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Maps for a Small Country

An exhibition of historical maps and atlases of Scotland,
held in Glasgow University Library, June - August 1991
16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century

Maps are produced for a variety of purposes and in a variety of formats. In an obvious way, they are used to guide travellers, to show property boundaries, to illustrate local histories and to plan future development but, more subtly, they can also be seen to reflect their owner's wealth and position - hence, the beautiful calligraphy and engraving and the fine binding of the eleven volumes of the Blaeu Atlas Major (1662) or the detailed naming of the gentry on many county surveys. In addition, maps are the product of consumer demand and help illustrate areas or subjects of topical interest.

This exhibition of thirty maps seeks to display a cross-section of the University Library's Scottish holdings and, thereby, give an impression of their variety. Although a poor country on the edge of European culture Scotland has a unique position in the history of cartography and has produced many map-makers of international renown. Here are displayed manuscripts and printed sheets, large-scale volumes from atlases of the world and pocket books of individual counties, coastal charts, town plans and other thematic delineations. The individual items also reflect something of the nation's history - most clearly seen in the maps of the colonial failure in Panama and the battle plan of Prestonpans.

Detail of map showing part of the Shetland Islands. Published in 1749 as part of Geographia Scotiae: being new and correct maps of all the counties and islands in the Kingdom of Scotland.


Additionally, the exhibits display a variety of perceptions towards maps from that of a work of art in the elegant framed example of Darien to the unique Adair manuscript bound in at the end of his sea atlas. With the onset of the nineteenth century came an increase in ''improving'' maps of geological and soil formations and of social issues. It is indeed significant to note the Perry example of the map produced as therapy. Finally, and in a lighter vein, Stevenson's Treasure Island reminds us that maps should be seen as sources not only of information but also entertainment - an opportunity to dream!

1991 marked the bi-centenary of the creation of the Ordnance Survey in 10th July 1791. This body came into existence largely through the ideas and proposals of Major-General William Roy for the complete triangulation of the British Isles. Roy, most closely associated with the Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-55, was born at Miltonhead near Carluke and his brother James graduated at the University of Glasgow - it was, therefore, most fitting that the University should mount an exhibition of maps in 1991.

Introduction and catalogue written by John N Moore, April 1991
(Adapted for the web in 2006 by Sarah Hepworth)