Top of page

Imaginary Maps in Literature and Beyond: Introduction

Today’s post is from Hannah Stahl, a Library Technician in the Geography & Map Division.

Why would someone with an English degree have any interest in maps? Well, I’ll tell you.

No area of study occurs in a vacuum. In some of my English classes, and other classes I took for that matter, maps and atlases were integrated into our coursework and used to frame conversations about views of society. They were also used to show us where authors lived, where the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales traveled, and where Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy fell in love.

A Literary and Historical Atlas of Europe by John George Bartholomew. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
A Literary and Historical Atlas of Europe by John George Bartholomew. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Perhaps more importantly, maps and literature are more intertwined than one would believe. The first exposure I ever had to a map was in a children’s book. When I explored the Hundred Acre Wood with Christopher Robin and the gang, the map in Winnie-the-Pooh helped me lose myself in the pages of the book because I could more clearly picture the world that A.A. Milne had created.

Detail from In the Land of Winnie the Pooh." Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
Detail from In the Land of Winnie the Pooh.” Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

As Ricardo Padrón, one of the authors of Maps: Finding Our Place in the World states, “However effective words may be at helping us imagine spaces, at allowing us to enter them and inhabit them, however common and even powerful verbal mapping may be, words do not have the same impact, do not provide quite the same experience. That impact has everything to do with the seductions of seeing a world that is not our own.” Authors who choose to include maps in their works engage in world-building by laying out the geography of the places their characters inhabit. In doing so, they help their readers disappear from comfy armchairs by the fire into worlds with dragons and magic. This is absolute perfection for an English major. One famous example of this is the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Where would we be if we were not able to plot Frodo’s journey to Mordor with our own eyes? Would we lose an element of the story if these maps didn’t exist? I think so.

When authors don’t include maps in their works, sometimes their readers oblige. The drawers holding material in the Geography and Map Division are full of maps related to literature. We have maps of Shakespeare’s England, the journey of Huckleberry Finn, and maps that combine the stories of fairy tales and children’s books. This trend has been present since the Early Modern Period! Readers of Dante’s Inferno, written in the 14th century, mapped his version of Hell. It helped readers understand the nine circles of Hell Dante travels through.

The Inferno according to Dante. 15th Century. B&W photographic reproduction. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The Inferno according to Dante. 15th Century. B&W photographic reproduction. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In present day, readers map imaginary worlds online such as Panem in The Hunger Games trilogy or the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings maps received a digital update on the LotrProject, which is a site that “is dedicated to bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s works to life through creative web projects” such as interactive maps of Middle Earth.

There are even more maps available of imaginary worlds that exist outside the pages of a book. Maps are also present in video games, used to map board games, and create imaginary worlds designed specifically for satire. We’ll be exploring all of these types of maps and imaginary worlds this summer. Come revisit the Hundred Acre Wood and the other worlds of your favorite children’s stories, spend some time in medieval Europe, and run from White Walkers in Game of Thrones. Until next time, I leave you with this quote to think about:

What happens when we sit in front of a map of our hometown or of a country whose history we know very well? We travel. We revisit memories. We march in the company of armies, explorers, or peaceful protesters…What happens, then, when we come across maps of unfamiliar places, whether full of blank spots or dense with names? We explore, we imagine, we give play to our fantasies and desires.

The Secret Treaty of London

In 1915, the deadlocked battleground on the Western Front in World War I forced England and France to rethink their strategy against the Central Powers. The Allies sought to elicit military support from a then neutral Italy. In exchange for opening a front in the Alps, Italy was promised substantial amounts land in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Treaty of London, as it became known, also included promises of land to Serbia and Montenegro, as these nations were needed to help offset Bulgaria’s entrance into the war on the side of the Central Powers. The agreement was later rejected by the United States during peace negotiations and eventually nullified. In the years that followed, Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party frequently pointed to the failure to respect the treaty as a stain on Italian honor, which eventually resulted in Italy seeking to build an empire in Africa and in the Balkans. Serbia and Montenegro tried and failed to seize land they considered rightfully owed to them. The actions left simmering tensions between them and their southern neighbor Albania.

Approximative zones according to the secret Treaty of London, by Andria Radovitch. From the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division collections. Call number, G6831.F2 1915 .R3 Vault.
Approximative zones according to the secret Treaty of London, by Andria Radovitch. From the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division collections. Call number, G6831.F2 1915 .R3 Vault.

The Geography and Map Division holds a signed copy of a map illustrating portions of territorial agreements that resulted from the now infamous treaty. The map in question was created by Andria Radovitch, a Montenegrin nationalist leader who wrote political pamphlets about Montenegro’s claims for the southern half of Lake Scutari/Skadar/Shkoder and its surrounding land, which was held by Albania. Radovitch’s map was one of many presented during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, where it was not uncommon for parties to cartographically illustrate their territorial demands. Radovitch was a Deputy Prime Minister serving on behalf of the National Assembly of the State of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.

