Blog - News and Events

Posted - 22-03-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Professor Mark Whitehead

Professor Mark Whitehead, Aberystwyth University takes part in our #LoveMaps Campaign.

There is no such thing as an innocent map

There is a popular misconception that maps merely reflect the territories that they have been drawn to depict. The idea of the map as a form of innocent representation has, however, long been challenged within more critical cartographic communities. Within human geography there is a popular, if somewhat counterintuitive, aphorism that maps precede territories, not territories maps (Pickles, 2012). I remember when I first read this statement thinking how radical it was. I knew that maps could not represent fully the complex territories they charted: the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, for example, emphasizes the representational limits of maps when he asks, ‘how many maps, in the descriptive and geographical sense, might be needed to deal exhaustively with a given space, to code and decode all its meanings and contents?’ (1991: 85). While only an infinite number of maps may be able to deal exhaustively with a territory, what if there was more to the representational limits of maps than the practical selection of which features to depict and which to exclude?

Over time I have come to appreciate, and be fascinated by, the political motivations that inform the construction of maps. These motivations are not necessarily about lying through cartography, in the sense of deliberate misrepresentation, they are often more subtle attempts to generate political power and influence. Cadastral maps were among some of the earliest attempts to chart national territories in countries like Sweden. But these maps were not just about descriptions they were a basis for the generation of land taxes to fund early national governments. Global maps projections have long been associated with the projection of political power. Translating a three-dimensional sphere on to two-dimensional paper will always involve aspects of cartographic manipulation. But many global map projections have tended to emphasize the power and influence of colonial powers by maximising their territorial area and minimising those of colonialized states.

It was while looking at different global map projections in the National Library of Wales that I was shown this arresting ‘League of Nations Map of the World’. The League of Nations was established in the aftermath of the First World War, in order to create a diplomatic structure in and through which national territories could be peacefully administered and future conflict avoided. The map contains some interesting features, including: the flags of the League of Nations Member States (note the absence of the US and the USSR); pie charts demonstrating the presence of ethnic minorities in European States; and even a graph indicating the relative height of tariff walls. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the map are the inserts that reveal the various Mandates through which Britain was tasked with administering territorially contested areas in Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific.

This ‘League of Nations Map of the World’ interests me because it embodies an overt instance of a map preceding multiple territories. This map is an attempt to cartographically project a vision of an ordered international space, based upon peaceful interstate diplomacy, but which ultimately supports the continuance of the colonial power of European states. This map is also compelling because it marks a failed geopolitical project. The territorial compromises it projected in Europe would ultimately lead to the Second World War, while the territory covered by the Asiatic Mandate in the Middle East continues to be a focus of conflict and violence today. There is nevertheless, something fascinating about a map that can appear so authoritative, complete, and settled, but which we know now would be shattered by the ensuing geopolitical upheavals of the twentieth century.

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Posted - 15-03-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Professor Mark Whitehead

Professor Mark Whitehead, Aberystwyth University takes part in our #LoveMaps Campaign.

Why I don’t always love maps!


It is customary when writing a blog of this kind to begin with an account of one’s personal devotion to maps and the wider cartographic sciences (particularly when you are geographer by profession, as I am). However, if I am to be candid, I have never really been “in to maps”. I don’t collect Ordinance Survey sheets, nor do I spend a lot of time reading maps—I am even a little fuzzy about the particular virtues of different mapping projections. The invitation to write this series of blogs has thus involved a certain degree of soul searching, as I ponder why I am not always inspired by maps. Asking this question has inevitably also helped me articulate more clearly why at other times I find maps just about the most interesting things there are to read.

This blog focuses on a map sequence of the Birmingham and Black Country Conurbation. These three maps depict urban development in the West Midlands from the 19th Century through to 1962. When considered in isolation these maps are fairly unremarkable. The first map shows Birmingham as a small town, flanked on the north west by a series of isolated industrial communities including Wolverhampton, Bilston, and Walsall. Between these early industrial settlements are large tracts of open space and farmland. The second sheet shows Birmingham in the first half of the twentieth century, now much expanded and beginning to merge with Oldbury and Smethwick to the west and Erdington to the north east. By 1962 we find a fully-fledged, multi-centred urban agglomeration stretching down to communities as far south as Redditch and fully integrated with the industrial centres of the Black Country. These three maps chart the transformation of small urban communities (each probably no more than 2 miles in diameter) into a continuous agglomeration of some 15 miles in width. For me, this is when maps become most interesting.

