THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

4 posts categorized "Propaganda"

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?

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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!

 

 

17 June 2010

David Starkey and Peter Barber

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A formidable double act indeed.

We now have a podcast of 'The Map in the Palace' event, recorded in our Conference Centre on 14 June.

The inimitable Dr David Starkey and Head of Maps Peter Barber discuss the importance of maps in medieval and early modern palaces, and how they combined art, science, and power to enhance their impact.

Warning! It lasts for 70 min 38 sec, so don't try to download it if you are on a slow internet connection.

(Or play it in your default media player.)

This link will take you to our Magnificent Maps podcast page

24 April 2010

The Beauty of Maps #4

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BBC4's The Beauty of Maps ended on a high last Thursday night, with part 4 focusing upon political cartoon maps of the 19th century and since. Everyone will be familiar with political illustrations that incorporate maps, but it was good to be able to chart their beginnings through the octopus maps of Fred Rose, through to that horrifying yet utterly mesmerising Churchillian octopus map of 1944. Ouch. Not pulling any punches that one - but the lesson is surely that if you dish it out (as Rose's octopus did) you should also be able to take a few.

What always strikes me about these cartoon maps or 'serio-comic' maps is the wonderfully modelled, coloured and complex imagery, which seems to leap out of the page at you. They were designed specifically to be noticed, and through being noticed, their political messages found their way into people's minds.

To be honest, half an hour didn't seem like quite enough time to feature everything. Last night's programme wasn't able to look at, for example, the far earlier 16th-century maps which show continents as animals, and we didn't get a glimpse of the extraordinary map cartoons of Lilian Lancaster:

LancasterUSA
Nevertheless, the series was a triumph, with almost half a million people watching the first episode. I'd like to congratulate Stephen Clarke the director, and all of the British Library staff who made it possible. Of course, nothing would have been possible without the British Library collection to draw upon, and I should point out that nearly all of the maps featured will be included in the Magnificent Maps exhibition, the opening of which is almost, very nearly upon us...

08 April 2010

Comment in Monday's Guardian

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Monday's Guardian (5 April 2010) comment pages featured a piece about maps in which our Magnificent Maps exhibition was mentioned. The article waxed lyrical about the joy of armchair-and-laptop holidaymaking made possible by the wonderful Google Maps, while referencing the recent move by
Ordnance Survey to provide free online map data, and referring to the omission of 'sensitive' information from previous OS maps.

Now, neither of these maps fall into the remit of the exhibition (since neither was produced specifically to be displayed on walls), and their messages are consequently more subjective than the bold statements made by the exhibits. But that 'maps have been used by those in power to control and to indoctrinate' is not necessarily true only of older maps. No map can (or would really try to) show everything. Mysterious Siberian black rectangles, convenient cloud cover and variances in zoom levels notwithstanding, any map will require key choices by the mapmaker, as well as interpretation by the viewer.

The Guardian is right to say that maps shouldn't blind us to the reality of what is out there. But they do try! The 90 surrogate realities in the exhibition, as you will see, are doing just that.