Monday, May 28, 2012

Map of the Week 5-28-2012: Blaeu’s 1654 Atlas of Scotland

Map of the “Yle of Skie,” from Blaeu’s 1654 Atlas of Scotland.  “Continue now, look at Scotland, and enjoy a feast for the eyes.”  So writes Joan Blaeu in his 'Greetings to the Reader,' part of the preliminary material to his 1654 Atlas novus. (from introductory remarks by Charles Withers, Professor of Historical Geography at the University of Edinburgh, on Blaeu’s Atlas of Scotland, at

Joan Blaeu (1599-1673) was a very esteemed and prolific Amsterdam mapmaker working in the Map-mad 17th century.  He received the prestigious appointment as mapmaker to the Dutch East India Company, which was responsible for opening up new markets for trade throughout the world, and for whom accurate maps would obviously have been of paramount importance.  But Blaeu’s maps were also tremendously beautiful and desirable in their own right as objets d’art.  For instance, in many of Vermeer’s wonderful paintings of everyday life in the Netherlands, a framed Blaeu map appears in a position of prominence in the interiors of the homes that are the setting for his paintings, indicating their cherished status as symbols of wealth and discernment of the occupants, but showing also how popularized and widely-owned his maps had become with the middle and upper classes.  (See an example of this at
The Atlas was, for all intents and purposes, more than 70 years in the making, and for an interesting history of how the Atlas came to be, and all the obstacles, both technical and bureaucratic, impeding its eventual publication, see the excellent account at  When completed, Volume V of Blaeu’s Atlas Novus contained 49 maps of Scotland and 6 of Ireland.  It was published originally with all text in Latin, and later editions were translated into Dutch, French, Spanish, and other languages, but never into English! 
Blaeu’s Atlas of Scotland and Ireland was a quite a ground-breaking work.  It used the latest in scientific geographic knowledge (and all that word implied in the 17th century – Geography was really a catch-word for most of the knowledge about the world) combined with “Chorography.”  What is Chorography, you might well ask?  It is a term which has gone out of service, for the most part, but perhaps will enjoy something of a comeback with the recent interest in more qualitative techniques and mixed-method approaches in Geography, all of which have seen a resurgence in recent years.  
From the good Prof. Withers again: “Geography in the age of Pont and Blaeu was not as we would now understand the term.  Early modern geographical knowledge drew upon natural history, astrology, even natural magic and was apparent in various forms: descriptive geography, mathematical geography - of importance to navigators and in mapmaking - and, notably, chorography.  Chorography as understood and practised in the late 16th and 17th centuries drew upon the work of the classical authority Claudius Ptolemaeus (known as Ptolemy).  In Book I of his eight-book Geographia, Ptolemy distinguished between geography and chorography:  'The purpose of Geography is to represent the unity and continuity of the known world in its true nature and location ... The aim of Chorography is to represent only a part'.  Crucially, chorography was a qualitative art: 'Chorography therefore concentrates more on the quality of places than on their quantity or scale, aware that it should use all means to sketch the true form or likeness of places and not so much their correspondence, measure or disposition amongst themselves or with the heavens or with the whole of the world' (cited in Withers 2001a, 140-1).
The intellectual worlds of the late 16th and 17th centuries recognised and used this crucial distinction between geography, the accurate representation of the whole known world, and chorography, the pictorial and written 'impression' of local areas and places, without regard to what we moderns would take to be quantitative accuracy.  Chorography appealed to late Renaissance intellectual ideas of order.  But it did more than that.  For three reasons, 'The chorographic/geographic distinction was perhaps the most important classifying scheme for maps in 16th-century Europe' (Mundy 1996, 5). It was a means to classify existing maps.  It created a standard dual model of how space should in future be mapped. It corresponded to models of the political state: 'indeed, its contours followed the fault lines between regionalism and nationalism' (Mundy 1996, 5-6).  The distinction was widely employed throughout the late 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, Japan, Russia and the Portuguese and Spanish colonies of the New World (Withers 2001a). In England in this period - and, after 1603, in the newly created geographical entity that was 'Great Britain' - chorography was 'the most wide-ranging of the geographical arts, in that it provided the specific detail to make concrete the other general branches of geography' (Cormack 1997, 163).
Chorography's textual features took several forms.  Description of places and regions very commonly incorporated topographical poetry: 'self-fashioning' through versifying was a commonplace in Elizabethan accounts of land and nation (Greenblatt 1980; Helgerson 1986, 1992; Klein 2001).  Chorography emphasised the local and did so historically and geographically: with reference, for example, to the genealogies of families of note, and to the remarkable features in a place.  This attention to place had political significance in that matters of a local nature - notable families, distinctive natural features, historical antiquities and such like - were made to appear part of that place, fixed over time as well as in space. Because of this, chorography - with geography one of what the late Renaissance and early modern worlds understood as the 'eyes of history' - was closely associated with chronology (the other 'eye'), with antiquarianism and with emerging ideas of public utility and of national identity (Cormack 1991a, 1997; Mayhew 2001).
In sum, chorography was a particular form of geographical knowledge, rooted in certain intellectual traditions and apparent in words and maps, that was concerned to capture the 'impression' of a region or place.  It was, textually, an essentially conservative form of regional description in as much as it assumed the continued authority of the monarchy and nobility.  That fact in turn is why chorographical writing often lauds leading families and prominent individuals of note: patronage, patriotism and the political well-being of the realm revealed through its regional portrayal were closely associated elements in Blaeu's world.” (From: “A Vision of Scotland,” by Prof. Charles Withers, at

