It has been a week of highs and lows: high, having an article published (see below); low, thinking I am reading about Ordnance Survey printing processes circa 1875, only to realise I am witness to Colonialism in action. Look at the materials listed here: “a week solution of powder of Tripoli…”, “… varnished on the reverse side with Japan black”, “The plates are of the best Silesian zinc”, “… and smoothed with a piece of steatite, known in the trade as snakestone or Water of Ayr stone.” “A mixture of Paris black, Castile soap, white wax, tallow or sweet oil, and shellac …”, “Copper-plate printers’ ink consists of Frankfurt black and a little indigo or Prussian blue …”, “… three ounces of Burgundy pitch …”, “… three quarts of moderately thick gum Arabic water …”, “… finely powdered bitumen of Judea.” “… a quarter of bruised Aleppo galls in a quart of water …”. Each material named by provenance (I am beginning to interrogate text like a geographer). It was the mention of ‘Aleppo’ that had me tracking back for the other products named by the places where we meddled in people’s lives, took things from them and called it ‘trade’; sending me to the doors of despair.For me contour lines on a map represent freedom of traverse, I forget that the intention of the Ordnance Survey then was not to enable artists to go wandering in the landscape, but rather for quantifying or qualifying land for defence and attack or ownership, taxes, railways, trade: generally, the transfer of money and belongings to those who already have enough. Yet now targeted OS adverts on Facebook exhort me to eschew the gym and subscribe to their products to get into the hills; how times have changed. You follow this blog because it’s about contour lines, no? So, here’s my own ‘advert’; you could do a lot worse than give this article – free to download, and written with the wonderful Emeritus Professor Robin Johnson – a peruse over breakfast tomorrow.
Quotes and images from: Lieut.-General Sir Henry James, Account of the methods and processes adopted for the production of the maps of the Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom..., (London: Longman & Co, 1875), 175-212.