Maps, maps and more maps

Those of us living in the UK (or even stranded here this week) have been treated to an orgy of radio and television programming about maps over the last few weeks.

A plateful of maps

First off there was Mike Parker’s “On the Map” a 10 part series on Radio 4 ranging through cartography, map making, the politics of mapping, navigation, telling lies with maps and one episode entitle “Whose Map Is It Anyway?”  I missed several of the episodes and unfortunately they are not available at the moment on iPlayer – perhaps BBC would be kind enough to put them out as an archive or something for all of us who want to recatch the series – because what I heard was fascinating, well at least to a mapgeek like me.

As if that was not a sufficient feast for British mapgeekery, it turned out to be just an hors d’oeuvre with the multi course banquet being served up this week. Sunday evening brought Maps: Power, Plunder & Possession – here is the BBC blurb on the first programme:

In a series about the extraordinary stories behind maps, Professor Jerry Brotton uncovers how maps aren’t simply about getting from A to B but are revealing snapshots of defining moments in history and tools of political power and persuasion.

Visiting the world’s first known map, etched into the rocks of a remote alpine hillside 3,000 years ago, Brotton explores how each culture develops its own unique, often surprising way of mapping. As Henry VIII’s stunning maps of the British coastline from a bird’s eye view show, they were also used to exert control over the world.

During the Enlightenment, the great French Cassini dynasty pioneered the western quest to map the world with greater scientific accuracy, leading also to the British Ordnance Survey. But these new scientific methods were challenged by cultures with alternative ways of mapping, such as in a Polynesian navigator’s map which has no use for north, south and east.

As scientifically accurate map-making became a powerful tool of European expansion, the British carved the state of Iraq out of the Middle East. When the British drew up Iraq’s boundaries, they had devastating consequences for the nomadic tribes of Mesopotamia.

Just my kind of stuff. This is a must watch series and you can catch up with the first episode on iPlayer.

OK so you have just gorged on the main course, you sit back and think that a few petit four or a little sorbet might just finish things off nicely and those wonderful folk at the Beeb spoil you with a back to back four-parter called The Beauty of Maps straight through the week! The Beauty of Maps takes you through the British Library’s incredible map collection and looks at the Mappa Mundi, three maps of London, the biggest and most elaborate atlases ever created and some cartoon and satirical maps.

I am gasping for breath now, surely that has to be enough maps for a bit? But no, the British Library has a whole savoury course for you to follow up with its exhibition Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art which starts on 30th April. You can guess where I will be over that weekend.

Now whilst I would like to thank the BBC for this amazing array of Location Based Services and of course the British Library for having a collection of 4.5 million mas, yes 4.5 million, I don’t think they have scheduled all of this activity just for a few mapgeeks like me. Either there are one heck of a lot of mapgeeks out there or perhaps there is a more fundamental and widespread attraction to maps that they are tapping into. Perhaps one of my academic friends (if they have forgiven me for my rather acid comments last week) will point me to some work on why people are so fascinated by cartographic representations of their surroundings near and far. I am sure there is another piece to follow from me on why people love maps so much at the end of the BBC series and after I have been to the British Library exhibition a couple of times but for now it is time for a cup of coffee.

It’s a great time to be a map lover and that should mean even more opportunities for map makers.

Enjoy your map feast.

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