One of the best things about working in the mapping business is the friends that I have made, of course the best thing of all is maps, maps and more maps. So how great was it when my pal Ken Field suggested that we go to the British Library for their “Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line” exhibition? Good idea, I’m up for that. For a little bonus, Ken persuaded Tom Harper, a curator of the BL maps collection and the man behind the exhibition to give us a guided tour starting before the Library was even open. The icing on the cake was breakfast at the new Google offices at Kings Cross courtesy of Ed Parsons. I am very lucky to have friends who love maps as much as me and in most cases know a heck of a lot more than I do about mappery. What follows are a few pics that I snapped as we walked around the exhibition, the odd observation and hopefully enough of a teaser to get you to go and see the exhibition before it closes on 1st March ’17. The view from the 11th floor of the Google office is stunning, would have been even better if we weren’t wreathed in fog but hey London is great isn’t it? FE Manning’s Target map positioned Berlin at the centre of the map to highlight its accessibility to allied bomber missions. It reminded me that there have always been political choices in what was shown at the centre of a map (e.g. the world atlas pages that show Britain at the centre), today our phones and GPS put each of us at the centre of our own personal map. These cartoon maps illustrate how propagandists from both sides of the war used maps to speak to their domestic audiences. This is a map of the Auschwitz concentration camp sent to the Foreign Office in 1944, the Jewish Agency were trying to convince the Allies to bomb the death camps – sadly they didn’t until very late (it’s a complex topic, for a summary you might look at this wikipedia article)
Time to leave the war and turn to some ‘peace’ maps. This is a version of the Sykes Picot map determining British and French areas of influence in the Middle east at the end of the second war. Some have suggested that the current problems in the Middle East are the fault of the map makers or are due to the uncertainty of a pencil line drawn on a map having a real world width of 2 miles. Not true, IMHO the imposition of European style nation states by the French and British and their intense, centuries long, rivalries are at the heart of current geopolitical problems in the region. For a good read on this subject take a look at A Line in the Sand by James Barr.
— Kenneth Field (@kennethfield) December 22, 2016
This Portuguese “Mapa Humoristico” is a fairly blatant piece of western propaganda showing the Soviet ‘threat’ to Europe during the cold war with the Iron Curtain elegantly represented as a fence. This is a piece of map art that shows a map of Europe made out of the national currencies (presumably pre Euro). Ken quipped that it could also be a prediction of Europe in say 10 years time. It reminds you how iconic the country outlines are.
— Kenneth Field (@kennethfield) December 22, 2016
Ed is quite keen on Brexit, this map showing EU grants to the UK got him quite fired up 🙂 This early 20th century map of Jewish East London is in the style of Charles Booth’s maps and is taken from a book discussing the pros and cons of immigration – very apposite for us at the end of 2016 (and for me as the grandson of Jewish immigrants to Britain). The colour ramp may indicate the view of the cartographer as, perhaps surprisingly, the blue areas are those with the highest population and the red are those with the lowest.
You can argue whether the style of Beck’s Underground map is original or whether it has been over exploited by other map makers (and Ken certainly argues both) but it is one of the most recognisable maps of the 20th Century and it was pretty cool to gawp at the original sketch complete with tippex style corrections. This is the 1931 first published version of Beck’s Underground which solved the challenges of clutter in the centre of the map and produced something that was “legible, comprehensible and memorable at a glance” (Tom Harper in the book The 20th Century in Maps: Drawing the Line published by the British Library). As always Beck’s work prompted a discussion about whether it’s a map or a diagram or whether that even matters if it works. And finally …. Tolkein’s map of Middle Earth and Mordor carefully plotted and drawn to scale on graph paper. Apparently Tolkien used the map as an aid to calculate journey times used in the Lord of the Rings. It is an example of how a fictional map can create a sense of authority or even reality for the readers of a novel.
This is a fantastic exhibition, if you love maps you’ve got to go. If your partner doesn’t understand your fascination with maps then you should take them (could be a reason to go a second time 🙂 ). And if you really really can’t make it to the British Library then you can buy the book which has got masses of stuff that I missed on my tour.
Massive thanks to Ken for initiating the visit, to Ed for breakfast and the view over London and most of all to Tom for the guided tour.