Author Archive

Maps are for history, not just for geography

December 11th, 2013 Martin Holmes Comments off

Taissa Csaky writes:

When I was at university (quite a long time ago) one of my favourite things about ancient history was the tutor’s habit of starting each session by unrolling a large map on the floor. He rightly insisted that we couldn’t possibly understand Rome’s civil wars or the Greece’s war with Persia if we didn’t know where the cities, roads, mountains, rivers, islands, fleets and armies were.

Working on the project to digitize the Map Room’s card catalogue has shown me a different link between maps and history. I’m one of a small team editing the text of the new digital records. We compare text generated by OCR (optical character recognition) against scans of the original record cards. The editing process takes you through a lot of cards. Thousands in fact, as between us we need to edit over 200,000 by next spring. Records are allocated to editors in geographical batches, reflecting the order of cards in the current index. The records in my first set were for maps of Greece.

First impressions were that there was a bewildering variety of maps of Greece made by a bewildering number of map-makers and publishers… But a few thousand cards later a pattern started to emerge, with a loose correlation between the dates maps were produced and the types of maps. It was not just that the techniques and conventions of map-making were changing over time. There was also a definite link between the date of the map, the sort of person or organisation that made it, and why.

Here are some examples of the main types of map I noticed repeating.

Lots of eighteenth century maps retracing the voyages of a fictional Scythian, Anacharsis the Younger:

Nineteenth century maps of classical Greece:

German military maps from the early years of the Second World War:

British military maps from the later years of the Second World War:

Touring and tourist maps. These start appearing in the 1930s but there are many more from the 1960s and later:

Also from the 1960s, maps from the National Statistical Service of Greece:

And most recently, twentieth and twenty-first century walking maps produced by the Greek Alpine club:

To me the fact these types of maps come up over and over again tells a story about Greece and what made it interesting to map-makers and map-users. I read it like this…

In the eighteenth century Greece was something of a fantasy land to Europeans – more familiar in classical literature and contemporary fiction than reality. In the nineteenth century the serious study of ancient history began and classicists made maps to represent their understanding of past events. Then there is a lull in interest in Greece – or at least that’s what the collection suggests – until the twentieth century. Suddenly Greece becomes a real place of contemporary interest. During the Second World War, the German army drew up maps to plan the invasion of Greece, and the British military made maps to plan the counter-attack. In the 1960s the Mediterranean holiday industry exploded and tourists had maps to plan their assault on Greece. More recent maps from the Map Room collection are made by Greeks for Greeks – statistical maps to assist government planning or detailed walking club maps of the Peloponnesian mountains.

Looking at the catalogue this way can give you an insight into why people made maps, where they were going, and what they planned to do when they got there. It also makes editing several thousand cards a much more interesting process. You’re not just reading the words of a catalogue, and it’s not just a catalogue of cartography or geography. It’s history too.


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Bodleian Maps and Music card catalogues now searchable online

October 15th, 2013 Martin Holmes Comments off

It is now possible, for the first time, to browse the card catalogues for the Bodleian’s map and printed music collections without having to come to the Library (click images above for links). The images of the cards made in conjunction with the Mellon-funded retrospective conversion project have been made accessible online as a kind of ‘virtual’ card catalogue. The three-year Bodleian Maps & Music Catalogue Conversion Project will see brief catalogue records for this material loaded into the online SOLO catalogue in the summer of 2014 but, as a by-product of this project, the opportunity has been taken to improve access to the collections now by making the scanned cards accessible online.

Since 1992, all music scores acquired by the central Bodleian have been catalogued online and are therefore accessible through SOLO, the online catalogue for most of Oxford’s libraries. All maps acquired since 2008 have been catalogued online, and certain categories of material were catalogued online before then, including around 10,000 antiquarian records for items in the Todhunter-Allen collection.  Additionally, several retrospective conversion projects over the years have meant that a significant number of earlier accessions were recatalogued. For music, this includes opera scores, a large proportion of our pre-1800 editions, music hall songs and a selection of important 20th century composers and collected editions. For maps, this includes records for post-1850 mapping of selected countries, predominantly in north Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, funded by the RSLP Mapping the World project in 2000-2002. However, that still leaves approximately 75% of the Library’s music holdings and 85% of the Maps collection represented only by the bulky card catalogues which used to dominate the old Map and Music Reading Rooms and now line the central aisle of Duke Humfrey’s Library.

