Book Preview: Cartography and how it shapes the world. Part Two

The first part of this post covered cartography more generally and my more general books. You can read it here. This post is going to look at three of my more specific books on cartography and what they show us about the story of maps.

In the last post I looked at Theatre of the World, History of the World Map by Map, Visions of the World and The Map Book. In this post, I’m going to examine The Writer’s Map, Metropolis: Mapping the city and The Art of Cartographics, each of which have a different perspective on the world of cartography. I’m going to begin with The Art of Cartographics, because it is the most general and leads on well from the books discussed in the last post.

The Art of Cartographics is a fascinating look at modern mapping and the many different ways that are used to make maps, not just of place and landscape. This isn’t a book that looks at Google Maps (see my previous post of that discussion). This book includes maps of everything from literary London, transport systems in Russia, world maps, a map of the global market for cacao. These are by and large physical maps, created in everything from a concrete wall, pins and stress balls. There’s folded maps, maps that unfold to make shapes, maps shaped from tree branches and maps that come together to make a person’s face. These maps are made from paper, lights, stamps, stone and even honeycomb. The book explores the multiplicity of ways we express our world and our knowledge through cartography. Basically it’s a fascinating book, that is well worth having a copy of.

Sadly though, I can’t write about every map in the book. So I am going to focus on three. One is a world map made entirely of honeycomb, two is a literary map of London and three is the map of the NASA jet propulsion laboratory. Between the three of them they represent a good cross section of the types of maps included in the book. A non geographically accurate (but recognisable) map rendered in a non conventional material, a conventional material map of a concept over-laid geographically, and map that is a useful navigational aid, but also tells a completely seperate story.

I’ll start with the honeycomb map. As you can see above, it is a world map created by honeycomb. It is the work of artist Ren Ri, in a collaboration with bees. It is an artwork in its own right, much like many of the earlier maps, which were created as visual masterpieces as much as they were intended to be useful. This map is very recognisable as a world map, though it is a slightly different perspective to the Mercator projection that most people are familiar with. What I love about it, is how much of a collaboration the work is. Ren Ri created his work by carefully clearing part of the beehive and placing relief maps in. The bees then moved back in and laid their honeycomb over the top. The work of the bees makes the map almost appear topographical, to me it looks incredibly tactile as well.

The second map from Art of Cartographics I want to discuss is the literary London map

This map represents central London with characters from the pages of books that are set there. London is such an old city, with such a strong literary tradition that 250 novels were drawn from to create this map. Each character has been plotted into the approximate area they lived or worked within their fictional world. As well as being a mine of fascinating literary information, this map also succeeds in being roughly geographically accurate. It is a wonderful representation of the many different concepts that can be expressed in map form. It also harks back to older forms of mapping such as the medieval mappa mundi, which aimed to present a view of the world rather than one of geographical accuracy. Like past maps it draws on tradition, in this case literary rather than cartographical.

The third map I wanted to consider, is firmly rooted in the present. You can’t get much more forward looking that the Nasa Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

This double sided map was given to all employees at the 76th birthday party and is still given to all new employees and interns at orientation. JPL is so large that even employees need GPS to find their way around sometimes, and the buildings are not blessed with sequential numbering. This map is intended not only to be a useful navigation guide, but it also tells the story of JPL and provide several different walking tours depending on what you want to see, and which part of the story you want to discover. So it serves as both a navigational aide and as a depiction of JPL’s narrative, as well as being an art work in its own right. In many ways it is a combination of all the characteristics of the first two maps discussed. Additionally, despite being so modern, it still holds to many traditions of cartography, especially the pictorial depiction of creatures that inhabit the physical space, or mythological space of JPL. There is a real sense of ‘here be dragons’ (a concept used for unknown territory) and in the tradition of peopling maps with fantastical creatures.

These three maps are only a taste of The Art of Cartographics, there’s many truly incredible and fantastical maps in its pages. It illustrates the many fascinating ways maps can be used to express the human experience and gives hope that cartography is not lost in the past.

Continuing with maps in the real world is Metropolis: Mapping the city by Jeremy Black. Black covers a lot of ground chronologically, starting with incredibly early civilisations like the city of Nippur in Mesopotamia. In c.1250BCE it was depicted on a stone tablet when irrigation canals were built. The writing on the map is cuneiform.

What is truly incredible about this map, is how recognisable it is as a map of a city, even though it is only a fragment and is thousands of years old. This is a map that was clearly intended to be useful. Nippur was found on the Euphrates in what is now Iraq and it was a religious centre for most of its existence. Originally it was dedicated to Enlil, by the time it was abandonded in around 800CE it was a Christian city. The map is depicting the Euphrates on the far left, emerging from it up the very top is a canal that continues into the city. You can also see the city walls and a moat. It is truly remarkable how readable the map is even after all this time.

