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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Synopsis of the History of Maps and Mapping, a class offered through the University of London, June 26 - July 1, 2011

Through the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, my colleague and I enrolled in a one week course on the History of Maps and Mapping. Graham Arader offers this unique opportunity for 1 week of advanced study outside the gallery to all of his employees in the subject of their choice.

The class was held at the Senate House Library which we learned on our first day houses approximately 260,000 items from the 1440s – 20th century, including many special collections. Throughout its history the library has been and continues to be dependent on generous benefactors.  Prior to delving into our maps course, a librarian from Senate House gave a talk about the scope of the collection beginning in the 1400s and ending in the 19th century, naming 10 pieces in particular. He discussed the Fasiculus Temporum by Werner Rolevinck (Venice Erhard Ratdolt 28 May 1484), Margarita Philosophica (Gregor Reisch, Strassburg, Johann Schott, 1504), Geografia (Cioe, Descrittione Universale dello Terra, Venice: G Battista & Galignani, 1598), Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (London: T Cotes for W Aspley 1632), The Falacie of the Great Water Drinker Discovered (Thomas Peedle and Thomas Cozbie, London: B Alsop for T Dunster, 1650), Robert of Gloucester’s Chronicle (Manuscript, England c 1440), Book of Hours (Paris? Early 15th century), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, London: Essex House Press, 1903) A New Version of the Psalms of David by N. Brady and N. Tate (London: R. Hett for the Company of Stationers, 1771), Elizabeth or the Exiles of Siberia (Madame Cottin, London: S A Oddy, 1810).

To give a brief background, four renowned scholars in the field taught the Maps and Mapping class: Catherine Delano-Smith, Sarah Tyacke, Peter Barber and Lawrence Worms. Catherine is a Senior Fellow, Institute of Historical Research, University of London and was formerly a reader in historical geography, University of Nottingham. She is the current Editor of Imago Mundi, The International Journal for the History of Cartography. Sarah is the former Chief Executive of the National Archives (UK) and Director of Special Collections (specialist in maps) in the British Library and is now Leverhulme Emeritus Research Fellow, Royal Holloway and School of Advanced Study, University of London, specializing in the history of cartography and archives. Peter Barber serves as the Head of Map Collections in the British Library, and a Trustee of the Hereford Mappa Mundi. Lawrence Worms is an antiquarian bookseller (Ash Rare Books, London ) and a historian of the map trade.

Each seminar had a topic that was then subdivided and discussed throughout the class. There were 13 classes altogether, each with their own focus. I will attempt to summarize our conversations here:

Seminar 1, Words, Books and Maps, focused on the map as image, asking questions such as ‘how do we recognize a map? Where is the boundary between map and view? Who was the ‘map-maker?’ ” We discussed how to recognize a map, naming and discussing a few key points: orientation (noted that North is not always at the top), scale bar, topology, and grids.

Seminar 2: Deconstructing the Map Image I. We asked the questions: ‘What are we looking at?’ and ‘How does a map represent?’ This launched a discussion about lines that constitute the map image (macro and micro; macro meaning basic outlines and micro meaning shading), their styling (diagrammatic, naturalistic) and the relationship between style and intended readership. We also touched upon the function of color (to enhance the readers aid and to serve as decoration) and began a discussion of manuscripts, stating, among other things, that manuscripts and printed maps can overlap – they are not exclusive and hybrid situations exist.

Seminar 3: Deconstructing the Map Image II. We discussed map content (the information transmitted through the map image), and map signs (vehicles of transmission) and their explanations (the keys on or accompanying the map). In regard to 16th and 17th century printed maps the issue of standardization and engravers inconsistency was raised. Often, engravers changed over time and many engravers worked on one map over a period. This lead to a lack of standardization and uniformity, particularly in atlases, where we discussed that while atlases were convenient to handle (being a compilation of many maps in one place) they were not necessarily concerned with standardization. The exception, we noted, were military maps and statistic maps.

