Accurate, beautiful, clever, dangerous, exciting.
Maps can be all of these things. They show us new places, help us re-imagine familiar haunts and even enable us to travel through time.
A map is both a useful tool and a magic carpet to far-away places. In the cold winter months we can travel in our minds to somewhere warm and inviting. In summer we can cool down with dreams of ice and snow in a frozen land at the ends of the globe.
This slightly scruffy globe appears in our current Library exhibition You are here. A journey through maps. The globe’s heavy use came during its life at the mapmaking company Bartholomew. Imagine the employees spinning it to find the next place to map, or dreaming of distant holidays.
So why a scruffy globe?
The globe was chosen to demonstrate how the moulded sphere is covered by paper gores, like the segments of an orange. The exhibition explores how maps are constructed, how the cartographer selects the content and marries together functionality and artistry. It includes a variety of map projections giving different views of the world.
Zooming out from the Library to the ends of the earth, the exhibition travels through five geographic zones, from Edinburgh, through Scotland, Great Britain, and Europe, to the World. It asks questions about the nature and use of maps:
- Do all maps show real places?
- How does the cartographer chose what to include?
- Why do maps have a scale?
- Why do place names change over time?
- How are hills shown on a flat map?
- Why does the cartographer use symbols?
- Do maps go out-of-date?
- How do maps show human activity?
- How is a spherical world made flat?
- Why is north to the top?
The answers to the questions are to be found in the maps themselves. Carefully displayed so you can get up close to them, search within the maps for a favourite place, or a new perspective on our world. The maps in the exhibition are drawn from the Library’s extensive map collection of more than two million items. Each has been specially selected to illustrate the answers to the questions, and hopefully to provoke more!
Kate Mclean’s “Smells of Auld Reekie on a very breezy day in 2011!” and the twelve sheet “Plan of the city of Edinburgh with Leith and suburbs … Reduced from the ordnance survey and revised to the present date” by John Bartholomew from 1891 give very different views of Edinburgh. The first map of Scotland on its own and the “most beautiful atlas” are highlights, but every map has a story to tell.
Maps have many layers: they are where art and science meet. They are both fact and fiction. They can be used to find an exact place in the world, to find your way there, or to inspire and create new and imagined places. The spaces between the features are as important as the marked places. They allow us to have conversations about the “whereness” of things, all kinds of things. And sometimes, that discussion leads us to the very essence of things, do they or do they not exist? Even when depicting a “real” place, maps do not show everything that is there. By their very nature they can only show a selection of spaces and places. The act of shrinking reality means that some things get left out. The choice of what to include is driven by the purpose of the map.
You can explore more about maps and their creation in our Learning Zone feature “You are Here. 10 things you need to know about maps” which includes a glossary of technical terms, teaching resources, and the answers to the cartographic questions in the exhibition. You can also try our interactive games, and see many more maps!
Come along and explore the world we live in, and how we choose to show it on wonderful, fascinating and intriguing maps.
‘You are Here. A journey through maps‘ runs until 2 April 2017. Entry is free.