Maps and views blog

18 posts categorized "Events"

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!



13 April 2015

Lines in the Ice: top five highlights

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As we enter the final week of the British Library's free exhibition Lines in the ice: seeking the Northwest Passage, here are my top five (unashamedly map-heavy) highlights of what has been a memorable and eventful five month residency. 

1. Robert Thorne's world map from 1582.

ThorneRobert Thorne, Orbis Universalis Descriptio [London : T. Dawson for T. Woodcocke, 1582]. British Library C.24.b.35  Untitled

You probably won’t see another one of these exhibited in your lifetime, one of the earliest maps to have been printed in England, with only two in existence today, a clever bit of publicity by the Muscovy company which aimed to convince that the North West Passage didn't exist. Judging from the following 250 years of mostly fruitless searching, perhaps this point of view could have been given a bit more attention.   

2. Listening to icebergs

They are very big and very cold, and make a surprising racket. Curator Cheryl Tipp selected a number of sounds for the exhibition, which appear on sound points, and piped directly into the space. The angry polar bear was particularly eloquent.

 3. Explorer Ryan Nelson speaking at the BL

In an amazing coup, the British Library, the Eccles centre for American Studies and the Canadian High Commission hosted a talk by Ryan Harris, the man who discovered Sir John Franklin's ship Erebus on the sea bed. The event sold out almost before the ship was discovered!


4. An egg-shaped Arctic-biased world map on display for the first time

This rare and extraordinary educational 20th Century map (featured in this book) cleverly positions the Arctic (and Antarctic) centre stage using the 'Atlantis' projection. Its purpose was to focus minds on these zones in order to combat the vast problem of overpopulation. Oil was first extracted from within the Arctic Circle just a few years later.

  Amaps_37_b_55E.W. Fenton, The world we live in. Ipswich, 1958. British Library Maps 37.b.55.

5. Writer-in-residence Rob Sherman and his explorer Isaak Scinbank

6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c7769f4d970b-800wi 6a00d8341c464853ef01b7c737e2d3970b

Top: Rob Sherman, bottom: Isaak Scinbank

Rob Sherman's work has been a stunning feature of the exhibition. His fictional explorer Isaak Scinbank, online and in his written journal (which is exhibited), attempted to discover what happened to Sir John Franklin. For me, Rob's work has helped explore how narratives and stories (and their meanings) develop and change over time, and how they can be invested in objects. This isn't the last you'll hear of Rob, I feel fairly certain... 

6. Charles II's map of the Arctic

G70112-95Moses Pitt,' A map of the North Pole and parts adjoining’, from The English Atlas , London, 1680. British Library Maps 1.TAB.16.  Untitled

Another map that has never before been exhibited is Moses Pitt's map of the Arctic, this copy owned by Charles II and acquired by the nation via the Topographical Collection of George III. 

The gold leaf on this map will be shimmering in public until Friday, so if you have the chance to visit the exhibition before then, please do. We are also holding a free seminar on Friday to celebrate the end of Rob Sherman's residency. Thank you to all who has visited Lines in the Ice since November, and thank you to everybody who helped make the exhibition a reality.


17 February 2015

Found: more maps than we’d reckoned

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Without looking, you can’t know what’s there. That was our experience locating maps amongst the one-million British Library images released to the public domain. We had not guessed that 50,000 images of maps were lurking there. So how were they singled out?

Answer: with the help of our friends (the crowd!) using several methods.

Semi-manually: A dedicated team of volunteers looked at individual images and applyied the tag “map” on flickr.  The work was organised using a synoptic index in Wikimedia Commons, providing a systematic method of looking at each volume and tracking shared progess. Over 29,000 map images were identified in this way.

Day-long event

The British Library hosted a one-day event, in concert with Wikimedia UK, to which volunteers were invited to kick-start the effort.  In between working, the 30 participants enjoyed tours and talks from speakers representing online mapping efforts, including OpenStreet Map and Stroly.  The day’s activities were captured in Gregory Marler’s engaging description, Lost in Piles of Maps, and a series of photographs from ATR Creative.  

