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Jerry Brotton & Nick Millea, Talking Maps.

Jerry Brotton & Nick Millea, Talking Maps

Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2019. ISBN 9781851245154. Hb, 208p., 120 colour plates. A$83.00

TalkingMaps is curated by Jerry Brotton, a British historian and professor of renaissance studies E at Queen Mary University of London and Nick Millea head of the Bodleian Map Library, University of Oxford. Chapter 10 is contributed by Benjamin Hennig. The Foreword is written by Richard Overnden OBE, the Bodley's Librarian in the University of Oxford. The book is associated with an exhibition curated by the authors at the Bodleian Library (5 July 2019-8 March 2020). The text begins "Stories make maps" and this is the journey the reader is taken on through the book.

The initial impression is that the hard cover book is clean and crisp in its presentation. The pages are uncluttered with a large font size compared to similar texts. Maps associated with the text are clear, colourful and plentiful. The content is ordered according to ten broad themes (discussed below); it is clearly oriented towards a British readership and even more parochially, those with an interest in the city of Oxford. Readers of cartographic literature will recognise many of the maps and associated text contained in Chapter 1, but other maps, sketches and photographs in subsequent chapters are less likely to be viewed in other collections as they are related more to specific locations in time and space associated with the geography of the UK.

The Introduction reinforces the story of maps being "subjective reflections of their maker's beliefs and prejudices.... offering multidimensional and often contradictory representations of space and time". This chapter is a slow read as it contains many concepts relating to the subjective nature of map design and the vagaries associated with the connection between the map producer and the map reader.

Chapter 1, Orientation. The authors reveal how maps were oriented to the east, south, north but never west. Cartographic orientation is discussed in relation to religious, political, commercial and ideological imperatives. An opinion as to why the majority of the world maps now have north at the top is presented at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 2, Administration, focuses on the Gough map of Great Britain which is claimed to be the "earliest surviving geographically recognizable map of an individual country'. The map depicts precise location and was purportedly used for administration. The map characteristics are analysed in detail. Map evaluation is another title that could be applied to the content of this chapter.

Chapter 3, The Country, defines and explores the concept of country as distinct from city. The study area chosen is Gloucestershire. Initially it appears that there is very little for the general reader but gradually the authors develop and share the map design evolution from pictorial maps of the 1500s to the national topographic mapping "democratization" undertaken by the Ordnance Survey which began in 1791.

Chapter 4, The Land, presents a detailed description of the 1635 "Laxton Map" produced using ink and paint on sheepskin by the land surveyor Mark Pierce. At first it appears to be a narrow esoteric focus, but reading through the chapter it becomes clear that this is a special map. The map has been described as the first GIS and by the end of the chapter, one can fully understand why this is so.

Chapter 5, The Sea. The chapter begins by explaining that we orient ourselves on the land but we navigate the sea. A discussion of dead reckoning leads to an outline of the development and use of Portolan charts and the introduction of the compass. Further discussion centres on how the charts for use with a compass were expanded by including reference to astronomical observations, needed for navigation out of sight of land. The chapter provides an excellent summary of the key developments in charting the seas and is amply supported by map examples

Chapter 6, Oxford. This "cartographic" tour of Oxford over space and time is enhanced if the reader has an intimate knowledge of the city. The presentation and discussion of a number of map examples in the chapter is excellent. A surprise inclusion is the "Soviet Oxford" map which, with its transliteration, is one of many maps created worldwide by thousands of Soviet cartographers and associated field workers.

Chapter 7, Sacred Topographies. This chapter makes a strange leap into maps with a spiritual and geographical orientation which attempt to provide pathways for the believers to transmigrate from the physical world to the spiritual world. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions are either referred to or investigated by discussing the colourful and detailed maps and related images displayed in the text.

Chapter 8, Imaginary Plots. It was quite surprising to discover that this chapter has so much material that can be applied to map design associated with "non-imaginary plots'". The chapter describes maps with little relationship to the physical world, such as those associated with science fiction, fantasy and gaming. Also discussed is how authors enhance their creativity by including such maps.

Chapter 9, War. This chapter moves away from the theme of the previous two chapters to deal with map-making in the context of war. The authors emphasise the important role maps played during war and how cartographic production and innovation increased as a direct consequence of war. The authors pose the question, if war influenced cartography, can cartography also influence war?

Chapter 10, The World on the Move. This chapter is authored by Benjamin Hennig and deals with the contemporary topic of digital map-making. It is quite different in style to the other chapters and it does not discuss maps from the exhibition. This chapter summarises the evolution of digital cartography and focuses on how map projections provide varying representations of our world. The author promotes the use of cartograms as an alternative map projection.

This is a well-designed and presented book. There are many maps spread throughout the pages and these are discussed and analysed in a very easy to digest manner. The focus is clearly on a British readership but there is much that the general reader, who is interested in cartography and history, can gain from reading this book. Each chapter can be read quite independent of the others, nevertheless, the book would have benefited by having a final chapter which summarised the content of the book: as it stands the book comes to an abrupt end. The further reading section is a valuable inclusion. All in all this is a very good read.

David Fraser

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Author:Fraser, David
Publication:The Globe
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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