Tuesday 2 October 2012

Visit to the UL Map Department, 21st September 2012

A very dreary, wet Friday evening was brightened up by the first CLG visit of the academic year (and my first trip with the group!). After the wonderful refreshments, we were very kindly introduced to the Map Department of the University Library by Head Librarian, Anne Taylor, and Deputy Head, Andrew Alexander. Andrew gave a masterfully succinct summation of each item in the exhibition, which was very helpful in understanding the breadth of their map collection. The exhibited items themselves ranged from sixteenth century technicolour maps of Cambridge, to aerial maps used as decoys for the enemy in World War Two, to interesting modern map paraphernalia. It was a sheer delight!

My personal favourite was Abraham Ortelius' map, Islandia (ca. 1596), depicting Iceland itself, but also the hazardous beasties that were imagined to live off the coast. Each unusual monster was marked by a letter, which led the reader to an index with descriptions of their fearsome attributes. I was disappointed I didn't get time to read through the entire page!

The Soviet Military map of Cambridge, dating from 1989 (!), was equally fascinating. Areas of industrial or military interest were highlighted, along with vulnerable points, such as bridges. It really demonstrated the importance of mapmaking in a broader context.

Despite the fact that I was an MPhil student in Cambridge and spent half my time in the University Library, I had never dared to enter the Map Department. Now I'll certainly be going back to chart my next holiday!

Thank you to the committee and to Anne and Andrew for a brilliant evening. I look forward to the next CLG event!

By Kirsten Southard, Library Graduate Trainee at Newnham College Library