Second Edition

It was the best of sunny Highgreen that saw the launch of the second edition of the publication last Sunday. Aside from the story of the invention of contour lines – and lots of images – there’s a short piece by Sara Maitland and a longer one from Chris Fleet of the National Map Library giving an overview of how the story of contours sits within a history of cartography. It’s a good read and if you don’t have a copy already and would like one, please message or email me.

Great also was to be sent images of the models from Tim Bird. Sadly they’re boxed up again now and unlikely to see daylight till the British Cartographic Society Conference this Autumn (unless anyone knows of a venue that would be interested in hosting them?)

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Sharing Day

Sunday 23rd April between 2 and 6, the Great Lines Project will be back at Highgreen Manor, Northumberland. It’s only a small part of the next Sharing Day, the main event is artist in residence Lucy May Schofield’s beautiful new print works.

Last time I was there the contour models weren’t finished, so I will be showing these plus – with luck – the second edition of the booklet (very pleased the first sold out) which is with the printers at the moment.

If you can make it along it would be great to see you there.

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Late notice, apologies. I’m talking about the project again, this time it’s at a Research Slam in Edinburgh, (tomorrow night).

It’s free, so if you’re in the vicinity – and free – please come along:

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The Publication

The plan was to produce the Great Lines publication in time for the Opening at the Lit & Phil last June, but one of the advantages of the delay has been that I could include images from the Exhibition within it.

I am really pleased with the results which include a wonderful opening text from Chris Fleet (from the National Library of Scotland) and a closing one from Sara Maitland (Author). Sandwiched between are 26 pages of images and texts, some new, plus some that have appeared previously in the blog.If you would like to order copies, please email me for details:

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When I began the project I knew nothing of the Royal Society, what an Astronomer Royal might be or what form the wonderful ‘Philosophical Transactions’ took (which have supplied so much of my source material). The learning process – particularly the kindness of librarians and curators – has whetted my appetite both for research and writing; I have found the processes; shaping and editing of a sentence, akin to sculpting.geoconnect

Last week I took the show to GeoConnect in London; it was a strange experience talking about the work to a background ‘drone’ of UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles). But I met a huge number of fascinating people enthused by the project, but who might not normally enter a gallery: ‘breathtakingly beautiful’, ‘fantastic’, ‘great talk’, ‘inspired me as an ex-cartographer’ were just some of the comments. And thank you for those who tweeted about it (I can’t write in short enough sentences).geoconnect-2The Conference saw the launch of the publication – more on that later – but having not written in a while, I just wished to add a huge thank you to all those who have supported the project to date.

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Chain of Custody

The earliest map visited on my travels is of a navigation channel for the Spaarne by Pieter Bruins, Bruinsz or Bruinszoon in 1584. The dotted line marked ‘7 voet’ probably denotes water ‘deeper than’ and as such I consider it neither contour nor isobath (though the map is very lovely indeed). It’s unlikely that my personal shining star Pierre Ancelin knew of it when he invented isobaths over 100 years later. Information on him is hard to come by, there’s every chance he was a Huguenot, an article I have says he was ‘trained in France’ before going to work as ‘Town Surveyor’ in Rotterdam. Picked for his knowledge of water systems and the use of dams and other methods to reposition water flows, his contract was to create a series of scientific maps so the town elders could take effective measures to avoid the sanding up of channels. His employers were happy with the results, because his temporary contract was made permanent in 1698.How do I know this much? For each pocket of knowledge – as with ideas and inventions – there appears to me to be a ‘chain of custody’: David Fairbairn (Newcastle University) recommended visiting Peter van der Krogt (Amsterdam University), who in turn gave me an article about Ancelin written by Bertus Woude… in Dutch. I looked at the pictures and recognised dates, places and the odd word. Then whilst on mini-residency at VARC I happened to mention the article to friend and local resident Jan Ashdown who put me in touch with sheep farmer Peter Samsom who, being Dutch and shortly to embark on a long train journey, was happy to be given some diverting reading matter. A week later I met him in the Rocky Road Café where he managed a very elegant synopsis of Woude’s 19 pages over a pot of tea. There are probably easier ways of doing research, I like this way.

Certain books on cartography from the 1980’s suggest it was the Italian Luigi Marsigli  who invented Isobaths, and indeed he did! (Around 10 years after Ancelin). So Ancelin and Marsigli both – independently – invented Isobaths; Nicolaus (Kruik or) Cruquius did not, although he claims to have done: it is clear he had seen Ancelin’s beautiful manuscript maps and also met with Marsigli on his visit to Holland. Cruquius ‘popularised’ isobaths, he was the first to promote the idea of them, and he wrote extensively on ‘his’ invention, but that actual ‘light-bulb’ moment was not his to claim.chain of custody cruquius

I’m not even sure how important it is to be ‘first’ to think something; perhaps Cruquius is just as important as the disseminator of an idea: how to convey height or depth with a line.

Then there’s that giant step, or leap, out of the water; how to survey for and accurately position a line of equal altitude on dry land… or mountainside.

Did our Charles Hutton ‘invent’ Contour Lines without prior knowledge of Isobaths? It’s possible Henry Cavendish (who most certainly knew of them) tipped him the nod, I’d love to know. So Tuesday I’m away to Cambridge University Library to have a dig about in the Royal Greenwich Observatory’s archives, perhaps there’s a notebook, librarian or indeed a sheep farmer who can throw some light on my quest.

With kind acknowledgements to the Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland, Rotterdam Stadsarchief and Leiden University for access to their archives and permission to use the photographs here.

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Illuminated Contours

In lieu of the publication – which is still not ready – I created an exhibition ‘Companion’ which I’ve seen quite a few library visitors reading (by the way, the Library is closed this Saturday so the last opportunity to visit the exhibition is Friday). Within the ‘Companion’ is a short piece by David Fairbairn from the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University. For those unable to visit I have added it here:

As is evident from Karen Rann’s Great Lines project, a pattern of contour lines can be used to quantitatively model a rigorous framework for terrain, but can also be applied more impressionistically to convey a sense of the shape and variations of the earth’s surface.

Mapmakers have no control over the location of the contour lines which represent reality, but their graphical appearance can be modified to give particular effects.  For example, the colour of a contour line on a standard topographic map can be used to reflect the nature of the surface: blue contour lines over ice, black contour lines over rock, brown contour lines over soil:D FairbairnOther characteristics of lines, such as form (dashed lines, continuous lines) and thickness, can be used to modify the appearance of the contour pattern.  An effective combination, varying colour/shade and thickness, is that proposed by Japanese cartographer Kitiro Tanaka in the 1950s.  Sometimes called ‘illuminated contours’, this method of rendering the contour lines shows them lighter if they are on a terrain slope facing towards the north-west, and darker on slopes facing south-east.  In addition, the lines are made slightly thicker if they face directly north-west or south-east, and thinner otherwise.  The example here shows this method applied to the contours of Schiehallion: the result is a pseudo-three-dimensional portrayal of the terrain surface, helping with the interpretation of the contour pattern.D Fairbairn 2I particularly wanted to include his piece as this image ties in so nicely with my models which are also examples of ‘illuminated contours’.

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