I think one of the reasons I have never been a cartophile is because when taken in isolation maps can appear to offer very settled depictions of the human and physical worlds. As a Marxist geographer by training I have always been encouraged to think of the world, and its constituent parts, not as things, but rather as processes. This distinction between things and processes is captured nicely in the distinction between the individual maps of Birmingham and the Black Country and the sequence of three maps taken to together. In isolation, each map provides only a static snapshot of urban geography in the West Midlands. But in sequence these maps offer insights into the processes of urbanization. These are processes of geographical change that appear to be connected to the emergence of modern industrial capitalism in the West Midlands that attracted ever more migrants to the emerging economies of the area. They are also processes that concern the emergence of suburbs and the often overlooked, but increasingly powerful, land economy of cities.

Each year I take my third-year urban geography students to Birmingham. I begin the field activities atop the Library of Birmingham from where it is possible to get a sense of the vast scale of this modern conurbation. This year, as ever, I will encourage them to think of the city less as a thing and more as a set of ongoing processes. When understood in this way, it is possible to connect the processes of industrial urbanization that began in Birmingham with the historically unparalleled rates of urbanization that are now evident in China, India and Nigeria at the moment. Now that is why I love maps.

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Posted - 08-03-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Huw Thomas

Huw Thomas, Map Curator at The National Library of Wales takes part in our #LoveMaps Campaign.

Why cataloguing matters – Portolan Chart by Domenico Vigliarolo, 1592

This rather damaged chart is one of the greatest, and also one of the least well known, treasures of the National Map Collection.

It is a portolan chart, an early navigation chart drawn using compass directions and distances estimated by sailors on their travels. Unlike modern charts they are not based on systematic survey and are not based on any map projection. The oldest known portolan charts date from the 13th and 14th centuries; dating from 1592 this chart is quite a late example. Portolan charts were so important as navigational aids that they were considered to be state secrets by many European governments at the time.

The chart shows the East coast of the Americas and West coast of Europe and Africa and it was designed for navigating the Atlantic Ocean, prominently named on the chart as Mar Oceano. One of the interesting things about the chart is the relative accuracy achieved by the mapmaker based only on compass observations and dead reckoning.

So why does accurate cataloguing matter? When I first came across the catalogue record for this chart the author was given as Dom Domingo. Unfortunately, this incomplete rendering of the name meant that this chart was not identified as being the work of Vigliarolo and consequently left out of published bibliographies of his work. It took me a fair deal of research to discover who Dom Domingo actually was.

In order for scholars and other users to be able to access the wealth of resources held in a repository such as the National Library accurate catalogues are important, otherwise items are not found by researchers and their work is then incomplete. Cataloguing is one of those back office functions that most people don’t really think about, until they can’t find what they are looking for, but it is a vital part of our work.
Producing accurate records which help users find what they need is part of my job in which I take great pride, so next time you look at a catalogue record remember the work that went into producing it.

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Posted - 22-02-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Huw Thomas

Huw Thomas, Map Curator at The National Library of Wales takes part in our #LoveMaps Campaign.


History, propaganda and the ‘Fate of the U Boats”

Amongst the many anniversaries listed on Wikipedia for today is the 103rd anniversary of the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Imperial German Navy during the First World War. Seeing this brought to mind one of the maps from our collection of First World War maps which was recently digitised. We are currently in the process of making these images available on our Website and though this map is not yet available a large number of them can be seen

The map itself is on two sheets, it was published after the war in 1921, and is fascinating for the stories it is trying to tell, not only the story of the major battles such as Jutland, but also the story of the submarine warfare which really began with the decision to ignore the normal ‘rules of war’ under which submarines had to surface and allow merchant ships to surrender before firing upon them and to instead sink merchantmen without warning.

Unrestricted submarine warfare was a controversial tactic from the beginning and was one of the factors which eventually brought the United States into the war. The German’s argued that it was a response to the British use of Q-ships, armed naval ships posing as unarmed merchantmen. During the Second World War the Germans used unrestricted submarine warfare again and some wanted to treat it as a war crime after Germany’s defeat, however, it was pointed out that the US Navy had used the same tactic against the Japanese and so it was decided not to prosecute anybody.

Returning to the map itself closer examination shows that in addition to the story of the war in the North Sea between 1914 and 1918 the map also tells the story of the defeat of the Spanish Armada over 330 years earlier. By juxtaposing one of the great English naval victories of history with the actions of the modern Royal Navy in the war the map seeks to perpetuate the idea of British maritime supremacy. The heroes of the Armada are pictured alongside the heroes of the modern day. Another interesting feature is the list at the bottom left of the Southern sheet titled “Fate of the U Boats”; it consists of a chronological list of all the U-Boats destroyed during the war.

The map is an unashamed piece of propaganda; the Germans are clearly shown as the villains of the piece, the suggestion being that their tactics of unrestricted submarine warfare and use of Zeppelin airships are somehow underhand. It is interesting that such a jingoistic map should be produced several years after the war, it is much more akin to maps produced for propaganda purposes during the war and there are few equivalents of such a late date.

