âThis is all very manly, isnât itâ a visitor said to me a while ago as I was showing a group around our current exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. And the visitor (whose own work explores identity and gender in society) was right â there is something apparently rather masculine about cartography, particularly 200 maps in a big room all shouting for attention, forcibly promoting their world-views.
Mapping has historically been portrayed a male pursuit, like many professions, but particularly given the active and even aggressive role of maps in empire and militarism (maps are never âsubmissiveâ, an outdated perception of femininity). So too the use of maps has been seen as a male pursuit. Note the lack of women on the covers of Ordnance Survey maps, except where they are passengers. Note the clichĂ© of the terrible reluctance of many men to ask for directions when lost.
Over the past few decades we have begun to question established norms (as we have many established world views) and gender is one of the many key narratives of the 20th century. Van den Hoonaardâs âMap Worlds: a history of women in cartographyâ (2013) was jst one of a number of works to ârecover [the involvement of women with map-making] from historyâ. Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line was curated specifically to engage with themes and aspects of history which have been hidden from sight, and this includes shining a retrospective light upon the role of women in cartography. Here are some of them.
Mary Ann Rocque
Anonymous (after Mary Ann Rocque), [A map showing part of the road from London to Luton Park], London, 1767. Add. MS74215
Mary Anne Rocque inherited a map business from her husband John Rocque, who died in 1762 (Laurence Worms has produced some important research on this role of female business people in the British map trade). Not simply content to maintain the business, she published new and significant maps such as âA set of plans and forts in North Americaâ in 1765. This watercolour map of part of the road from London to Luton, based closely on Rocqueâs work, was produced for the earl of Bute in 1767.
Geographersâ Atlas of Greater London. London: Geographers A-Z Map Company, 1956. Maps 198.f.37.
Pearsall is regarded as one of the most successful business people of the 20th century through her creation of the London A-Z (by the Geographersâ A-Z Map Company) in 1936. Compact and convenient maps of cities have a history which goes back centuries, but Pearsallâs was a marketing success in its clean, simple and efficient design and cover. It became the unofficial map of London which even Londoners were not ashamed to own.
Lady Gertrude Rosenblum Williams was an economist and social strategist whose research and writing impacted on the foundation and development of the Welfare State in the United Kingdom from the 1940s. Of Williamsâ books of the âNew Democracyâ series, the 1945 publication on âWomen in Workâ contains some of the most distinctive infographic maps to make statistics more intelligible. These infographics were by Otto Neurathâs Isotype Institute. âThe occupation of women by regionsâ using 1931 census data is one of the best. Williamsâ social mapping sits in a tradition begun by Booth and Webb, and continued into the 21st century by, for example, Bethan Thomas and Danny Dorling.
Marie Tharp was a geologist and mapmaker whose research and observations were instrumental in the production of detailed maps of the ocean floor, produced for the US Navy after World War II. These maps, particularly the ocean floor maps illustrated by Heinrich Berann which were published in National Geographic magazine in 1968 did much to popularise the theory of continental drift. Because she was a woman Tharp was not permitted to go on research vessels.
These are just some of the female contributions to cartography which you can see in our map exhibition. It is particularly fitting that the British Library should be able to contribute to the recovering of this part of the 20th century experience. After all, the first Head of Maps of the British Library as it was created out of the British Museum in 1973 was Dr Helen Wallis OBE. Wallis was a key figure in the emerging discipline of the history of cartography throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and instrumental in bringing the British national map collection to the attention of the world. 'That monstrous regiment of womenâ, was how a (female) former employee remembers the Map Library being referred to during that time, but thanks to Maps we can continue to balance the scales.