The map’s provenance begins with the author, who likely created it between 1915 and 1919. Through unascertained channels, it reached the State Department’s Division of Political and Economic Information, Geographic Section. The State Department’s Map Division received it on December 18, 1947. It was transferred to the Library of Congress on May 26, 1988. The hand-colored map is scaled 1:400,000 and is sized 45.5 x 36 cm. Radovitch’s annotations are on the left side and outline the so-called “Approximative Zones.” The pink area represents land “Alloted [sic] to Serbia and Montenegro (Valley of the Drim)” and The blue-green area was land “To eventually be allotted to Serbia and Montenegro.” The brown area illustrated the “Islamic State of Albania whose exterior relations Italy is allowed to direct” The light-green area depicted the territory “Allotted to Italy.” The map also shows a purple are representing the “Claims of Grece [sic]”

Montegro’s claims, as depicted on the map, were spelled out in Radovitch’s political treatise, The Question of Scutari. He argued on geographic grounds that the region of Scutari and Lake Scutari was Montenegrin, because the lake flowed to the Adriatic Sea by way of the Boyana River. A pathway to the sea was the right of any nation, he said. He also pointed to the presence of Serbo-Montenegrin cultural influences in the region that were manifested in place names, monuments, and architecture. He claimed that present governance of the region by Albania was nothing more than an a mere interruption of Serb-Montenegrin historic control of the land. If historical and geographic claims were not enough, he argued in the alternative that the territory was deserved payment for military efforts made on behalf of the Allied cause. The land was strategically important, as it lay in the path of the proposed Danube-Adriatic rail line. All of Radovich’s claims, however, were hotly contested by Albanian representatives.

Danube-Adriatic rail line
An enlarged portion of Radovitch’s map that highlights Scutari and the proposed Danube-Adriatic rail line.

Following intense debate in Paris in 1919, Serbia and Montenegro, which made up the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, was not granted total sovereignty over Scutari. The southern portion of the lake and lands on the southern banks remained under the control of Albania, because the United States supported the Albanian position on the issue. While the leaders talked peace in Paris, events on the ground in the Balkans unfolded differently. Following the departure of French troops in 1920, the Serb-led kingdom tried and failed to seize Scutari and other portions of Albania. Territorial issues, like the once heavily contested Scutari, remain a point of tension among these nations to this day.

A Mother’s Day Map from the Civil War

A recent Library of Congress Blog post entitled “Trending: The Mother of Mother’s Day” reminded me of one of my favorite Civil War maps.   Although Mother’s Day as we know it (greeting cards, flowers, breakfast in bed, etc.) did not exist, a Confederate soldier sought to immortalize his mother – on a battle map.

On June 10, 1861, only three months after the start of the Civil War, Confederate and Union forces met at what is considered by many to be the first land battle of the Civil War near the village of Big Bethel, Virginia. The villages of Big Bethel and Little Bethel can be seen on the map below.

Topographical sketch of the Battle of Bethel, June 10th, 1861. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.
Topographical sketch of the Battle of Bethel, June 10th, 1861. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

Fort Monroe, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, was one of the last federal strong points in southeastern Virginia and was surrounded by Confederate sympathizers and, increasingly, Confederate troops. General Benjamin Butler, in command of Union forces in the area sought to attack Confederate positions near the communities of Little Bethel and Big Bethel, Virginia, approximately 10 miles north of Fort Monroe. Over the course of the battle, Federal troops were unable to successfully dislodge the Confederate forces and were forced to retreat.

Confederate forces were elated at the victory, including the production of commemorative printed maps such as the Topographical Sketch of the Battle of Bethel, June 10, 1861 shown above. Troop positions, vegetation, notes such “Enemies Headquarters”, and both Union and Confederate flags are printed on the map. This particular map was annotated with the words “Presented to Mrs. M.E. Taylor with filial respect by her son Wm. B. Taylor.”

A Belated Happy Mother’s Day to All.

History of Cuba Through Maps Lecture at Library of Congress May 13

Architect and urban planner Julio César Pérez-Hernández will discuss the history of Cuba through cartography on May 13, 2016 at the Library of Congress.

“Islands in the Stream: Cuban Maps from the Past to the Future” will take place from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, May 13 in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event, free and open to the public, is hosted by the Philip Lee Phillips Map Society, a friends group of the Library’s Geography and Map Division.

Facsimile of the 1500 map of the world produced by Juan de la Cosa (c. 1450–1510). The original is housed at the Museo Naval de Madrid.
Facsimile of the 1500 map of the world produced by Juan de la Cosa (c. 1450–1510). The original is housed at the Museo Naval de Madrid.

Pérez-Hernández will offer a rich visual presentation—combining maps, old engravings and plans—to narrate the history of Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, and its relationship with the rest of America since colonial times. The lecture will begin with the 1500 Juan de la Cosa Map of Cuba, the first one to demonstrate that Cuba was an island, and will conclude with Perez Hernandez’s own “Master Plan for XXI Century Havana.” Anthony Páez Mullan, a cartographic reference specialist in the Library’s Geography and Map Division, will offer introductory remarks.

