23 Jul 2009

Map of the Month Jul 09 - Haddington Embroidery Map

The previous Map of the Month – Horizonless Manhattan, featured the latest hi-tech computer mapping and visualisation techniques. This month’s map uses one of the earliest media forms – embroidery. Belinda Kane combined her cartographic, needlework and craft skills to produce the stunning map of Haddington. She describes the map and how it was created.


Click on the map to enlarge

You would think when I stop working on maps at the end of the day I would do something completely different to relax. Embroidery can be just as detailed and as hard on the eyes, but I find I can lose myself in the stitchery and plan at least three more designs while working on the one at hand. Plus I can put off the housework for a bit!

This map came about in response to a challenge called ‘Townscape’ as part of my local Embroiderers’ Guild exhibition, held during the Haddington Fair in East Lothian. The deadline was the key factor in my mind (thinking of work again) so I couldn’t tackle a large piece, hence the finished size is 19 x 17 cm, including the frame. The county town itself seemed an ideal place to try and represent as a map in stitch.

The background fabric is hand-dyed, which I did some time ago. The shaded threads I bought on holiday in Cape Town – cheap, light and small to pack (the air miles must be tremendous as the undyed thread originated in France)! The gold threads, forming the road network, are couched down on the surface of the work, as are the blue metallic threads of the river Tyne. Fortunately the scale prevented me from having to tackle the slip roads and roundabouts off the new A1 bypass. Generalisation is a wonderfully elastic concept!

I made the frame as well and I felt I was back in an episode of Blue Peter. Using plastic canvas cut to size, you then stitch the building shapes with thin string, creating a 3-D effect by covering with tissue paper soaked with PVA glue. When dry it is painted with acrylic paints and highlighted with gold.

Not surprisingly it was the only map entry and drew lots of comments which included the inevitable ‘my road is not on’!

So, what’s next? I’m now working on a map of the world, using the unusual
Atlantis projection, the completion is some way off – it depends on how much free time I get!

Belinda Kane
Freelance Cartographic Editor

17 Jul 2009

Letters to the Editor – Why is our area so small?

In creating the maps for a world atlas, decisions have to be made on which areas of the world to show at which levels of detail. The key factor in this decision-making process is map scale – the relationship between distances or areas on the map and the equivalent distances or areas on the ground.

The scale factor
Scale determines the level of detail that can be shown. Larger scales allow more local detail to be included, but as scale decreases more cartographic and editorial decisions have to be made on which elements to omit, and which to simplify or generalise so that they are legible and understandable at the smaller scale. In a world atlas, 1:1,000,000 would be considered to be large scale – 1 cm on the map equating to 1,000,000 cm (10 km) on the ground – whilst regional and continental maps would be shown at smaller scales, for example 1:30,000,000.


Large scale 1:1,000,000 1cm=10km Times Comprehensive 12th edition


Medium scale 1:5,000,000 1cm=50km Times Comprehensive 12th edition


Small scale 1:28,000,000 1cm=280km Times Universal Atlas

Choice of scale directly relates to the size of the map and therefore to the overall size, or format, of the atlas itself. The page size can be a very limiting factor in choosing the scales at which particular areas can sensibly be mapped. It would take a very thick ‘pocket-sized’ atlas to map even the whole of Europe at 1:1,000,000.

Choosing which scales to use
The question therefore arises of which areas of the world to show at which map scales. Or, to put it another way, which areas should we show in more detail than others? Which regions are more important in the users’ eyes, which ones warrant more detail, which ones just make nice looking maps? Is the Middle East more important than Japan? What proportion of the atlas should be devoted to Europe, and how much to less familiar regions? One radical approach taken by some atlas publishers – or perhaps just a cunning way of avoiding hard decisions! – is to show the whole world at the same scale. Whilst allowing direct comparisons of distances and areas across the globe, this method takes no account of the variations in population density, communications networks, complexity of settlement pattern, etc. So vast empty areas of northern Siberia are mapped at the same scale as the New York area, with the resultant massive compromises on the level of detail which can be included in the latter. In preference to this approach, we aim to find the best relationship between scale, the amount of information on the ground which we think should be shown, and the perceived relative importance of a region. There is no magic formula to this and correspondents are often keen to influence our decisions.

