Studio: British History in Maps | Jeremy Black

This article is from the November 2022 issue of The Critic. To receive the full magazine, why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.


MAps are both aids and images, means and messages. They are also part of the fascination of the past and its ability to help shape subliminal lessons about the character and scope of national identity.

Britain’s map footprint may seem clear. An island kingdom miniaturized from Christopher Saxton’s county maps of Elizabethan England and Wales to the Ordnance Survey of the present, and clarified by GPS systems that replaced the A to Z.

Yet alongside these familiar inquiries are those that offer different priorities and suggestions, whether it be political narratives or poverty, the country as a target for others or as an international power base. Anything and everything can be and has been “mapped”, from religious sentiment to genius distribution to golf courses.

This is part of the story, because there was the mapping of the state but also the scope of entrepreneurship and the impact of individualism, the two key elements of national culture. Map publishers, for example, quickly rose to challenges such as the need to provide guides for cyclists and motorists, hikers and moviegoers, and to annotate the fictional landscapes of Winnie-the-Pooh, Thomas the Tank Engine, Toad of Toad Hall, and even Agatha Christie’s Murder at the parsonage.

We tend to regard old maps as the most interesting and important, as they often are. Thus, Matthew Paris’ map of Britain from around 1255 and “Gough’s map” from a little over a century later show the attempt to give an idea of ​​place and position, as well than developments in cartography.

At 45 inches by 22 inches, “The Gough Map” was eight times larger than Matthew Paris’s, and also provided extensive detail, including resulting routes and national networks. England was a remarkably homogeneous state by European standards, with an emphasis on common law serving as a means of improving national governance.

Maps produced over the past two centuries are equally important and attractive. However, the zeal with which newer cards may be discarded to make way for new editions or, even more so, presentation technologies, could well mean that cards and images that were familiar to us are quickly becoming rare and collectible. .

Any map book inevitably leads to the contemplation not only of what might have been offered instead, but also of where we are going. Consider whether or not England or Scotland are included in a map, and the impact is obvious. This is the case not only for the nation images but also for the subjects covered.

This can be seen, for example, in the control of the earth. Thus the map of Ulster found in the papers of Robert, Earl of Salisbury, Chief Minister to James I (VI of Scotland) reflects the possibilities for English and Scottish “planters” (settlers) created by the English victory in the Nine Years’ War. from 1594 to 1603. Much of Ulster was seized from 1607.

Slightly differently, the Scottish land ownership map in 2013 aimed to demonstrate the inequitable nature of Scottish land ownership. The map conveys this impression very well, notably by using the boldest color for the larger private estates, and a muted color, white, for its counter, the public lands. The striking map is informative for what it doesn’t, including land value or land information.

Many of the larger estates have a limited value per acre. Furthermore, the map does not capture the transition from large traditional individual estates, notably that of the Duke of Buccleuch, to new international owners, in particular Anders Holch Povlsen, the Rausing sisters and the ruler of Dubai.

The printing press was the most important development in cartographic techniques because it allowed the production of multiple copies in a way very different from that of the monastic scriptoria. Although there was no automatic consequence, this method also encouraged standardization on issues such as projection, perspective, and scale.

Printing also provided opportunities for entrepreneurial profit, and this was very clear in publishing projects, such as the road maps produced from the late 17th century and the large number of county and town maps in the 18th century. .

An understanding of geography has become a standard of education, and its lack a matter of humor. At Jane Austen’s EmmaHarriet Smith does not realize that Frank Churchill would not pass through Bath en route from Yorkshire to Surrey, when in mansfield parkFanny Price doesn’t understand that the Isle of Wight isn’t on the best route for Ireland.

In practice, next to books and maps for real travelers and armchairs, there were board games, like the one by John Wallis Tour through England and Wales (1794). The cards were part of understanding of the nation. Moreover, they show how this understanding could change. So the maps of Kent that are included, that of Philip Symonson’s New description of Kent (1596) and the 1801 map based on the work of the Board of Ordnance, show the increased detail that might be available.

There was also the relevance of fit for purpose, always a key element of mapping. Britain was at war with France and feared an invasion when the 1801 map was printed. Emphasis was placed on depicting ‘hard ground’, ground that could play a role in operations; terrain and slopes were important, not only to aid or impede advances, but also to determine the line of sight of the guns. Warfare, as much as trade, property and travel, has often been vital not only to production, but also to development and the uses to which the cards have been applied.

It is not acceptable, as was the case in earlier cartography days, to leave sections of the map blank. Instead, the information is meant to be complete and consistent. This situation makes the development of thematic cartography from the end of the 18th century particularly interesting, and in particular the maps of enclosures, canals, geological, railway and tithe, alone or in combination.

The scope of these topics expanded considerably during the 19th century, with the spatial indicators of mappable data and interest. Governmental goals, such as the territorialization of poverty law unions, corresponded to those of committed individuals and groups, as in the most classic representations of poverty in London and York.

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