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May 6

Take a Journey Into One of the World’s Most Impressive Map Collections

Peek inside the Bodleian Library’s Map Room.

In 1851, Edward Stanford published an unusual map of London. It looks south across the capital, and depicts a landscape undulating with details: streets, canals, parks and of course, the twisting Thames. But it’s the perspective that is most intriguing—it is etched as though viewing the city from a hot air balloon over Hampstead.

The timing of the map’s publication coincided with the first day of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Amid the wonders of industry on display at the Crystal Palace, the map clearly still resonated with Victorian audiences: reissues continued for over twenty years. Today, an original is held at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Map Room.

The map collection at the Bodleian Library is one of the world’s largest, containing over a million maps from the early medieval ages to the 21st century. A new book, Treasures from the Map Room: A Journey Through the Bodleian Collections, chronicles the history and stories behind 75 of the Library’s most impressive maps. Highlights include an 11th century world map from the Book of Curiosities, and Britain’s first road map from 1675. Atlas Obscura has images of these, and more.

The Selden Map of China, likely early 17th century.
The Selden Map of China, likely early 17th century.
<em>The Kingdom of France...as an Oak</em>, 1796.
The Kingdom of France…as an Oak, 1796.
A world map, c. 1200, from the <em>Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes</em>.
A world map, c. 1200, from the Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes.
Map of the road from London to Aberystwyth, 1675, part of the first road atlas of Britain.
Map of the road from London to Aberystwyth, 1675, part of the first road atlas of Britain.
From 1944, a D-Day map of Cherbourg.
From 1944, a D-Day map of Cherbourg.
Map of New England and New York, from <em>The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine </em>1676.
Map of New England and New York, from The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine 1676.
A map of Cholera in Oxford in 1854, "showing the localities in which cholera & choleraic diarrhœa occurred in 1854, and cholera in 1832 & 1849; together with the parts of the town described as unhealthy".
A map of Cholera in Oxford in 1854, “showing the localities in which cholera & choleraic diarrhœa occurred in 1854, and cholera in 1832 & 1849; together with the parts of the town described as unhealthy”.
A 1904 Northern Pacific Railway map of Yellowstone National Park.
A 1904 Northern Pacific Railway map of Yellowstone National Park.