United States of America in August 1941.

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MacDonald Gill,  The "Time and Tide" Map of the Atlantic Charter.London, 1942. British Library Maps 950.(211.).

The treaty, which was agreed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt on a warship moored off Newfoundland, set out their aspirations for a post-war peace, including self-determination and global economic freedom. This symbol of friendly co-operation between Britain and the USA was designed as a threat to the Axis powers, for the USA was not at that time at war with them. The 'special relationship' dates from here.

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The map brilliantly illustrates a world, unified under the sun and with images of trade and prosperity. It is a post-war Utopian vision that has been made possible by the treaty.

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MacDonald Gill, ' The Atlantic Charter', 1942. Private collection.

MacDonald Gill was a highly successful British illustrator who produced work for customers as varied as London Transport, the Tea Market Expansion Board, Cable & Wireless Ltd., and St. Andrew's church, Sunderland.

He was a particularly skillful draftsman, as visitors to Drawing the Line can see from today when the original pen sketch for the Atlantic Charter replaces the printed version on display. As Gill experts Caroline Walker and Andrew Johnston have noted, Gill seems to have applied ink directly to the paper without any need for preparatory sketches or guide lines, and there isn't a smear of Tippex in sight.

Even more amazingly, the drawing has original signatures of Churchill and Roosevelt pasted onto it.

Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is open until 1 March.

05 December 2016

Map: friend or foe?

Our relationships with maps changed very dramatically in many different ways in the 20th century. One of the important changes is not only that maps became more widespread and familiar, but how that affected our relationships with them. The examples in the exhibition richly illustrate many of these changes, but one trend I would like to focus on here is the recognition that the power of maps became increasingly hidden as they became more accurate and realistic.

Perhaps the most iconic example in the exhibition is the Van Sant first map of the earth from space that appeared in Scientific American in 1990. This immense technological achievement has often been described as “showing the real world as it appears from space” (www.tomvansant.com). But it was also a huge artistic achievement. And it both symbolised and contributed to the decline of the traditional map maker. This is a kind of photograph, and photographs don’t lie.

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But think about this claim for just a moment as you look at it: no clouds; daylight around the whole planet; the Atlantic ice at its summer limit. This image is, as the article recognises, “equal parts software and artistic judgement”. Is this “the real world as it appears from space”? Or is it an interpretation, much like any other map? There is no doubt that publication of this image marked a massive milestone for maps in the 20th century. It seems to be so very different from imperial propaganda maps for example. And yet, as the exhibition explores, maps are by nature unreliable witnesses – misleading their readers as well as informing them.

The label ‘critical cartography’ was coined in the 20th century to describe a way of looking at maps. Critical geographers questioned their hidden assumptions and compromises, and revealed their inherent unreliability and partial truth. They did so not to invalidate maps, but to understand their power more thoroughly. This approach shared much with ‘critical’ developments in the 20th century in other areas of life, such as epic theatre, literary theory, cultural geography, and educational policy.

The exhibition explores the profound incursion of maps into everyday life in the 20th century. At the same time, the profound social, political and cultural changes often hidden in everyday life can also be seen in the development of maps and especially in understanding our relationship to them.

Further Reading:

Wood, Denis. 1992. The Power of Maps, New York/London: The Guilford Press

Harley. J.B. 2001. The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography. (Edited by Paul Laxton). Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Huw Rowlands

 

 

24 November 2016

20th Century Panoramaniac

I love panoramas and this one inspired my love of the Alps and mountain mapping.

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Heinrich Berann, [Jungfraubahn mountain railroad, Switzerland], 1939. British Library Maps 1060.(4.).

Panoramas form a fascinating niche collection within the 4.5 million maps in the British Library’s collections. They have a long history and my second favourite is the 1851 fabric view of London produced for the Great Exhibition with south at the top and the original ‘Crystal Palace’ laid out in Hyde Park.

Changing mapping technologies have influenced the panorama and its uses in war, discovery and peaceful pursuits especially winter sports.

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Heinrich Berann, Atlantic Ocean Floor, 1968. Â©National Geographic

The British Library's current exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line showcases the finest exponent of the late 20th century, Heinrich Berann (1915-1999) and his panorama of the Atlantic sea-bed.  An Austrian, Berann began with his Grossglockner Hochalpenstraße of 1934 and his final panoramas of U.S. ski areas came out in the mid 1980s.

My favourite is one I discovered while sipping a non-alcoholic beverage in a street café in Interlaken and is a paper beer tray mat with an image of Berann's Bernese Oberland panorama (top image). Under the glass, this utterly stunning piece of art showed the whole area in perfect, sunny weather, a wispy cloud over the Jungfrau, each railway, road and mountain in perfect detail. It made me want to explore more… once the rain clouds had dispersed of course. And it was there to be got wet, scrunched up and thrown in the bin… how!

This map made me realise there was more to maps than an my trusty Ordnance Survey sheet of Hexham, no matter how good they were, and I wanted to discover more about cartography in all its facets.  Berann is no longer with us but his panoramas still inspire cartographers and art lovers alike.

See more of Berann's stunning work here

Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is now open

Dave Watt