One corner of the room - detail of photo by Machi Takahashi of ATR Creative who joined the event from Tokyo and was one of the speakers. CC BY-SA 2.0

Ongoing crowd activity

The bulk of the work took place online over the next two months. With the wiki tools built by J.heald to guide and coordinate contributions, 51 volunteers approached the work, book by book, often focussing on geographic areas of interest. Together, they made short work of what was a huge task; 28% of the books were completed after the first 72 hours; 60% were reviewed in the first 20 days; after five weeks over 20,000 new maps were found in 93% of the source volumes.

Automated methods

But surely maps can be identified automatically? It’s true that well before the organised effort just described, one user  produced algorithm-guided tags for this image set, which resulted in the addition of well over 15,000 map tags.

By the end of December 2014, every image in every book had been reviewed, and between the manual and automatic tagging, over 50,000 maps had been found. Since then, we have been working to clean up the data, including reviewing rogue tags, rotating images, splitting maps, and removing duplicates, to derive a final set of data. Next step: georeferencing.

The tagging project was presented on 12 February 2015 at the EuropeanaTech 2015 conference as a short talk and poster, Case Study: Mapping the Maps.

This achievement represents the work of many. Special thanks go to Maurice Nicholson, BL
Georeferencer participant; Jamed Heald, Wikimedia volunteer; and Ben O’Steen of BL Labs

04 November 2014

Maps Tag-a-thon: it’s online

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Online participation in the Maps Tag-a-thon, launched 31 October with an event here at the Library, is open!  We invite remote enthusiasts to get involved in the tagging so that maps can be identified and then georeferenced so as to offer full geo-functionality (public domain!). The aim to is to find every map from amongst the million images.

   BL Maps tagathon2

Nearly 33% of the books have been reviewed, with over 6,000 maps found, since Friday - that's only five days! If you can join us in this amazing effort, have a look at the instructions on Wikimedia Commons.

A report on the event will come soon, but I wanted to flag up this opportunity. Thanks to all the help from the British Library Digital Research Team, OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia Commons!

29 September 2014

Maps Tag-a-thon Event

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Maps are still hidden in amongst the million images on Flickr, and we want to find them!

You are invited to the British Library for a day-long digital maps tag-a-thon event on Friday 31 October. The main activity will be reviewing Library images in Flickr to identify those that are maps. Once we have the maps consolidated, they can be included in the next round of BL Georeferencer, which will place them to their geographic location, increasing findability and allowing overlays on modern mapping. Register to attend here!

BL Maps tagathon

Above is one example of what can be discovered. This map of Cerro de Pasco in Peru is from a 1868 book.  The volume was scanned and images released on Flickr; this one was tagged "map", and so was included in the last round of BL Georeferencer. Sure, that effort was successful, but it has been estimated that there are 10,000 more maps in Flickr that we do not know about! We need help finding them.

Participants do not need to possess technical knowledge, but rather an interest in historic maps and a desire to bring them to life digitally. We are lucky to have experienced wiki-editors who will be present on the day to edit the wiki, answer questions, and update our statistics online. (Jheald provides a explanation of the technical process he designed and how it will work.)

Other activities are planned for the day, including a visit to the Maps area, brief updates on digital activities, and a look at the Gothic exhibition. See the event details and full agenda and registration here.

This is a joint event sponsored by the British Library Labs project and supported by OpenStreetMap and Wikimedia UK. I hope to see plenty of map aficionados and BL Georeferencer participants there as well, and I encourage our Maps and Views blog readers to attend!


04 July 2014

Tour de British Library: day 2 begins!

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They cycled, oh how they cycled. The Tour de British Library meandered, weaved, jinked and possibly even jived, and in the dark arrived last night in Grantham, 225 k from their starting point on the Euston Road 13 hours earlier.

Today is a new day. The lycra band's quest to ye Boston Spa is given fresh impetus due to, amongst other things, it not being quite so far away, but also because of the many riders who have travelled down from the British Library north to cycle the 171.6 k back with them.

Amongst them shall be Kevin, who solved my latest computer glitch yesterday and will be sitting at the head of the peleton. All follow Kevin, if you know what's good for you.

As with yesterday, their track shall be accurately plotted stage-by-stage on the 'Anglia Figura' of 1536-7, one of the British Library's great cartographic treasures.



03 July 2014

Tour de British Library: stage 6

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Stamford Lincolnshire is a pretty market town, and apparently one of the happiest places in the UK to live. Try telling that to the peleton as they hurtle through it (or close to it anyway), reaching 186.5 kilometres in the process. Go team!