As a piece of cartography this map isn’t great, it is far too cluttered and tries to tell too many stories in a limited space, and yet every time I look at it my eyes are drawn to some new detail or piece of information. It may not be much of a map, but as a historical document it is fascinating.

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Posted - 15-02-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Huw Thomas

Huw Thomas, Map Curator at The National Library of Wales takes part in our #LoveMaps Campaign.

The most boring map in the World

When tasked with choosing four maps from the National Library’s map collection to write about I was left with something of a dilemma, the easy option would be to go for some of the famous treasures, however, previous #LoveMaps contributors have already used many of these and those that are left may well excite the interest of future contributors.

So, what to choose? Well, I decided to go for some items which were slightly different and also to try to stick to a theme and what better theme than the Welsh Government’s chosen theme for the year 2018 The Sea.

The National Map Collection holds a large number of fascinating nautical charts, but my first choice is not a nautical chart it is an aeronautical chart. A map for navigating by air and this gives a clue as to why someone would produce a map with absolutely no features on it at all.

This featureless stretch of the Earth’s surface is part of the Pacific Ocean, there are no islands or other features to show where we are, and we are reliant on the titling and coordinate system to provide our location. This is, of course, the whole purpose of this map; it is designed to allow pilots and navigators to plot their course and position accurately on the map, when there are no features on the ground below to allow them to get their bearings. To be able to do this is vital if one is to reach dry land safely when crossing such a vast distance as the Pacific Ocean. Dead reckoning over such a long distance would almost inevitably lead to missing land (which could be a tiny atoll in the midst of the ocean) and then running out of fuel and ditching in the sea, with virtually no chance of being rescued.

Accurate locational information would have been vital during the Second World War when this chart was made. Aircraft flying from the US carrier fleets would need to be able to find their way to the enemy ships and home again without getting lost. Long-range scout planes would need to be able to plot the position of enemy ships in order to relay this information to the carrier groups.
During the Falklands War in 1982 the Royal Air Force was tasked with bombing the airfield outside Port Stanley, in order to do this they needed to fly their Vulcan bombers from Ascension Island to the Falklands a round trip of over 12,000 Kilometres. As nobody had ever expected to need to do this there were no aeronautical charts available of the South Atlantic, so the navigators had to use charts of the Northern hemisphere turned upside down in order to plot their course, with the Azores standing in for the Falklands.

In today’s world most air navigation relies on radio navigation aids and satellite positioning systems, but when such systems fail being able to work out where you are on a map, especially in the middle of an ocean, is still a valuable skill to possess.

So even this most featureless and boring of maps was a useful tool at the time it was produced and as such perhaps it is not as boring as at first it may seem.

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Posted - 08-02-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Gerald Morgan

Gerald Morgan, Historian, Teacher and Author takes part in our #LoveMaps campaign.

Glanystwyth Map 1787

Of all the National Library’s resources, none has given me more pleasure than did the maps of Trawsgoed (Crosswood) and other estates when I researched their history and that of Ceredigion. More than one landsurveyor drew maps for the owners of Trawsgoed: their purpose was to show them how much land they owned and where, showing also the uses made of their fields and their names. A W.W. Matthews surveyed Trawsgoed in 1756, but only the demesne map survives, showing the grounds around the mansion.

The same was done with greater artistic skill by Mercier in 1771, and in 1781 Thomas Lewis made a comprehensive survey of the whole estate in Cardiganshire. These survive in three substantial volumes, and although a few maps have vanished during the intervening years, the collection is particularly valuable to the historian. They also contain a map of Tan-yr-allt, Abermagwr, where the writer lived with his family for fifteen happy years. But a different map is under consideration today.

By the second half of the eighteenth century most of the farms in Cwmystwyth and upper Dyffryn Ystwyth beyond Llanilar were formed a mosaic of two different ownerships, Trawsgoed and Hafod Uchdrud. In 1790 there was a grand exchange of these farms to consolidate their two estates between Wilmot earl of Trawsgoed and Thomas Johnes of Hafod. But one farm in Dyffryn Ystwyth remained with Hafod – Glanystwyth, together with the attached farm, Gwaununfuwch, forming one tenancy.

When Johnes went bankrupt in 1814, dying in the following year, the Hafod estate remained in Chancery until his widow Jane died in 1834. Then the Duke of Newcastle bought the whole estate except for Glanystwyth, which had been sold to the third earl of Lisburne in 1832 for £8,400. The acreage was estimated at 300, and the annual rent was £250. What then of the Glanystwyth map? It’s a complicated story.

Thomas Johnes had commissioned a survey of the Hafod estate in 1787, but alas, apart from a volume of maps of the Llanddewibrefi farms, all were lost some time after 1830. But the Glanystwyth map had gone with the sale of the farm in 1832, and so survives. Unfortunately we cannot show the schedule of fields which belongs to it, but every field has a number corresponding to the schedule: A1-A24 for Glanystwyth, B1-B14 for Gwaununfuwch.