One regular contributor of editorial ideas (which we always welcome) suggested four criteria to work by: the ‘marketability’ of an atlas in a certain area – which areas are important to who we think will be the main buyers; the ‘news value’ – are there particular regions currently in the news and of topical interest; ‘Points of interest’ (a tourist aspect – which places can be expected to be shown); and ‘population density’ – implying larger scales for more densely populated regions. Each of these has value, but not all are practical – the news agenda, for example, changes far more frequently than the content of printed atlases can.

Obviously not everyone will be happy with the final set of maps and their scales – users commonly judge the overall value of an atlas by how well it deals with their home area. ‘Why do you practise this “discrimination”?’ I was asked, in relation to our map of the Balkan region at the scale of 1:2.5M. Much of the rest of Europe was mapped in more detail at the larger scale of 1:1M. Accusations of a particular ‘cultural perception’ and ‘lack of interest on your side’ were made. It would be a sad day indeed when ‘lack of interest’ on an editor’s part determined which areas would be mapped, or resulted in some areas being left out altogether!

Feedback leads to a new 'spread'
When the first digitally produced Millennium Edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World was published in 1999, it was the first time we had completely reviewed the coverage and scale of its maps since its first edition in 1967 (they had all been constantly revised since then, I hasten to add). A long-standing map of Alaska was dropped in favour of increased coverage of central Asia and other regions judged to be of greater interest. Numerous complaints were received – why was this unique part of the USA mapped at a much smaller scale than the contiguous states? As a result, we created a brand new map of Alaska for the 12th Edition in 2007 at the expense of a map of central Chile and Argentina – we await a deluge of letters from Buenos Aires, Santiago and everywhere in between with trepidation…


The new Alaska 'spread' is also included in the forthcoming Times Concise Atlas 11th edition (published Sep 09) shown above, click to enlarge.

Mick Ashworth
Ashworth Maps and Interpretation Ltd
Consultant Editor to The Times Atlas of the World

14 Jul 2009

Collins mapping shows EuroRAP Risk Rating of Britain's Roads

Rob Schouppe, our Data Sales Director, represented Collins Geo at the EuroRAP 2009 Results presentation held at the Houses of Parliament on the 25th June. He provided a couple of photographs to illustrate his visit, click on the images to enlarge.

A number of speakers including MP Paul Clark, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport discussed the report - Measuring and mapping the safety of Britain's motorways and A roads.

‘Road crashes cost Britain a staggering 1.5% of GDP. Car occupants account for some 70% of road deaths. Nearly two-thirds are killed outside urban areas with deaths concentrated on Britain’s forgotten A road network.’

The European Road Assessment Programme (
EuroRAP) is an international non-profit association. Its members are motoring organisations, national and regional road authorities, and experts. It aims to provide independent, consistent safety ratings of roads across borders. The Road Safety Foundation is the UK based charity responsible for the EuroRAP in the UK and Ireland.

Collins mapping was used in the report, posters and the on the large map of Risk Rating of Britain’s Motorways and A Roads, hanging behind the speakers. This map specially prepared by Collins is featured in a number of atlases in the new
2010 Road Atlas Britain range.

10 Jul 2009

Letters to the Editor – Where’s our town?

Decisions, decisions…
The editorial task facing cartographers creating world atlases, or indeed pretty much any map, is really one of deciding what information to show and how. In practical terms, the more difficult decision is often not what to show but what to leave out. Map scale is a key factor determining the amount of information that can sensibly be shown on a map, which, together with the perceived purpose and use of the map makes the decision-making process quite involved. This is particularly relevant in today’s age of endless, readily-available geographic information which users may expect to see.