Works Cited in above Excerpt:  
Cormack, L. B., Charting an Empire: Geography at the English Universities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).
Greenblatt, S., Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)
Helgerson, R., 'The Land Speaks: Cartography, Chorography and Subversion in Renaissance England', Representations 16 (1986), 51-85
Klein, B., Maps and the Writing of Space in Early Modern England and Ireland (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001)
Mayhew, R., 'Geography, Print Culture and the Renaissance: "The Road Less Travelled By", History of European Ideas 27 (2001), 349-369
Mundy, B. E., The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaçiones Geograficas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
Withers, C. W. J., 'Pont in Context: Chorography, Mapmaking and National Identity in the Late Sixteenth Century', in The Nation Survey'd: essays on late sixteenth-century Scotland as depicted by Timothy Pont edited by Ian C. Cunningham (East Linton, 2001a), 139-154.

“The nether ward of Clyds-dail and Glasco” Zoom-able map at:  

On this map of the Lower Clyde region, north is the right side of the map, “Glasgva” is shown in the top middle as a major city (in red) on the banks of the River Clyde, with the location of “The Mills” below it (to the east of the city, but in this orientation it looks like to the south since we are used to north being on top rather than to the side.  Likewise, the River Clyde runs east-west in reality, but in this map appears to run north-south, until we get used to the idea that north is on the right).  Many of the place names on this map still exist on modern maps, with little change, such as Parthick (now Partick), Blyths Wood (now Blythswood), Burrowsfield (now Barrowfield), Carntynenoc (now Carntyne), etc. 

            The map of the Isle of Skye (Yle of Skia) shown above at the top of this post – zoom-able version at - depicts the largest of the islands in the Inner Hebrides.  In old Norse, the name for Skye is skuy (misty isle), skýey or skuyö (isle of cloud).  In Gaelic the name for the Isle of Skye, Ellan Skiannach, means “the winged island,” possibly owing to its many notches and indentations and peninsulas radiating out from the central core of mountains, making it look like feathered wings.  
              "This Ile is callit Ellan Skiannach in Irish, that is to say in Inglish the wyngit Ile, be reason it has mony wyngis and pointis lyand furth fra it, throw the dividing of thir foirsaid Lochis."  English translation from Lowland Scots: This isle is called Ellan Skiannach in Gaelic, that is to say in English, "The Winged Isle", by reason of its many wings and points that come from it, through dividing of the land by the aforesaid lochs.  From Munro, D. (1818) Description of the Western Isles of Scotland called Hybrides, by Mr. Donald Munro, High Dean of the Isles, who travelled through most of them in the year 1549. Miscellanea Scotica, Quoted in Murray (1966) p. 146. 

Near the center of Blaeu’s map of Skye (above and to the left of the town of Portry – now Portree) is Loch Cholumbkil (Colum Cille - Saint Columba’s lake), and in the middle of the loch is a little island with an abbey, and on the little island is a little lake.  The loch appears to be at the end of a river which leads from a sea loch, Loch Snizort (love that name – SNIZORT!).  Unfortunately, I can find no trace of this lake within an island on a lake within an island on a current map of Skye, but I will look for it when I am in Skye next week and perhaps find it on large-scale OS maps. 
I did find some notes about Loch Columbkille in an old journal written in 1883 by a well-known (at the time) travel writer and painter who spent 6 months in the Hebrides, so apparently the Loch and its islet were still extant 130 years ago or so. 