Black continues on through other very early city maps, through medieval maps of major cities like Jerusalem, London and Cathay (most of which tend to be very pictorial), on to grand Renaissance cities, with appropriately grand maps. He then examines, new world maps as the Europeans began to spread out across the world, through the epic imperial maps of the 1700s to the 1800s, the maps of innovation in the 1800s to 1900s, the global maps of 1900s and 2000s and concludes with the future possibilities of mapping cities.

What is clear in Black’s depiction of millennia of city mapping is how much a city’s identity can be caught up in its maps. This is never more true than in some of the, arguably, most powerful cities; the Renaissance city states. An example is the Carta Della Catena, a map of Florence from the 15th century. Unfortunately the image you can see below is a 19th century copy because the original was lost in a Berlin museum in World War II.

What this map illustrates is not only Florence at the height of its powers, but a period of transition in cartography. The map is still pictorial and in a sense representative rather than geographically realistic (that’s the artist in the bottom right) as you would expect from a medieval map. However, there is the real beginnings of realism as we’d understand it in a modern sense. It also illustrates the layout of Florence very recognisably and shows quite clearly just how important the city was.

Black’s book is a really interesting exploration of mapping cities, and much like Art of Cartographics, it is not too Western focussed. It draws on city maps from all over the world. It’s certainly worth reading.

I wanted to finish off my exploration of mapping and the books on mapping that I own, with something a little different. While all the previous books have been very much rooted in real world cartography, The Writer’s Map edited by Huw Lewis-Jones is a look at maps of fictional worlds. Lewis-Jones edits a book of chapters both by writers who have had maps of their worlds created and by those who created the maps. What is most fascinating about this book is how grounded in real world cartographic history these fictional maps are. I received this book for Christmas and spent two days sitting on the deck doing not much else but reading it. It is truly absorbing. I’d love to be able to explore every map discussed with such genuine enthusiasm, but that would defeat the purpose of this post (just buy the book). So I’ll focus on three very different but classic fictional maps. Middle Earth, Hundred Acre Wood and The Marauder’s Map.

Most people these days are probably most familiar with the maps created for the movies, but I wanted to use the map from 1970 by Pauline Baynes. I chose this map because Tolkien gave her detailed instructions, including the colour and size of the different ships and where different creatures should appear. It is also, arguably, the progenitor of fantasy mapping. The maps of Middle Earth are very much steeped in the history of mapping and they are not dis-similar to many of the epic world maps discussed in part one. In The Writer’s Map the Middle Earth chapter is written by Daniel Reeve who was one of the map makers from the films. He drew on Baynes’ original map as well as mapping traditions and created maps that appear in the movies, but also as the background for the publicity materials. Reeves discusses the processes in making the maps, as well as sneaking the outline of Wellington harbour and his home town as the Gulf of Lune into a Fellowship of the Ring map. He also looks a at why we make maps and what they show us. The maps in Lord of the Rings have become the visual mainstays for the immensely complex fantasy world Tolkien created.

On a much less epic scale, but of equal importance, is Winnie The Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, as drawn by Christopher Robin with help by Ernest Shepard in the 1920s. It was inspired by the real Ashdown Forest and, while simple, perfectly encapsulates Pooh’s world and the world of a child. It gives the world of the book a physical presence. You can see all the important geographical features of the story including: Pooh’s trap for Heffalumps, big stones and rox, Eeyore’s Gloomy Place (which is rather boggy and sad) and of course the directions for the North Pole. The map is in some ways like the city maps I discussed earlier, it depicts the totality of a world, not necessarily with geographical accuracy, but showing what is important to the creator and those it is created for. From the perspective of the Winnie the Pooh stories this map shows its heart. Shepard also did the maps for the Wind in the Willows and along with Hundred Acre Wood, they went on to create a tradition that can be found in many Western children’s books.

The Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter is a tricky one to show, as part of its appeal is the way in which it depicts people moving around Hogwarts, but it is such a crucial part of the books that I couldn’t leave it out. The Writer’s Map also has a fascinating chapter by Miraphora Mina, one of the creators of the Marauder’s Map in the films. She’s one of the creative team who worked on the Potter films and is now working on Fantastic Beasts. Mina knew that the Marauder’s Map had to be special; logical and bewildering at the same time. They made it from scratch, everything hand cut and folded, glued and written. In many senses it was like the early maps, only for a school inhabited by wizards. She made more than twenty maps to be used in the film, and their physicality blurred the line between fantasy and the real. Although these props can’t really show people moving around on them, in creating a map it made a world physical, there in ink and paper. This is true for all fictional maps. They bring their fantastical world into the real. You can trace the Lonely Mountains with a finger, follow the borders of Tortall, understand how the Island of Berk fits with its surrounding geography or see the route taken by the Swallows and Amazons. Fictional cartography gives real world substance to the fantastical, partly because of the long and understood history of cartography.

Maps, wether fictional or real, make a mark on how we see our world. Daniel Reeve sums it up beautifully right at the end of his chapter on Middle Earth. Maps are “inevitable” because “we feel a need to make a mark where we are, where we’ve been and where we imagine ourselves going.”


Honey Map Image:

Literary London Image:

JPL image:

Nippur Map:

Florence Image:

Middle Earth image:

Hundred Acre Wood image:

Marauder’s Map image:

Books: The Writer’s Map: An atlas of imaginary lands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones ISBN: 978055519509

Metropolis: Mapping the city by Jeremy Black ISBN:9781844862207

The Art of Cartographics: Designing the modern map ISBN:9781741175615

Book Preview: Cartography and how it shapes the world. Part One.

Maps show a lot about the way we view the world, whether it is a modern map (even Google Maps) or a 14th century mappa mundi. Maps are not always intended to be accurate geographical depictions of landscape, to be used only for navigation. Of course that is the purpose of some maps, but some are symbolic and all maps illuminate (through what they include and what they don’t, how they are made and who commissioned them) the society in which they were created.

This is not going to be a typical post from me, covering a building, person, area or place. This post is going to examine (briefly) maps and what they can show us about the world, beyond geographical features. It is based around several books on cartography that I already owned as well as some new books on maps and mapping that were released at the end of last year, which I was lucky to be given for Christmas. With these additions my collection of books on maps and mapping is large enough to have a section in my library. In this post I’m going to focus on the general cartography books and part 2 will examine the more specific volumes.

So what sorts of books am I talking about? I currently own a variety and I have written about one before when I first started this blog. The Map Book was my first acquisition on cartography and helped to introduce me to the sheer beauty of maps.

You can see my book selection (including The Map Book) below.

Each of these books outlines something slightly different about cartography. Theatre of the World is the most comprehensive from a western perspective, though it is the least visual.

It is written by Thomas Reinerstsen Berg in Norwegian and I read the translated English copy. In fascinating detail it traces the very beginnings of map making (maps carved in stone) through to digital map making and Google Maps.

In this epic journey Reinerstsen Berg takes you through the classical cartography including the work of Aristotle and Plato and Claudius Ptolemy. Around the year 150 CE Ptolemy was working in the Library of Alexandria, drawing on older sources (Roman and Greek) and as many recent observations as he could to create a depiction of the world. He was drawing on sources that have long since been lost – many in the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. His work survived the destruction, mainly through copies, and was rediscovered in the 14th century and helped to shape later ideas about maps and mapping.

Reinerstsen Berg continues through medieval cartography some of which was less focussed on geographical depictions and more on the holy view of the world. An excellent example is the Hereford Mappa Mundi from 1300.

It depicts Jerusalem as the centre of the world, which for medieval christians it was, along with hundreds of towns, figures, animals and mythological sites. It is an illustration of the view of the world, rather than the world itself. It is also really lovely.

Reinerstsen Berg continues through time, highlighting the importance of the first atlas created in 1570 by Abraham Ortelius of Antwerp- it was called Theatre of the World. It was the conclusion of decades of work collecting the best maps he could find from geographers and cartographers across the known world. He redrew the maps himself for consistency and put them together in an atlas declaiming the importance of cartography for history and, in Reinerstsen Berg’s words, “for the first time, those who could afford it were now able to purchase the whole world, bound within a book” (127).

Reinerstsen Berg concludes with digital mapping and Google Maps and Google earth, which for the first time in the history of mapping have the capacity to create maps that show our world down to the tiniest detail. The problem with Google Maps is the same problem that has haunted all cartography; who controls the information included. Google Maps has the 70% market share of digital mapping and it fundamentally shapes how many people physically view the world in which we live. It is a free service, because businesses can pay to have their businesses displayed and it can collect information about users. The monetary nature of mapping and information provision goes right back to the early cartographers, maps are created (usually) at least partly to make money. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is one worth keeping in mind. Reinerstsen Berg’s book is extensive and really interesting. I only had two complaints. The first is that it is extremely Western civilisation focussed. He makes very clear at the start that he is writing about mapping from the point of view of his part of the world; Scandinavia. It does mean that there is lot more about Scandinavia that you would normally find in a general mapping history, which is actually really interesting. So as he is upfront about it, I have less of an issue. My main concern is the images. There are many beautiful and illuminating images of maps, but most are not in the section in which they are discussed, I found this quite dislocating.