How then does this map relate to today’s geography? We are in the lower Ystwyth, on the northern side of the river, a mile east of Llanilar village. The road shown running from the top to the bottom of the map is today’s B4340 from Aberystwyth to Pontrhydfendigaid. The rivulet shown running from right to left below the fields is the one called today Afon Llanfihangel, but its original name was Afon Pyllu, as shown by the the names Pwlly Uchaf and Pwlly Isaf (at one time the Aberpyllu estate, long vanished). A road is show running above the river Pyllu: this is now a green lane for most of its course.

Glanystwyth itself (A1) appears to the right of the high road. Although the house has been modernised more than once, its massive walls betray its ancient origin. From the point of view of the historian, the most interesting name is at A10, Pentre Du, on the bank of the Pyllu. It is described as ‘Houses, Mill, etc’. Nothing is visible today, but the name is still known to some local people. It’s likely that this was a cluster of earthen houses, possibly built by squatters. The Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn registers show that in 1801 two girls from houses in Pentre Du died of small-pox. In 1861 there were still three families living in ‘Black Village’; by 1901, only one family remained.

Most of the field names are common ones: Cae Pwll, Cae Bach, Cae Coch and so on. More interesting is A3, Dol y Cappel (Chapel field). What does this refer to? There is no record of any chapel close to Glanystwyth, nor any other institution such as a Sunday School. The same problem occurs on the Tan-yr-allt map, where a Cae Capel is located in 1781: it turned out to be the site of the recently-discovered Roman villa. Field A16 is Cae Ty’n y fron, a good example of the way a larger farm (Glanystwyth) could absorb a smaller property, the tyddyn of Ty’n y fron.

On the bank of the river Pyllu is Dol-y-pandy (A14), literally ‘Fulling-mill meadow’, though the mill itself seems to have gone by 1787. Next to it is A13, land ‘about the Mill Leet’ referring to a channel made for water from the Pyllu to the mill at Pentre Du. There is nothing special about the field names of Gwaununfuwch: the farm name (‘One-Cow Moor’) suggests poor land.

When I first saw the map about thirty years ago I showed a copy to Mr Hugh Tudor, son of Mr Tom Tudor the then owner of Glanystwyth, now owned by his brother Richard. Hugh listed the current names of all the fields, and though many fields had been joined together and lost their old 1787 Welsh names, a good percentage still remained in use. But the use made of the fields had changed dramatically: some ten fields then used for corn had almost all joined the others under pasture.

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Posted - 07-02-2018

#LoveArt / Collections / News and Events

#LoveArt – Valériane Leblond

This month, artist Valériane Leblond takes part in our #LoveArt campaign.

She has chosen View from Hen Gaer Castellan by Edrica Huws (1907-1999) as her final choice.

I love how the artist uses the different fabrics in a way a painter would use the colours on a palette. The tones are subtle, and the subject itself is not obvious at first sight. I find it interesting that Edrica Huws uses patchwork, a craft that is not very present in the art world, but which has been a mean for women to express themselves for several centuries, especially in Wales. Her style is unique and the patterns on the fabrics give it an extra dimension.

View from Hen Gaer Castellan

Valériane Leblond

Posted - 01-02-2018

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events

#LoveMaps – Gerald Morgan

Gerald Morgan, Historian, Teacher and Author takes part in our #LoveMaps campaign.

A 1702 Map of Wales

In 1697 was published the first edition of The History of Wales, by William Wynne (1671-1704), priest and fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. He lived in Oxford at least until 1702, when he was given the rectory of Llanfachraeth, Anglesey, but seems never to have been there. The book’s title-page acknowledges that Wynne had taken the text of The Historie of Cambria (1584) and tweaked and tidied it. The volume was reissued in 1702, with further editions in 1774, 1812 and 1832. The text is laborious to read, but this was the only history of Wales available until William Warrington published his substantial and highly readable The History of Wales in 1786, with subsequent editions.

The 1702 reissue of Wynne’s work is what concerns me today. In it there is a map of Wales, the first ever to appear in a book about the country, though the plate had been used once before in a book of maps of the counties of England. The map was the work of John Sellers. It’s small – 14cm by 12cm, so cannot be compared with the splendid map by Humphrey Lhuyd. Shortage of space forced Sellers to abbreviate the names of eight of the twelve counties of Wales; Monmouthshire is outside the Welsh border on Sellers’s map.

A few names have been horribly mistreated, e.g. Carnarvan, Laninthevery (Llanymddyfri, i.e. Llandovery), Bradsey for Bardsey, etc. Anglesey is strangely misshapen. But to me the great virtue of the map lies in the proud words THE WELSH SEA across what is known as the Irish Sea. I would be happy to renounce the name of Cardigan Bay if we could restore Sellers’s title.

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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