Category Archives: Bodleian

Treasures from the Map Room

Staff at the Bodleian and other specialists have written a book, Treasures from the Map Room, which has essays on 75  maps from the collection. They include historically important maps, interesting quirky ones and some of our personal favourites. From the Gough Map of 1370 to the map created by the artist Layla Curtis for the NewcastleGateshead Festival of the Visual Arts in 2006 the book shows the range of material held in the Bodleian’s collections, and includes maps hand-drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and General Gordon, beautifully illustrated Venetian portolans, military and scientific mapping as well as cartographic works of art. We feature here one of the maps from the book, which is published today.

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This woodcut world map, published in Ulm in 1486 and based on much earlier information, has an intriguing link with the European discovery of the Americas. The map data comes from Claudius Ptolemy (fl. 146-c.170), who composed his Geographia in Alexandria in ca. 160 AD. He provided coordinates for 8000 places, tied­ into a grid of longitudes and latitudes; an extraordinary achievement for the time. It is not known if he ever made the maps his work describes, but the text survived in Arabic manuscripts as a set of instructions for making maps of the known world. In the early fifteenth century it was translated into Latin by ­Jacopo d’Angelo;   the ­maps were­ later revised by Nicolaus Germanus (fl. 1451-1456), a German Benedictine. He aimed to follow­ Ptolemy’s instructions and his maps must be close to those ­Ptolemy himself might have compiled. Ptolemaic atlases are amongst the earliest printed books.  A version with the maps engraved on copper was produced in 1478, but this woodcut version has a unique charm.

This copy belonged to King Ferdinand and Queen­ Isabella of Spain, whose coat of arms is in the book.  Ferdinand and Isabella supported Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic. Although Ptolemy’s locations were amazingly accurate for their time, his calculation of the Earth’s circumference was an underestimate.  Columbus (who owned a 1478 edition of the Geographia) believed the distance to China to be less than it was, based partly on this. As Ptolemy’s geography demonstrates, the understanding that the world was round was nothing new even in Columbus’s day. But this world map raises intriguing questions. Would Columbus have planned to travel west to China, and encountered the Americas on the way, without this misconception? Would Ferdinand and Isabella have been so supportive if they had not also owned a copy of the book that supported his theory?

‘Typus orbis terrarum’ from the ‘Geographia’, by Claudius Ptolemaeus Alexandrinus, trans. Jacobus Angeli, ed. Nicolaus Germanus. Ulm: Johann Reger, for Justus de Albano, 21 July 1486; with the maps from the edition of ­Ulm, Lienhart Holl, 1482. Arch. B b.19 (Bod-inc. P-529 (2))

The full article is in Treasures from the Map Room: a journey through the Bodleian collections. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2016. ISBN 978 1 85124 250 4. Available from the Bodleian bookshop.

River Thames from its source to the sea

A recently purchased map arrived in the Map Room this week for us IMG_0041all to pore over.  The River Thames from its source to the sea was produced at a time when the Thames was enjoying an explosion of interest as a source of leisure.  Small boats were available for hire at towns such as Oxford, Reading and Windsor, locations which were now conveniently in reach of the railway travelling public.

 

This beautifully executed map was compiled and engraved by Edward Weller to be issued as an insert to the popular newspaper the Weekly Dispatch and subsequently included in The Dispatch Atlas published early in 1863. It is the first state of nine states which were finally produced in the next thirty six years. Weller was one of the first to produce maps using lithography, a cheaper method of production than the more traditional intaglio printing.  After his death in 1884 these steel plates were acquired by the firm of Cassell, Petter and Galpin. The Cassell’s Complete Atlas was issued in 1865, and as Cassell’s British Atlas with the addition of statistical information.016

 

 

The map shows the whole length of the river from the Thames Head, marked, west ofCirencester to the estuarine mud flats at Southend, in three strip maps at a scale of half and inch to 1 mile (1:126,720).  The minimal but precise hand colouring of just the county outlines is still bright and adds definition to the map without taking away from the very fine detail.  The railways, including the recently built Epsom line are shown by double cross hatched lines.

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The River Thames from its source to the sea. London : Weekly Dispatch Atlas [1863] C17:8 (380)

 

History of the Map Room

While maps and atlases have come into the library from its earliest days the map collection began in earnest in 1800, following a decision made to start the purchase of English and Foreign maps. In 1813 the Curators of the library ordered a large table to be made to hold the increasing collection of maps and atlases, which had grown in size with the bequest in 1809 of the collection of Richard Gough, which included the world famous map of Britain, the ‘Gough Map’, dating from the 1370s and the earliest map in existence showing a road network.

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The main part of the collection though has been, from the start, the printed maps of the Ordnance Survey, published from 1801 onwards and which comes into the library under the legal deposit arrangement of 1610. This was followed in the second half of the nineteenth century by the hydrographic charts published by the Admiralty, and by 1882 it was reckoned that the library was receiving between three and four thousand sheets a year from these two organizations alone.

For many years the collection was held in the Douce Room (now part of the Lower Reading Room) where it was felt that ‘In default of means of dealing with them and of space for their storage, maps, it is to be feared, were regard as an encumbrance’. (1)

The collection moved from the Douce Room in 1887, into the Moral Philosophy School room in the Old Schools quadrangle. Fitted out at a cost of £480 this space was soon cramped and it wasn’t until the completion of the New Library in 1939, and with it a large purpose-built room on the east side of the building with storage areas set aside in the stacks on the same floor that the Map Department had finally a proper home.

Increased storage in the New Bodleian bookstack was soon put to good use. Throughout the Second World War and after the library has been fortunate in receiving from the Geographical Section of the War Office, and more recently the Ministry of Defence, a large number of maps from both the Allies and Axis forces, giving the Bodleian not only maps of historical interest but also detailed mapping of parts of the world that the library had poor cover of up until the arrival of these donations.

Bodley’s map collection was held in the New Library until 2010 when, along with all the other material held by the library, the maps, atlases and globes moved to purpose-built accommodation in Swindon. With over a million maps to call on the collection is stored in a controlled environment in drawers with space to let the collection grow, through material published in Great Britain that comes to the library via the legal deposit agreement of 1610 and the large number of donations the Bodleian receives each year. While the Ordnance Survey continues to be the make up a great part of the collection donations from the Ministry of Defence means the library has a large amount of material dealing with Britain’s military and colonial past, from trench maps from the western front to tribal maps of Africa.

  1. Craster, E. History of the Bodleian Library 1845-1945, 1952. Pg 81, X1.11.