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

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 maps@bl.uk.

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

01 July 2021

One-Fifth of the World's Surface

One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface is a digital audio-visual, multimedia web experience by artists Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda. Commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices and York Mediale, the work is, as the title suggests, an exploration of the ‘power of water as a dynamic and fluid archive’ with the Atlantic Ocean its main subject.

Cartography_001 rs
Image incorporating early maps, taken from One-Fifth of the World's Surface ©Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda. Image Credit: Heinrich Berann for National Geographic Creative

The British Library has been involved in providing resources for the project, and a number of maps from the Topographical Collection of George III, digitised and released as Public Domain on Flickr have been included in the exhibit, along with sound recordings from the Library’s Sound Archive.

Maps K.Top 118.32
John Rocque, A general map of North America..., around 1762. Maps K.Top 118.32
Maps KTop 117.127
Jan Janssonius (Covens & Mortier), ISLES DU CAP VERD Hispanis... around 1759. Maps K.Top 117.127.

I was interested to see how maps would be deployed in the piece. There are a multitude of maps that show the Atlantic Ocean, its coasts, and the infinite network of rivers and arteries which feed it (a number of maps along these lines, created by Adam in Mapbox, are embedded in the artwork). Maps not only visualise the Atlantic Ocean, but influence how it is navigated, experienced and memorialised, and this role of maps is also explored in One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface.

Analogue of Rivers rs
Analogue of Rivers, a still taken from One-Fifth of the World's Surface ©Hakeem Adam and Maxwell Mutanda.

The online exhibition is split into sections, including: Memory, Analogue of Rivers, Ports, Navigation and Cartography, each constructed using various audio-visual elements that build, overlap and occasionally interrupt. Navigation is not straightforward, almost, at times, like fighting against the waves. Early maps appear in a number of places, particularly in the Archive section where they form part of the artists’ research materials. It is immersive, unpredictable digital art.

The creative potential of maps and mapping is limitless, and there is no better time to use them when so many are available from opened-up archives, where traditional and digital techniques are within reach, and when there is so much they can be used to say.