THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

6 posts categorized "Television"

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...

23 April 2010

The Beauty of Maps #3

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Ah, beauty is all around us: in the air we breathe, the people we meet... and the maps we look at. Last night's programme on BBC4 focused upon the incredible cartographic production of the 16th- and 17th-century Dutch printing houses, which managed to fuse scientific precision and elegant artistry within a range of maps, atlases and globes of supreme quality. We had a few surprises: for example, the fact that the atlas by Mercator - father of the atlas - bombed when it was first published. Who would have thought, from such an ignominious beginning...?

You were treated also to the now very well-known Klencke Atlas of 1660 being taken out of its case and looked at on a table. Not the sort of thing to take to read on a train, the Klencke has always been seen as one massive book, which of course it is. However it is really a 'composite' atlas: that is, a book made up of many previously published maps, especially for one purpose. The fact that these maps were all originally intended as wall maps says something of the huge over-the-top gesture made by Klencke when he presented it. Perhaps ironically, it is purely because of the fact these maps were bound up in a book that they have survive.

Early next week we shall be moving the atlas into the PACCAR gallery, which will be a photo opportunity in itself. But with all the photographs and coverage the atlas has had, I still do not think that anyone can properly appreciate its scale and conception until they've stood next to it. I've never been scared by a book before (not even Enid Blyton's Five go Down to the Sea), but the unnerving feeling of standing next to a book both bigger and heavier than oneself needs to be experienced by all. Opportunity to see it from next Friday. 

21 April 2010

The Beauty of Maps #2

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Part two of The Beauty of Maps, aired on BBC4 last night, tackled the history of London through its most notable post-1666 maps. The three featured - William Morgan's map of 1682, John Rocque's of 1746 and Stephen Walter's 2008 effort - will all be included in the Magnificent Maps exhibition, so if you want to gaze at them for hours, be my (and the British Library's) guest!

What the programme did so skilfully was to weave the sub-plots of each map into their appearance, adding voiceovers to some really quite beautiful close-ups of details. Maps can, admittedly, be quite difficult to decipher, but if the programme taught anything, it was that to trust one's eyes and to ask 'why' a map is so elegantly drawn, 'why' a map shows a cathedral that had not yet been built, can allow for a clearer understanding of the minds and mentalities of people .

As with Monday night's programme, we had an array of speakers including Laurence Worms and Tim Bryars, two of the most knowledgeable people I know.

Incidentally, you may have noticed the footage of myself and Peter arranging Rocque's multi-sheet map of London on a table. (The whole process was speeded up on film, in fact a bit of Benny Hill-esque music wouldn't have been out of place). The assembling of the sheets wasn't as straightforward as we would have liked - I found out later that the director had rearranged the sheets in the wrong order, so that it would take us more time to complete. Watch again and, at one point, we look rather confused.

Great stuff - world domination by maps is proceeding according to plan. Look out tonight for part three on the golden age of cartography, Dutch 17th-century maps. Watch especially as we take the BIGGEST atlas in the world out of its case, and then put it back again.

20 April 2010

The Beauty of Maps #1

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Last night saw the opening episode of 'The Beauty of Maps', a four-part TV series being shown on consecutive nights on BBC4. The series was filmed last February in the British Library and elsewhere, and features some great footage of our collections, the St Pancras building and basement areas, staff and scholars.

It was great to see the finished product, and to see all the hard work and hours of filming condensed into half-an-hour. 

... and if you look very closely, about 1 min 27 sec into the programme you can actually see my hand turning off a light switch. My Granny is very proud.

The programme has dove-tailed perfectly with the Magnificent Maps exhibition, especially since the themes being discussed tie-in with the specific spaces we have re-created in the gallery, and many of the exhibits contained therein.

Last night's programme focused upon the Hereford Mappa Mundi, in Hereford Cathedral. It brought out very strongly that  the idea that the map is a complete summary of the world, its history, and everything in it. I found the sound effects that accompanied close-up shots of some of the map's many monsters and sea-creatures rather amusing. It gave me the idea of producing some sort of kids' pop-up sound effect mappamundi facsimile (copyright Tom Harper, 2010). Just for the kids, mind.

The programme featured the new facsimile of the original (and rather worn and battered) Hereford Map, produced this year by the Folio Society, a copy of which we will be featuring in the exhibition. The facsimile has, as far as possible, reproduced the original bright colouring the map would have once had. The director of the programme was keen to capture the surprise of map scholars when they saw it for the first time, something which came across very well. 'Better than the original!' Quite.

The Hereford facsimile will hang in the 'bedchamber,' the space in the exhibition that contains maps reflecting a spiritual or other-worldy power, suitable for the intimate space inhabited by rulers. You see, medieval world maps like the Hereford Mappa Mundi were not always hung in churches. In fact we can document instances of maps being presented and displayed in bedchambers, which incidentally were often used for meetings between a king or queen and his or her most trusted advisors.

Other maps we will be showing in this space are Grayson Perry's brilliant 'Map of Nowhere' of 2008 (also featured last night) which itself draws heavily on the now lost Ebsdorf Mappa Mundi of c.1300, represented in the exhibition by a true-size copy. Prepare to be amazed in a 'I can't see the top of it' sort of way.

Psaltermap
In addition, we are pleased to be able to show the 13th-century Psalter world map, believed to be a copy of a much larger map owned by Henry III of England (reigned 1207-1272), and also the Duchy of Cornwall fragment, the only surviving section of a much larger medieval map.

So medieval map heaven, with added monsters.

Tonight on BBC4, 'The Beauty of Maps' looks at the mapping of London. Don't miss it.

16 April 2010

Magnificent Maps in the media

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It's been a busy few months for maps in the media, as the opening of Magnificent Maps draws ever nearer.

Dovetailing very neatly with BBC4's map season, which begins this Sunday (18 April) at 21.00, the exhibition has aroused a great deal of interest - partly, I think, because of the swathes of opinion on the advances in digital mapping, but also due to a broader realisation that maps do not always speak the truth. Lots of juicy stories about propaganda, deceit and lies may be found within the borders of a map, where may also be discovered elegance and artistry.

Maps: Power, Plunder and Possesssion
episode 1 (of 3): Windows on the World

The series is hosted by the brilliant Jerry Brotton. It was great to be able to show Jerry around the British LIbrary basement areas where much of the filming for the series took place. Although he is no stranger to libraries and archives, I think he was impressed by the scale of the place, and the thousands of shelves and drawers which store the Library's 4.5 million maps.

And then on Monday night (19 April):

The Beauty of Maps
episode 1 (of 4): Mapping the Medieval Mind

of which more later.

Elsewhere, you might have seen an article 'Mad about Maps' in the Sunday Telegraph, and you may also have listened to Peter Barber speaking about maps on BBC Radio Wales. For those of you who missed it, the Guardian website has a wonderful slideshow of some of the exhibits we'll be showing in Magnificent Maps.

Prepare yourselves for a double-page image in the Radio Times of 'yours truly' and Peter standing on either side of the giant Klencke Atlas, the biggest (and possibly also the heaviest) atlas in the world. Suspend your disbelief at our incredible strength for a moment... there is somebody behind the atlas holding it up.

More about the life and hectic schedule of the world's largest atlas soon.