The Journeys of Maps

The Journeys of Maps

The triplets I’ve chosen

  1. William Maitland and Others, The history and survey of London (1756)
  2. Karl Baedeker, The Rhine from Rotterdam and Constance (1900)
  3. Gerardus Mercator, The Mercator Atlas of Europe (1570)

Why I chose this triplet

As we observe over the pairs set out in front of us in the Special Collections room, I was immediately drawn towards the pair that have maps in them. Cartography is something a lot of people today take for granted - the privilege of geographical guidance. Immediately in my head, I was comparing the maps in front of me with the The Mercator Atlas of Europe I chose to browse over the night before; at the same time I was in awe of the transition from these printed maps to the Google Maps we have today.

Analysis from the distance

In Adam J. Hooks’s How to Read Like a Renaissance Reader, he emphasized that a scholar who is reading the book merely to read and not to understand is not the right kind of reading. He firmly believes that a book’s function is for the reader to understand the text and to thoroughly engage with the text, to actively use the text. With this in mind, I began to think about the different experiences a reader will get when the reader is simply reading and when the reader is actively engaging with the text through annotations and applications.

At first glance, the three books show a lot of similarities especially in the formatting between the pair in the Special Collections. Both Special Collections books have a combination of pictures and words with the majority being text, but the Mercator Atlas is composed of just maps. The Mercator Atlas gives more guidance power to the user of the text because the users have to learn how to read the map and how to use the map. The Mercator Atlas is said to be the first atlas made in the world and it was commissioned to be used in a trip around Europe. The interaction between the user of the text and the text is a lot more personal and this supports the theory that books were first made for the day-to-day operations, in this case the text is for travel purposes, and then as time evolves books then became symbols of class hierarchy, education, etc.

The function of atlases really changed from the Mercator Atlas to the The History and Survey of London. Although both texts are about the same size 1, The History and Survey of London is a lot more extensive in that it contains details about each area, and it has a much heavier emphasis on written words. The pages I chose for the Survey of London were diverse in that one page was a map, printed with an engraved plate, and two pages were text-only. The printed map page is the complete opposite of the maps in the Mercator Atlas. The Mercator Atlas is made up of copies of other cartographer’s maps and Mercator’s hand-drawn maps. They are mostly colored and the lines and drawings are extremely intricate, with words written to identify the different areas and the different routes. Whereas the map in the Survey of London is mostly made up black lines that vary in thickness. The map in the Survey of London is not annotated which suggests that the map is not used for actual guidance during travels. The enormous size of the Survey of London leads to the conclusion that the book is used to express wealth and belonging to the upper-class.

About three centuries after the Mercator Atlas, The Rhine from Rotterdam to Constance was published. This book is a lot smaller than the other two, it appears to be a book suitable for travel to be put in a bag or a coat pocket. The maps in The Rhine from Rotterdam to Constance have some colors and have labels and identifiers for the different cities and routes which is similar to the maps in the Mercator Atlas. One form of technology that was shown in this book is the ability to embed larger pages in a smaller-sized book through the use of folded pages. Multiple maps in this book are folded into the pages in order to include descriptive and annotated maps. With a book this size, it is made for frequent usage. This process of folding larger pages into the book would have been laborious especially if thousands of copies of this book were made. The Rhine from Rotterdam to Constance is similar to the Survey of London because they both have a lot of written words and descriptions about the areas. This suggests that it may have required some navigation skills and context of the areas from the user to effectively use the maps in the Mercator Atlas, while the user of the two other texts may learn more about the geography of the areas by reading the written texts supplemental to the maps.

Analysis from close up

A lot of pages in the Mercator Atlas are composed of pieces from other cartographer’s maps and carefully arranged to fit the size of the page. If zoomed in very closely, I could see the thin lines where pieces of different maps were put together. Contrasting this with the maps made from engraved plates in the Survey of London, the Mercator Atlas took a lot more time and labor to put the book together. Additionally, Mercator added hand-drawn scales to the pages where there are white spaces in order to create an aesthetically balanced page. This further emphasizes the attention to detail required and the intricacy of the Mercator Atlas.

Stepping away from the maps and changing my focus to the written words between the Survey of London and The Rhine from Rotterdam to Constance. The Survey of London has italicized letters but they occur in blocks instead of individual words among the paragraphs. There are no bold letters and quotation marks are used at the beginning of the line instead of surrounding the paragraph or sentence to be quoted. On the other hand, The Rhine from Rotterdam and Constance shows italicized letters and bolded letters. This may have suggested that bold letters may have been a font of its own instead of an emphasis tool.


I was not able to find any watermarks despite all the close observations of the Special Collections books. This lab really changed the way I think about old texts and manuscripts and the way they are put together. In addition, I begin to think more about how the function of a book and its intended audience may change the way a book is made. Some books were made for readers to apply their knowledge such as The Mercator Atlas of Europe, some books were made more as a reference book for readers to occasionally consult upon such as The History and Survey of London, and some books were made for readers to bring on the road such as The Rhine from Rotterdam and Constance. I walked away from this lab being more appreciative and in awe of books and the evolution that has taken place from the old maps to the Google Maps we have today.

  1. According to the [January Magazine].(