Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line opens at the British Library

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Major new exhibition looks at the history of the 20th century through its maps for the first time, shedding new light on familiar events, from global conflicts to the depths of the ocean floor – and even the mapping of outer space.
Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line will explore how 20th century maps shaped the ways we see the world we live in.
The exhibition will celebrate the rare beauty and astonishing variety of 20th century maps. From the first sketch of the London Underground from 1931, to declassified Ministry of Defence maps, Ordnance Survey maps from the 1920s, a Russian moon globe and the first map of Hundred Acre Wood.

Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line opens at the British Library on 4 November 2016. From questions of war and peace, to understanding the movements of people, nature, and even the financial markets, it will explore how maps became increasingly present in 20th century lives.

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The exhibition looks at the spectacular advances in the technology of mapping across the century, from the land surveys of 1900 to the development of satellite imagery by 2000. For the first time, we could see from the Atlantic Ocean floor to the far side of the Moon.

Telling the history of the 20th century in maps allows us to reconsider the recent past from different perspectives. After all, there is more than one way to read a map.

Exhibition highlights include:

3D relief models of the Western Front from 1917, on display for the first time
A dress made out of World War II escape maps printed on silk
Secret Cold War maps by the Ministry of Defence
An early sketch for the map of the London underground railway system, 1931
Aerial photograph of Liverpool with targets marked in red, from a booklet of British industrial targets for Luftwaffe operations from 1940
E.H. Shepard’s map of the Hundred Acre Wood, first published on the endpapers of A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in 1926
Navigational stick chart, produced in the Marshall Islands c.1900.
A Russian moon globe produced in 1961
A map of the Atlantic Ocean Floor by Heinrich Berann, from June 1968
John Betjeman’s personal set of Ordnance Survey maps

Tom Harper, lead curator of Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line at the British Library, said:

“Maps intrigue and astonish us, and Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line will give a captivating and sometimes unexpected take on our recent past. Maps always reflect the motivations of their creators, and we will be looking at how maps were used not only as sources of information, but as tools of power and influence.

“The British Library has one of the world’s leading map collections, so we are the perfect place to explore why our enthusiasm for maps is so enduring, using powerful and surprising examples from across the world.”

For images, please visit the British Library press office website.

The exhibition is accompanied by a season of events exploring how maps continue to shape and influence the world we live in, exploring themes of fictional maps, political propaganda and transport.

Highlights include:

Fantastic Maps: From Winnie the Pooh to Game of Thrones – In this celebration of fictional maps, writer and broadcaster Brian Sibley explores some of the classic maps of fictional landscapes and publisher David Brawn looks at the worlds created by Tolkien and C S Lewis. We are also joined by cartographer and artist Jonathan Roberts, creator of the superb official maps of Westeros and Essos, from George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

Great Escapes: Mapping War from WW2 to Sarajevo – Former BBC correspondent Kate Adie, hosts the evening with speakers including Barbara Bond, who reveals the extraordinary world of the silk escape maps smuggled by MI9 into WW2 prisons, and Miran Norderland, who has led the documentation of the 1990s siege of Sarajevo through powerful maps and other media.

Global Conquest: How Railways took over the World – In 1830, the world’s first railway opened between Liverpool and Manchester. By the end of the century, there were 200,000 miles of track across the world, and this continued unabated into the 20th century, with the world’s longest, the Trans-Siberian, completed in 1916. By the time Harry Beck produced his influential London Underground map in 1933, cities and whole countries had been re-shaped by the possibilities of mass transit. Author, commentator and railway historian Christian Wolmar charts how the iron road spread so rapidly and extensively.

Further events coming up in 2017 will include Grayson Perry, one of Britain’s best known artists, who has used maps widely in his tapestries, ceramics and graphics, as well as another of the British Library’s hugely popular Late at the Library events, Late at the Library: You Are Here, an interactive night of games, new technology and sound-tracked by DJ Bob Stanley (St Etienne). More details will be announced soon.

To coincide with the opening of Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, the British Library is launching its new Membership scheme. Members get unlimited free access to the exhibition, along with benefits including access to the new exclusive Members’ Room, access to the Knowledge Centre Bar and a range of discounts in our restaurants, cafés, Box Office and shops.

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