Pérez-Hernández describes Cuba as “the jewel of the Spanish Crown and the most desired of Spain’s overseas colonies [that] evolved from a springboard to the conquest of other territories in America, through the place where the biggest shipyards in America were once, and ultimately to the most cosmopolitan Caribbean metropolis with a strong European influence.”

Detail of Juan de la Cosa's 1500 map, showing Cuba as an island for the first time.
Detail of Juan de la Cosa’s 1500 map, showing Cuba as an island for the first time.

An international consultant at Caesar Studio / Architects and Planners in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pérez-Hernández is of Cuban descent. He was a Harvard University Loeb Fellow in 2002. He is the author of the books “Inside Havana” (2011) and “Inside Cuba” (2006), as well as the “Master Plan for XXI Century Havana.” He has been a guest lecturer and visiting scholar in the United States, Europe, Canada and Cuba.

The Philip Lee Phillips Society helps to develop, enhance and promote the collections of the Library’s Geography and Map Division by stimulating interest among map collectors, map producers, geographers, cartographers, and historians. It is named in honor of Philip Lee Phillips (1857-1924), the first Superintendent of Maps when the Library’s Hall of Maps and Charts was established in 1897.

The Library of Congress has the largest and most comprehensive collection of maps and atlases in the world, some 5.5 million cartographic items that date from the 14th century to the present time. The Library’s map collections contain coverage for every country and subject, and include the works of the most famous mapmakers throughout history—Ptolemy, Waldseemüller, Mercator, Ortelius and Blaeu.

Press contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Press contact: Ryan Moore (202) 707-7779
Request ADA accommodations five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 or [email protected]

Modern Mapping to Forecast Natural and Human-Induced Earthquakes

As a heavy user of geographic information systems in the Geography and Map Division, I am always interested to see new scientific research that fuses geography and technology in order to advance understanding of our world. Today, Worlds Revealed wanted to highlight the fascinating work of researchers at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in using geography to study earthquake hazards in the U.S.

The USGS has a long history of studying earthquakes, assessing their impacts, and investigating how to potentially forecast this hazard. Much of this work has taken place through their Earthquakes Hazard Program (which has been the subject of Library of Congress web archiving). A recent study published by the USGS produced a 1-year 2016 forecast of “seismic hazard” (or, the occurrence of earthquakes and related ground shaking) covering central and eastern portions of the United States. This forecast prominently features a series of maps to illustrate the geography of earthquake risk according to the model the researchers designed. The study also marks an important milestone: it is the first time that the analysis has considered both natural and human-induced earthquakes.

The researchers looked at spatial and temporal patterns of earthquake reports in their efforts differentiate natural from induced seismic activity. The report also references literature suggesting links between wastewater disposal practices at mining and industrial sites (particularly the injection of wastewater into subterranean disposal wells) with increases in nearby seismic activity. That said, the report is more concerned with quantifying earthquake hazards rather than exploring in-depth the causes of increased seismicity.

Altogether, the model used to create the forecast considers a wide range of variables: geology, oil and gas plays, sedimentary basins, well sites, ground-shaking data, historical earthquake rates, and other information. Through a careful consideration of these factors, the researchers arrived at a model for earthquake risk prediction and applied that model across geographic space.

One of the final outputs from the study is a map of the Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) forecast with “a 1-percent probability of exceedance in 1 year” (meaning, the likelihood of the intensity of shaking exceeding what is forecasted is one percent over the course of one year). The MMI scale describes the intensity of shaking felt in an earthquake, ranging from not-felt and weak intensities (I, II, and III) up to violent and extreme shaking (IX and X). Among numerous areas of elevated intensity risk, particularly striking areas of increased risk are central Oklahoma and the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The report issues concern over “higher hazard levels in active injection areas” across numerous states in the central U.S.

Modified Mercalli Index Map
Modified Mercalli Intensity map from 2016 One-Year Seismic Hazard Forecast. Map by United States Geological Survey 2016.

The geography of elevated shaking intensity risk shown in the MMI map is similar to that of the second major output map of the study: the chance of damage from an earthquake in 2016.

Chance of Damage From an Earthquake in 2016
“Chance of Damage From an Earthquake in 2016” map from 2016 One-Year Seismic Hazard Forecast. Map by United States Geological Survey 2016.

The study represents an important step towards more comprehensive earthquake forecasting techniques and a better understanding of earthquakes themselves. There is still much to learn in the scientific community about how human activities could be contributing to seismic events and how areas affected by increased risk of earthquakes can mitigate their effects. At the broader scale of geographic science, this study shows the power of geospatial models for not only being scientifically rigorous but also producing clear outputs that can be communicated to a wide audience.