Last night I attended the opening of the British Library exhibition ‘Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line‘.
The lead curator is Tom Harper, but as he insisted, this was a collaborative project, and there were external experts used such as Mike Heffernan from the University of Nottingham.
The British Library has a huge collection of maps, and one of the challenges was selecting just the 200 on display in the exhibition. Not all come from the BL collection, of course. Given the twentieth century focus, much is explicitly political or geopolitical, but there are also maps from fiction, artworks and tourism. There were some striking juxtapositions of maps and a single visit wasn’t enough to take it all in. I’m hoping to go back. I was particularly struck by Satomi Matoba’s Topographical Map of Utopia, which uses military maps to build up a representation of the island. Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor both appear. There was an example of the Sykes-Picot agreement map, with the blue and red pencil lines demarcating the French and British areas of the Ottoman Empire. Not all the maps were so serious – there was an example of The Weetabix Wonderworld Atlas – a child’s atlas from the early 1980s you could get by saving up breakfast cereal tokens.
The exhibition is open until 1 March 2017. It’s well worth a visit if you can get to London. There are a series of lectures and other talks linked to the exhibition happening over the next several months. I’ll be part of a session with Tim Marshall on ‘Power, Territory and Borders’on 31 January.