Once such editorial decisions have been made, and the information selected and depicted on a map, user reaction will inevitably follow. In my experience as editor of The Times Atlas of the World, and Collins world atlases, these reactions can range from the extreme to the bizarre, from the positive to the threatening. If a user finds a piece of information they doubt or disagree with, there is a danger they will then lose trust in the atlas as a whole, and there is a danger for the editor that they will receive a letter or e-mail …

In a series of brief blog posts I will look at the types of complaints and letters we commonly receive, and have been receiving for some time – some issues dear to correspondents’ hearts have not changed in decades of atlas publishing. Such correspondence gives an interesting insight into what users expect of an atlas, what issues they judge to be important, and provide lessons for any atlas editor.

Letters to the Editor – Where’s our town?
The tiny town of Twizel on South Island, New Zealand could not be expected to be particularly contentious, but it is an important place. Particularly to its residents – one of whom was ‘…horrified that my home town of Twizel is not on the map.’ What made things worse was that on this particular map (which was presumably, and hopefully, not the most recent edition) other local rival towns were shown, including one, Lake Pukaki, which had since been drowned by the creation of a reservoir. Even Burke’s Pass, ‘…population 40 on a good day’ was shown, but not the relative metropolis of Twizel – ‘…population about 1,000, 2 policemen, 2 doctors, shops, etc, etc’. I am sure I must have passed through the place when I travelled around New Zealand about fifteen years ago, but must have blinked. I would love to return to give it the attention it deserves and to see just what the ‘etc, etc’ actually are.



Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 12th ed, 2007

This question of local rivalry is not unique to New Zealand, and can arise anywhere. Obviously for a cartographer working on an atlas in Bishopbriggs near Glasgow, it is difficult to judge the relative merits and qualifications of neighbouring places halfway across the world, but is it any easier nearer to home?

One disgruntled customer suggested that ‘…you will have to withdraw all of your atlas books’. The reason? His home town of Bridport in Dorset was not shown on the map, an omission for which he hoped we had a ‘very substantial reason for all those who still live there’. Again, local comparison added weight to the argument – ‘Lyme Regis is much smaller but is clearly shown’. The relative size of towns can similarly upset people – ‘Swindon is shown as a small town…It is larger than Poole, Bournemouth and Torquay…Ipswich, Norwich, Oxford, Blackpool, etc’.

All these examples point to real issues for an editor relating to the selection of settlements, and the criteria by which these choices are made. Population will not be the only factor, and even the way in which town populations are measured can lead to further confusions anyway, for example with suburbs of large towns sometimes being included within a town’s census figures, sometimes not. We also need to take account of, for example, administrative status, strategic importance (settlements at key road junctions in very remote areas, for example), historical significance and ‘profile’ (how well known a place is, whether it is currently in the news, would users expect it to be shown – Chamonix is not particularly large and has no administrative importance within France, yet even a small-scale map of the Mont Blanc area would be lacking without it). Editors, whether they appreciate it or not, have enormous power in making these judgements, but they can be sure that users are very sensitive to the way places dear to their hearts are shown (or not).

Mick Ashworth
Ashworth Maps & Interpretation Ltd
Consultant Editor to The Times Atlas of the World

7 Jul 2009

John George Bartholomew - Discover the man and his maps

‘The legacy of John George Bartholomew is still held in high regard in cartographic circles, with an enduring respect for the man that is forged from his many significant achievements.’

Issue 12 of 'Discover' the magazine of the National Library of Scotland (NLS) has an article on the private papers of Scottish cartographer John G Bartholomew. Written by Karla Baker, the Bartholomew Archive assistant at the NLS it portrays the man who presided over John Bartholomew & Son Ltd’s most productive period.

Research into the extensive collection of personal items and written accounts held by the NLS Bartholomew Archive reveal his unique and personal legacies, significant achievements, romantic temperament and creative flair.

See pages 18-21 of
Discover NLS issue 12 (1.6 MB PDF, 27 pages)