An interface has been developed by staff  in Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services (BDLSS) using ‘flipbook’ technology which allows access to the card ‘drawers’ at frequent index points. Once you have entered a ‘drawer’, you can browse the cards until you find what you are looking for. Each card image comes with an e-mail icon which will bring up a web form to enable registered Bodleian users to request the item from its remote storage location. After entering your name, library card number and contact details, the form automatically captures the filename of the image and sends it to library staff for ordering to the Maps and Music reading room in Duke Humfrey’s Library.

In fact, several distinct music catalogues are included in this project. In addition to the main card catalogue (begun in the 1920s but incorporating much earlier material), the hand-written supplementary slip catalogue (now containing mostly minor Victorian editions received under legal deposit) can be found, along with composer and title indexes to popular music (ca. 1953-1991), and a partial index to printed music found in journals or non-music publications. Included also are a small number of cards for microfilm sets and some individual music manuscripts available on film, along with a partial index to music manuscripts catalogued between about 1965 and 2009. The legibility of some of these hand-written cards leaves much to be desired so the help of Music staff may be required to decipher them.

The maps card catalogue is more simply structured; most records are included in a single alphabetical sequence by country. There is an additional section, the Mapmakers’ Index, which includes cross reference records under the mapmaker’s name for pre-1850 maps; this is a useful shortcut if you are looking for the work of a particular cartographer. All the maps recorded in the Mapmakers’ Index are also included in the main alphabetical sequence.

Links to the ‘new’ catalogues can be found on the SOLO homepage. SOLO should always remain your first port-of-call when looking for any music scores or maps but please also remember to check the card images if you can’t find what you need in SOLO, if it was published before 1992 (music) or 2008 (maps). If you still can’t find what you need, it may be worth asking library staff in the relevant section  as cataloguing practices over the years have often been quite obscure and what you want may not always be filed where you might expect to find it!

While this solution falls short of the ideal – the complete recataloguing of all maps and music scores in SOLO which would see everything fully and consistently described and indexed – it is hoped that the result of this more pragmatic approach will be a considerable improvement on the present situation. The new interface was released in early August in its ‘beta’ phase and currently works best in Firefox and Chrome browsers. Functionality issues with Internet Explorer are being addressed and there are a few bugs to be ironed out in the coming weeks. Comments are welcome to and

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New editors

October 15th, 2013 Martin Holmes Comments off

A belated welcome to the new members of the ‘Maps & Music’ editorial team who started on the project back in the summer. They are Taissa Csaky (Maps), Tom Emmett (Music) and Seymour James (Maps). We thank them for agreeing to take us on and wish them well as they join Debbie, John and Russell in grappling with the idiosyncrasies of our old card catalogues.

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Maps and Music project gets welcome extension

October 15th, 2013 Martin Holmes Comments off

The retrospective conversion project for the Maps and Music card catalogues has been awarded a no-cost extension by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which will now see the project run through to the end of July 2014. Lower than anticipated costs in certain areas of the project budget have meant that we can afford to extend the contracts of the existing editorial team for a further year and fund two additional editors’ posts. This should increase the chances of completing the checking and enhancement of the keyed records and enable the quality of the final records to be significantly improved. The Project team are grateful to the Foundation for their support for this change to the original project plan.

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Tender for keyboarding

February 7th, 2012 Martin Holmes Comments off

Following the successful scanning of the cards and slips which make up the Maps and Music catalogues, currently located in Duke Humfrey’s Library, we now have a very large file of digital images, one for each card in both sets of catalogues. The next step is to commission the keyboarding of the contents of the cards so that the information on them can be made searchable in a database. Last Monday, an invitation was issued for companies to tender for this work and we now have a list of firms who have expressed an interest in submitting a proposal. The timetable for this part of the project is as follows:

Phase Date Action
1 Mon 30 January, 2012 Date of Invitation
2 Fri 3 February, 2012 Date for indication of intent to submit Proposal
3 Wed 15 February, 2012 Date for submission of Proposal
4 Thurs 1 March, 2012 Date by which The University of Oxford will evaluate responses
5 To be scheduled Date for presentation/discussion with shortlisted Suppliers
6 March / April, 2012 Date by which The University of Oxford will award a contract, if any

Once all proposals have been received, we will be evaluating them and, we hope, awarding a contract sometime in the spring.

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