Some of the world's most magnificent maps, including the first ever printed map of Scotland, are on show in a new exhibition that challenges our understanding of how maps work.
'You are Here: A journey through maps' takes visitors through several centuries of mapping and across distant continents in an exploration of their place in the world. It is a journey of discovery as the exhibition explains how cartographers have mapped the world from city streets in Scotland to the shoreline of South America.
The journey will take visitors through five locations from Edinburgh to Scotland, onto Great Britain, Europe and, finally, the world. Each location will feature famous or intriguing maps and will ask questions to challenge our acceptance of what we see within them.
The exhibition provides a showcase for some of the most important maps in the Library's world-class collection, several of which will be blown up to fill whole walls and allow visitors to marvel at the detail contained within.
- The first ever printed map of Scotland from 1560
- A beautiful double hemisphere world map, from the famous Blaeu Atlas of 1660
- One of the finest plans of Edinburgh from 1896
- A Victorian school room map of Europe.
'Maps are everywhere — on our phones, in our cars and pockets, on walls, bus stops and adverts — but how much do we really know about them?' said Map Curator Paula Williams, who has developed the exhibition.
'They help to shape how we see and understand the world but they are not completely objective instruments — they are created by individuals, often with specific aims in mind. I hope visitors to the exhibition will be thrilled to see the marvellous maps on show but will also learn more about both the usefulness and the limitations of different types of maps.'
How are hills shown on a flat piece of paper? Why does north traditionally appear at the top of maps? What is the grid in a grid reference? Do maps go out of date? How are decisions made on what to include on a map and what to leave out? These are just some of the questions that the exhibition will seek to answer using the maps on display.
As well as challenging people's view of maps, the exhibition will provide a series of fun tasks to test the map skills of visitors. This will include using the scale on selected maps to calculate the distance to popular destinations. People will be able to create their own map symbol and search through old places names to try to identify what they are called today. Images from the Library's collection will also be used to ask visitors to identify the location being featured.
The creation of maps involves a careful selection process which downplays some features and exaggerates others to achieve the desired outcome.
'You can get much more out of maps if you understand how they are constructed,' said Paula. 'I hope that after people visit the exhibition they will be much more questioning of the maps in their pockets or their phones and not treat them as the absolute truth.'
In addition to historic maps, the exhibition features a number of more unusual maps including one charting the smells that waft over modern day Edinburgh; a map of Scotland where place names have been replaced by phrases revealing the original meaning of these names and the first ever map to show population density across the UK.
'You are Here' runs from 22 July-3 April next year at George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. Entry is free.
[Update, March 2017: The maps exhibition run has been extended to 17 April.]
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21 July 2016