Saturday, 26 April 2008

Investigating new sources

Maura Pringle, Head of Map collections, Queen's University Belfast offers advice on how to read and be inspired by other forms of communication. Her notes from the day have been included in order to encourage others to consider how maps can act as cultural artifacts and indicators, as well as sources for other research and interpretative responses in art and literature.

The Map Library contains a considerable collection of maps, some of then antique, many of them old, covering all parts of the world, and beyond, at various scales. We also have atlases containing either contemporary maps or reproductions of old ones. Associated material includes air photographs, slides and books that contain both graphic and linguistic descriptions of landscape and inhabitants.

Most of the maps are what are called topographic, that is concerned with the surface features of the landscape, e.g. roads, rivers, hills, woodland, and with their spatial relationship to one another on the ground. They have been produced for many reasons: political or fiscal control, navigation, tourism, or as a base for other information.

There are also thematic maps, sometimes called special subject maps, many using a topographic base and primarily relating to human activity, e.g. population density, crop yields, migration patterns, disease mortality or ethnic difference, to name but a few!

Harley and Woodward (J.B.Harley and David Woodward, first draft of preface to The history of cartography, typescript) define a map as: A means of representing the spatial arrangements of objects, conditions, processes, and events in the terrestrial, celestial or imagined worlds by means of a wide range of techniques on or with a great variety of materials for any number of reasons and structured according to any of several geometries. This makes it difficult for me to know what aspects of the collection I should tell you about, as each of you will have a different idea about how you perceive these ways of representing the world, and how you would like to re-collect it.

Maps show the variety of ways that people have used to describe the world around them. It is perhaps hard for modern sat-nav/google-earth generations to realize how little known was that world until comparatively recently.

Early map-makers attempted to convey, in graphic form, information about the real world or some part of it. They tended to be concerned with the direction and the relative distance of one place or feature from others, relying on those that were prominent or important, e.g. major rivers and their crossing points, places of relative safety or commerce i.e. castles and cities, and areas of danger like treacherous coastlines, wild woods and bogs – represented by the Here be dragons labels on a map. I don’t know if any of you have seen some of the TV programmes on early cartographers with Nicholas Crane. Many early maps may not be very accurate but are nevertheless works of art. They pre-date conventional signs and symbols and give a more pictorial representation of the known world as it was perceived by it’s inhabitants at the time; and they thus provide us with valuable insight to that world.

It was not until the early 19th century that maps began to resemble those we have today. The most valuable part of our map collection must comprise the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland. These maps, which are at a scale of 6 inches to 1 mile (1:10,560 if you want the representative fraction) date from the 1830s and cover the whole of Ireland. This was the first, accurate, large-scale survey in the world. The undertaking was, literally, a military operation, subsequent to the events of 1798 and the Act of Union. As Lord Salisbury was quoted (by Andrews, J H: A Paper Landscape, 1975) as saying: “The most disagreeable part of the three kingdoms is Ireland, and therefore Ireland has a splendid map”. The Map Library has bound copies of the entire 1st edition, that may only be photographed, some loose sheets of the 1st and its revision of the 1850’s, partial coverage of the 2nd edition of the 1900s and supplementary sheets dating from the 1920s to 1950s. There should be at least 1 later copy of every sheet for the whole of Ireland. For Northern Ireland coverage continues with modern Irish grid maps at similar (1:10,000) and larger scale. Thus the maps provide a valuable archive with which to monitor change both spatially and chronologically.

Associated with the first Survey was a wealth of written descriptive and statistical material – the Memoirs. Many of those for the north of Ireland have been transcribed and published by the Institute of Irish Studies here at Queen’s. There are many other descriptive volumes, dating from the 18th century to the present day, that use a variety of cartographic, artistic and linguistic ways of interpreting the landscape.

I hope that what I have brought along today gives you a flavour of maps as a source of inspiration for Picture-Text collaborations.

Maura Pringle, April 2008

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