Seminars 4 and 5 were taught by Lawrence Worms and focused on the British Map and Atlas trade in the 17th – 19th centuries. The names that he mentioned, in chronological order, were: Christopher Saxton, Augustine Ryther, John Speed, Joseph Moxon, Robert Morden, John Ogilby, Richard Blome, John Seller, John Thornton, Moses Pitt, Herman Moll, John Senex, John and Thomas Bowles, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, Thomas Jeffreys, Robert Sayer, William Faden, Benjamin Baker, Aaron Arrowsmith, John Cary, Christopher Greenwood, James Wyld, Edwards Stanford, George Washington Bacon.

Seminar 6 was the first discussion of maps of the sea and charts. We discussed the emergence of charts, both manuscript and print, their design and contents. We also focused on how charts were used by a wide audience: seamen, geographers, customers and patrons. Here we learned about Portolan charts.

Seminar 7 launched back into maps with a discussion of constructing the map image and the simple – complex spectrum. Catherine noted that to be effective in communication, a map for explanation has to be specific, selective in content and simple in style. She also noted that in order to mean something to the general public maps had to be naturalistic. We discussed simple to complex maps (when overtime principles evolve and become more complexly portrayed) and complex to simple maps (when content of a complicated map is filtered into a more simple image).

Seminar 8 took us out of the classroom and into the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum for a private viewing. We were introduced to techniques of engraving and etching in the Renaissance period and saw an original woodcut block by Durer, copperplates and tools of the period. It was incredible!

Seminar 9, the Manuscript Map as Artifact, also took us out of the classroom and in this case, into the British Library where we met Peter Barber. The primary subject of his discussion centered around the manuscript map, exploring why manuscript maps continued to be created after the introduction of printing in the mid 15th century. We discussed their purpose and how these purposes are reflected in their differing appearances. The issue of uniqueness was also addressed and it was argued that all manuscript maps can be considered unique for a variety of reasons. Peter divided manuscript maps into four categories: those not worth printing, administrative maps (meant for local administration not of universal importance), land deeds/plans, sketch maps, and military/diplomatic maps. We also discussed the formats (stone, papurus/leaves, vellum) and purposes of a manuscript.

Seminar 10 enabled us to see the physical maps we discussed in seminar 9. Some examples being: 15th century manuscript Ptolemy, Queen Mary atlas made for presentation to Philip II of Spain, miniature estate maps of Duke of Marlborough’s estates, Rocque route atlas showing route from London to Luton Hoo, Norden county atlas (presentation to Elizabeth I), etc. etc.

Seminar 11 also exposed us to primary sources: Ptolemy 1477, 1513 Straussburgh Ptolemy, (woodcut), Contarini 1506 World Map, James I Saxton atlas, Rhyther plates, Cook Islands of Newfoundland given to George III, etc etc.

Seminar 12 devoted itself to a discussion of map value and the ideas of value and consumption. Who were maps useful to, who assigned them value and how accurate the content was played a role in determining value. Great maps, it was said, are valued highly in their day, commissioned, and done by a respected expert. Printed maps became special and rare with the addition of color. There were many reasons why people consumed maps (to site a few): 1) Territorial appropriation: showed pride in acquiring new territory (Catherine sited Moussilini in the 1930s); 2) Personal appropriation (gift giving); 3) Mental or Moral Appropriation (sinister or benign propaganda); 4) Tools in self advancement (text books and self improving books for the new elite in Europe); 5) Spiritual advancement

Seminar 13 enabled each member of the class to present a version of Ptolemy and one other map to the class, as if they were pitching it for sale.

The entire course, start to finish, was enriching, captivating and completely stimulating. Learning background information in class and then being able to see primary sources was an experience unlike any other. To sum up the entire week, I would like to quote Catherine when she said: “Maps will speak only when they’re asked the proper questions.” That is indeed more true now than we ever realized.

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