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

09 December 2021

Released online: The 1878 India Office map collection catalogue

The India Office map catalogue of 1878, now released online for the first time on the British Library Shared Research Repository, is a valuable finding aid to one of the world's most complex and mercurial map collections.

Title page of the 1878 map catalogue
The title page of the 1878 map catalogue, and a further page with numerous crossings-out

The catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps, etc., of the Indian Surveys, deposited in the map room of the India office, compiled by Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916), was the first published listing of the working map archive of British East India Company, and the administration of British India from London. As the title suggests, it contains a wide variety of geographical materials, from maps to written sources and much else. Its principal geographical focus – about 70% of it - is upon the area of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, but it also takes in adjacent areas, and more generally British imperial activity across the world, with the bulk of the material dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1947 the collection, along with the rest of the India Office Records, passed into the care of the Commonwealth Office (various iterations), and in 1982 was deposited with the British Library.

Administration of the IOR (after Moir)
Diagram showing the administrative descent of the India Office Records

As late as the 1970s the catalogue was still being used to manage the map collection; the copy we have released is the one used by archivists to record the multiple changes to the map collection that had occurred between 1878 and 1947. These changes include annotations and inserted leaves listing maps that were added to the collection after 1878, and crossings-out of material that had been removed. These latter include material relating to the Great Trigonometrical Survey which was sent to the Survey of India in 1924, and large-scale maps and plans for infrastructure projects sent to Indian provincial public works departments.

IOR/X/331
'Mapp of the Mallabar coast & of the costa di Pescaria'… 1705. IOR/X/331
Extract from the 1878 catalogue
Catalogue extract showing the entry for IOR/X/331

The catalogue is an indispensable aid for researchers looking to identify historical geographical sources for India and South Asia, and to order material to view onsite in the Library’s reading rooms. The ‘X’ numbers – the modern pressmarks or 'call numbers' for each unit (the material accessioned up to 1878 has the number range IOR/X/1 to IOR/X/4999), can be entered into the ‘request other items’ page of Explore the British Library under the Asia, Pacific and African Collection subset. There is also an incredibly useful alphabetical index to facilitate searching. 

The catalogue is also valuable evidence of the history of the role of maps and geographical materials in the government of British India, and of imperial map archives in general. The arrangement and contents inform us of the particular mindsets  and priorities of the administration (inevitably, the focus and dates of maps in the archive broadly matches Company and administration activity) and how these shifted over time. 

We hope you find this a useful resource, and would be very glad to receive feedback on the sorts of ways you are making use of it in your research. You can read more about the research repository, and explore other resources available there.

Tom Harper

@BLMaps

15 July 2021

George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons

In October 2020 we released 17,000 images of maps and views from George III’s Topographical Collection on the images-sharing site Flickr Commons, which seems to have kept you busy. 

Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.

Vrients Low Countries
Jan Baptista Vrients, Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris, 1602. 118.e.16.

 What have we added?

So much! Here are some highlights:

Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John SpeedMoses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.

Albums of topographical views by artists such as John Webber, Robert Havell, Thomas Daniell and John Clerk.

Multi-sheet maps in loose or bound format including Turgot’s plan of ParisMorgan’s map of London, Peter Andre’s Essex, Fry & Jefferson’s Virginia, Pratt’s Ireland and Müller’s Bohemia.

Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo. 

Many manuscript atlases including work by Carlo Fontana, Francesco Basilicata's 1612 survey of Crete, and two Kangxi atlases of China.

Maps_1_tab_44-029
Bernard Ratzer, A plan of the city of New York..., published London, Thomas Jefferys, 1776. Maps 1.TAB.44.

 How can you access them?

Via Flickr

The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views,  was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).

Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy.  The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.

Via Explore

Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.  

118d15
Pierre Jartoux, [Twenty-two maps of the provinces of China]. Beijing, after 1717. 118.d.15.

 Anything else?

We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.

Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!

In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.

We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at [email protected].

Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.

Now off you go and explore.

14 July 2021

Adding 1,277 East African maps to Georeferencer

I’m delighted that 1,277 maps from our War Office Archive have been added to the Georeferencer in the last few days. These military intelligence maps relate to Eastern Africa, particularly modern-day Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somaliland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa. The British Library has catalogued, conserved and digitised the archive with generous funding from the Indigo Trust. You can find out more about the maps here https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/war-office-archive.

BEA-54

Detail of Umkamba Prov. part of (Central), Capt. Bertram Dickson, 1901. BL Maps WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54

The maps are already accessible on the web through several different channels. A Google Map index shows the central point of each map sheet and provides links to catalogue records and high-resolution digital images, viewable on Digitised Manuscripts or available for download from Wikimedia Commons. You can also download text that has been extracted from the images using computer vision. However, we hope that the rich geospatial data provided by volunteers on the Georeferencer platform will open up these maps to new forms of research and discovery.

In terms of the Georeferencer project as a whole we now have 63902 maps georeferenced on the platform which is an amazing achievement. An exciting new project, ‘Machines Reading Maps’ [https://www.turing.ac.uk/research/research-projects/machines-reading-maps] based at the Alan Turing Institute is also now using our georeferenced Goad fire insurance maps. Thanks to all those who contributed to their georeferencing, they have been used by several research projects and are an invaluable resource.

Gethin Rees