“This fine sea-loch divides itself into an inner and an outer harbour, perfectly land-locked. The former is still known to the older fishers as Loch Columbkille, being one of the spots specially dedicated to St. Columba, who was patron saint of half of Skye, and many neighbouring isles. The other half was the property of that St. Maelruhba to whom, as we have seen, were offered such strange sacrifices.' At the further end of the loch, close to the sheriff's house, is a small rocky islet, where a few fragments of building, and traces of old graves are all that now remain to mark the spot where once stood the oldest monastic building in Scotland; so, at least, say certain of our wisest antiquarians.”
From In the Hebrides, (Chapter 13) by C. F. Gordon Cumming (1883) at

Kilt Rock is a spectacular rock formation south of Staffin on the Trotternish peninsula, Skye. The 200ft-high cliffs take their name from the basalt columns which resemble the folds of a kilt. There is also a waterfall where the River Mealt plunges 200 feet straight down to the shore.

The ruins of Duntulm Castle lie approximately six miles north of Uig on the Trotternish peninsula of Skye. Duntulm was previously the site of an iron age broch, a Pictish fort and a Viking stronghold. The castle changed hands several times between the Macleods and the MacDonalds but it was secured as a MacDonald stronghold after the Battle of Trotternish in the 16th century.  Written in Gaelic as Dun Tuilm, the meaning is often debated but it is most commonly translated as 'fort of the green grassy headland'. The castle was abandoned by the MacDonalds in favour of Monkstadt in the 1730s and stone from the castle was used in building the new house.  This left the castle in a dangerous state of disrepair and it has only recently been stabilized.

These illustrations were taken from 'In the Hebrides', by CF Gordon Cumming (1883) at

            This will be my last blog posting for a little while.  I have to take a short hiatus for the next few weeks from all extracurricular activities.  I will be in Skye for the long Jubilee weekend, I need to finish my research and prepare and give five presentations in June based on my work here over the past 6 months, and finally I will then have to organize myself and pack up my life here in order to return home to NYC.  I hope to be back to full blogging power in mid-summer, and I’m sure will have a good backlog of interesting tid-bits of geographica to share. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Map of the Week 5-21-2012:Can a 3-D Map Change the World?

A screenshot of the new Mapply platform.  For the interactive version, see
This is Mapply - Virtual 3-D Maps built with real world data.  So far, the website just shows demos - the actual application is not really up and running yet, but the developers are claiming some amazing things for their platform.  They say they have real-time data for 400 cities in 52 different countries, and there is practically no limit to what you can find with the data. There will be real-time data on weather, traffic, what's happening in each city, how to get around, connections to all kinds of data extracted from social media that will inform our understanding of a place, and more - all in one site for easy access.  They say it will change the world! 
Check out their little videos of fly-throughs of London and San Francisco at  Here is “From Olympic Park to the Gherkin.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Map of the Week 5-14-2012:Lost Colony Found on Map!

The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, a 400-year old mystery, may just have gotten a major clue in the form of the investigation of a patch over an old watercolor map by John White in the collection of the British Museum.  From:  Thanks, Brian Morgan, for sending me the link! 

In the 1587, English settlers came to a coastal island in what is now North Carolina for the purpose of forming a permanent colony in the New World.  This was the first English settlement to include civilians, not just explorers and military.  After a harrowing few months there, the leader of the expedition and the fledgling colony’s governor, John White, went back to England for supplies to ensure the colony’s survival over the coming winter.  When he returned, all traces of the colonists were gone.  For the past 400 years, people have speculated on what fate might have befallen them, including massacre by the nearby American Indian tribes, assimilation into the tribes, disease epidemic, starvation, and so forth. (White's return was delayed three years, until 1590, due to the Spanish Armada incident and Queen Elizabeth's moratorium on non-essential shipping during the duration of hostilities.)

John White's 1587 watercolor map of the North Carolina coastal area, including the Roanoke colony.  The areas within the dotted outlines indicate the two areas of the map having patches afixed later.  Also, notice the various crests on the map, inserted on top of a "virgin" and "empty" landscape to denote English ownership and dominion over the place.

