London in the World Digital Library

10 08 2009
Smiths new Map of London 1860

Smiths new Map of London 1860

By 1800, the population of London had reached one million, making it the world’s largest city. By the end of the 1900s, its population was approaching five million. The rapid growth of cities such as London created new challenges for mapmakers, including confused street names, the constant appearance of new streets and buildings, and the problem of aligning the trigonometric measurement of streets with actual measurement. Growth also created new demand for maps — from businesses, insurance companies, government agencies, and tourists. This 1860 map by C. Smith & Son shows a London much expanded from its original core along the Thames River to encompass new boroughs in all directions. The different divisions of the city are color-coded. Charles Smith was a map and globe seller, established around 1800 at 172 Strand, who specialized in maps and atlases of England. Smith’s business later was taken over by his son, and continued until well into the 20th century.

Anthropologist About Town pointed me this week to UNESCO‘s World Digital Library, where you can access archival and modern pictures from around the world. The material is searchable by topic, type of item, institution or place. Each thumbnail photograph has crucial information on the history, creation and cultural context of the picture. It is an excellent resource for teaching history, anthropology, geography and other social sciences.

There are a few documents relevant to London, including the map above. The collection is not nearly as good as the one on the British Library London Maps Exhibition website, but its a good idea and the UNESCO library contains a lot of interesting documents from other parts of the world too. Stanfords in Covent Garden is the best map shop I know of nowadays.

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