Problems aside, Theatre of the World is an eye opening book.

The other two most general books are The Map Book (which I have written about before) and Visions of the World. Both are beautiful books which take an overall and very visual look at maps. The both make a chronological and thematic examination of maps throughout time. They both take a much more worldwide and less euro-centric look than Theatre of the World and they are both much more focussed on the beauty of the maps themselves. They cover everything from Indian mapping to mapping in mosaic in Jordan in 565 CE. The map below was created during the reign of Emperor Justinian.

In 1884 a mosaic map was discovered on the floor of the old church in Madaba. It is somewhat fragmented (the largest surviving portion is 10.5m by 5m) but originally it would have covered the entire width of the nave and depicted the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan river and Syria and parts of Egypt. The fragment you can see above is Jerusalem. The detail is incredible showing trees, fish, towns, animals and even the ferry to Jordan. It illustrates how the christians in Byzantium would have seen the Holy Land as it began to develop.

The Madaba Map is just one of treasures throughout both books. They also cover the detail of maps, looking not just at broad geographic maps, but maps of specific towns and areas. Both books make clear how political map making can be- often depending on who was doing the mapping and who was paying them to map. They are visual delights, with an immense amount of detail.

The final book I’m going to discuss in this post is History of the World by Map. This book is quite different to my other general sources. History of the World covers a general history of world through the rise and fall of civilisations across the world, but while it uses maps to do it, the book creates its own maps to explain the movement of civilisations. In its existence it shows just how useful maps can be and what they can illustrate beyond general geography. History of the World is also very impressive in its scope: covering indigenous Australians, imperial china, Africa, Polynesians, Mansa Musa and much more besides. it provide a fascinating window in which to compare what was happening in the same time in totally different parts of the world, both when they affected each-other and when they didn’t. Western centric histories tend to give the impression that the centre of the world was Europe and not much else was happening anywhere else. History of World gives an easily accessible depiction of how interconnected and vast the world has always been, as well as how much was happening beyond the narrow confines of Europe.

Part 2 will continue the story of cartography and my cartography collection, by considering the remainder of the books which all focus on more specific elements of cartography.


The Map Book: edited by Peter Barber ISBN: 9780297843726

Theatre of the World: The maps that made history. By Thomas Reinertsen Berg ISBN: 9781473688629

Visions of the World: A history of maps by Jeremy Black. ISBN: 1840008342


The pictures of the books are mine.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is creative commons licensed.

as is the Madaba Map

Book Preview: The Grand Medieval Bestiary

The Grand Medieval Bestiary is one of the most epic and beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure to see. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is in the photo to illustrate just how large the Grand Medieval Bestiary is. This is a book on a monumental scale. The Grand Medieval Bestiary tells the stories of the animals that featured in illuminated manuscripts. It depicts real world animals, such as the elephant, and how they were seen by people in the medieval period.

beastiary elephantBeastiary

In the case of the elephant it was believed that its primary natural enemy was the dragon. Additionally it was believed that elephants never lay down to sleep. They always leant against a tree and slept standing, but they had to be careful to choose the correct tree. If they didn’t choose correctly and the tree collapsed they couldn’t get up again. If this happened a smaller elephant would climb under a larger elephant and help it up.

The Grand Bestiary also includes mythical animals such as the hydra. The hydra was the mythical beast Hercules fought as one of his twelve labours. The authors of medieval bestiaries came up with logical explanations for the depiction of the hydra regrowing its heads after Hebeasti hydrarcules chops them off. However they did believe that the hydra was a creature who lived in the Nile and fought the crocodiles there by entering their jaws while they slept and tearing them apart from the inside. The hydra also apparently caused an edema of the legs, which was best treated with ox dung.

The Grand Medieval Bestiary is a fabulous book, full of life, colour and truly beautiful images. It brings the medieval world of bestiaries and animals wonderfully to life. It is also endlessly entertaining. beast hydra

If you have the shelf space for a book this big, it’s worth it.

Title: The Grand Medieval Bestiary: Animals in Illuminated Manuscripts.

Authors: Christian Heck and Remy Cordonnier

ISBN: 978078921279