Earlier map of Virginia, by John White, 1585, with Sir Walter Raleigh’s coat of arms displayed prominently, a stamp of English possession imposed on the existing indigenous population.  Map from "New Found Lands: Maps in the History of Exploration,” by Peter Whitfield.
“Historically, one of the most important purposes in the development of maps was for political control. Those who could describe a place graphically and understand its location in relation to other places could put a claim to it and control it: if you were the one who could define boundaries and map an area, it belonged to you. Maps helped the powerful consolidate political power and establish jurisdiction over conquered territories.” From “GIS for the Urban Environment.”
            This new examination of an old map sheds some light on what might have happened to them.  Underneath an inconspicuous patch on the map there was a drawing of a fortification.  Why the patch was put on the map covering the drawing of the fort is unknown.  It was common to put patches on maps when there was new information, as a quick and cheap way of updating the map without having to re-draw it completely.  It was less common to put a patch over a map to obscure or obliterate some piece of information. 
Even on maps today, sensitive areas are “vague-ified,” and we see numerous examples of that with our own national mapping agency (USGS) in relation to military areas, archaeological sites, and certain endangered species conservation areas where it was deemed to be best not to show exact locations to the public.  The patched-over inland fort on the 1587 map may have been a situation like that, whereby the authorities did not want the location to be known.  It is now thought that perhaps the members of the Lost Colony made their way about 50 miles inland and built the fort rather than remain on Roanoke Island. 

Paleis Noordeinde, The Hague, How the Dutch cover up sensitive areas on their Google Maps, from Granta.  More cool examples at

The researchers at the British Museum looked at the map using a number of different techniques: Infrared Reflectograms, Infrared false color, Ultraviolet reflected, Ultraviolet induced luminescence, and Reflected visible light images, Raman spectroscopy, and all kinds of amazing high-tech image enhancing and processing methods to see the history of what had been drawn on the map.  The findings of the map investigation are quite fascinating, and are documented in a British Museum publication at  
Transmitted Visible Light Image of Patch 2 area on the John White Map

Infrared False-Color image (800-1,000 nm) of Patch 2 area.

John White, the cartographer who created the map, had been to the New World once before, as the official map-maker and artist to a 1585 expedition to the same general area.  It was a rather novel concept at the time to have an artist and cartographer on board such a ship of exploration, and White’s paintings remain an important record of what life was like in the pre-colonized New World, especially 16th century Algonquin society.  In later years, artists were commonly employed on journeys of discovery, most famously in Captain James Cook’s voyages across the Pacific (late 18th century, fully two centuries after White’s work).  Engraved plates were made from John White’s drawings and the prints were disseminated throughout Europe under the title “America,” which helped to popularize the “exoticism” of the New World. 
Village of the Secotan in North Carolina. Watercolour painted by John White, 1585, on his first voyage to America.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Map of the Week 5-7-2012:Foods of the British Isles-A Typographic Map

Typographic Map of Food of the British Isles, on the wall of a small restaurant in Durham, England

Typographic maps are all the rage, and I’m sure you have seen many of them.  They use typography to fill in the outlines of a country or city, or sometimes, the whole world, generally just with location names, but sometimes (as in this map) it gets a bit more imaginative. This wall-sized one I photographed in a small restaurant in Durham, England this week.  My colleagues from Durham University took me to dinner at Oldfields Real Food (on Claypath), which specializes in locally-sourced produce and fish, and they pride themselves on using traditional recipes, hence this map of regional food dishes from around the British Isles. It shows the location where the food dishes originated or are popular. You know, such staples as Bangers and Mash, Cullen Skink, Blind Scouse, Cock-a-Leekie soup, and the ever popular (at least with me and millions of Scots!) the Clootie Dumpling.  My home in Glasgow is somewhere between Haggis and Clapshot (turnips and potatoes, or ‘neeps and tatties, as they say here). Happily, I don't live anywhere near "jellied eels!"
Here are some other interesting typographic maps (not to be confused with topographic maps, or topological maps, or toponymic maps).  Some of them are quite simple, and others very intricate.  Several of the more intricate ones are the work of Paula Scher, the undisputed master of typographic maps.  Look for her excellent book called “Maps.” 

Africa by Paula Scher 

Detail of Nancy McCabe map, showing southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.  

This is a really clever typographic map – the type makes up a map of the world using different quotes from famous people on an anti-war theme.  My favorite quote (naturally) is Mark Twain’s “God created war so that Americans would learn geography,” although the quote by Voltaire runs a close second: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”



Brooklyn and Chicago



A Different London

Lower Manhattan, by Paula Scher, featuring the path of the High-Line (a disused elevated freight train line, transformed into an elevated linear park).

Australia - but if you couldn't figure that out on your own, I refer you back to Mark Twain's quote, above! 
France, ditto to caption for Australia.
United Arab Emirates
Literary typographic map of the U.S.

Literary Typographic map of the British Isles, oops, sorry, I mean of the U.K. Only Northern Ireland appears to be included, not the Republic. 

Major products of the British Isles, and things that regions are known for.

The U.S. and the British Isles

One more on New York, this one at least showing more than just Manhattan.

A Solarium, by Paula Scher