Scotland: Mapping the nation

New book shows Scotland as never before

The changing face of Scotland is revealed in a fascinating new book that looks at the country in a way it has never been seen before.

'Scotland: Mapping the nation' shows how maps reveal the nation's history and how Scotland has been viewed differently over time from the first Roman maps to the modern 'satnav' age.

The book, which brings together many historic and unusual maps for the first time, is published by Birlinn in association with the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and includes:

  • A Soviet map of Greenock pinpointing factories and military installations
  • The first road maps from the 17th century
  • Temperance maps showing the location of public houses
  • Specially designed maps for blind people
  • The extensive tram network in Glasgow in the last century.

It is the first book to take Scotland's map and mapping seriously as a form of history and is described by the celebrated historian T C Smout as 'a real eye opener' which may change forever the way people think of Scotland.

The book relies heavily on maps from the NLS collection. The maps have been expertly selected to reveal different aspects of life in Scotland and to show — among other things — how land use has changed over time; how towns defended themselves against attack; how roads and railways developed and how science has left its mark.

Today, maps are mainly used to guide us round unfamiliar places or as a means of getting from one place to another. In the past it was very different. Maps then were the preserve of the elite and were used as statements of political authority or expressions of the shape of a nation. They were often regarded as state secrets as they contained valuable information such as the location of ports and forts or the line of a border.

All this and more is captured in the book which is beautifully illustrated with more than 230 full colour plates. It takes a thematic approach with chapters on Scotland occupied and defended; towns and urban life; the changing countryside; travel and communications; popular culture and mapping science. The images are explained in their historical, intellectual and geographical context.

Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland, one of the three authors of the book, said: 'What we have tried to do is show how maps can be used as a window into Scottish history. This book has been designed not for the specialist map enthusiast but for anyone who is interested in learning more about the story of Scotland.'

Chris added: 'Every map is a work of art and of science. Maps help frame the pictures people have of the world and help illuminate our understanding of the relationships between things and places. In these and in other ways, maps are fascinating and vital documents and that is why they play — and have played — an intrinsic part in most people's lives.'

'Scotland: Mapping the nation' will be available from 3 October, priced £30.
Authors: Chris Fleet, Margaret Wilkes, and Charles W J Withers

22 September 2011

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