The National Library of Scotland received a crumpled plastic bag, filled with fragments of something, that had been found stuffed up a chimney. The bag contained a 17th century map, which had decomposed over the years into a state resembling confetti. The restoration job done by the library is nothing short of astonishing, and the accompanying video below provides an interesting look at the map as a historical document, more important for the stories it tells us about the world at its time than the geography it presents.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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3 Thoughts on "Restoring a 17th Century Map and the Stories It Tells Us"

Who’d of thunk that stuffing a large wadded up map up a chimney to block a draft would turn out to be an archiving method? Apparently a better method than that used for the companion copies since none of those survived. Hat’s off to the archivists who painstakingly restored it and thought ahead to arrange video of their efforts. Thanks for sharing it here.
It made me imagine up a scenario where the Scottish librarians of the 1700s had space problems and were told that they needed to cull their collections. This large 8-sheet map was taking up excessive space relative to the number of times it had been retrieved by the librarians for their patrons. It was a 1690 edition was clearly inferior to more modern, accurate versions based on better science, and the publisher had further wasted valuable map space with all manner of dramatic and whimsical embellishments. This is not proper cartography for an enlightened age. Throw that non-scientific clutter out of our library! Further, this London-based map maker plagiarized the base material from a Dutch publisher without attribution. (There seems to be a venerable tradition of pirating from and disparaging leading Dutch publishing houses.) Out with it!
Library special collections and museum holdings can be a special problem in a digitally focused age. By their nature they get limited use and administrators may not see much value in the cost of archiving and curation. Data archiving isn’t just about digital data or even records. Ice cores, rock cores, tissues, plant and animal collections are data too. The problem is that the costs of curating retaining such data types are here and now, and the uncertain potential future value of such collections is to someone else. It can be a hard sell, and valuable holdings may find themselves stuffed up chimneys.

  • Chris Mebane
  • Jan 6, 2017, 8:47 AM

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