'Mapping Scotland's History: Maps Don't Just Tell Us Where Things Are, They Also Provide Unique Insights into How Things Were at the Time the Map Was Produced. Christopher Fleet, Margaret Wilkes and Charles WJ Withers, Authors of Scotland: Mapping the Nation, Discuss Four Depictions of the Nation through Its History

Article excerpt


Maps don't present a simple, clear correspondence with the world 'out there', but something much more interesting and revealing--if more difficult to interpret in a straightforward way. They reduce and select from the world, they embellish and enhance it, but they also misrepresent and distort it; and in doing so, they promote particular ways of seeing it.

Over time, as both the makers and users of maps have radically changed, these ways of seeing the world have completely altered, too. In Scotland's case, an examination of the different forms taken by the country in its maps can reveal profound insights not only into Scotland's history, but also into the importance of maps in shaping the image of Scotland as a nation.

On the one hand, Scotland's maps form part of a broader European cultural heritage. Many international themes that also affect other countries--for example, exploration and discovery, military conquest and geopolitical struggles, the commodification of resources and the land, economic globalisation and mobility--can be seen played out in maps of Scotland. But on the other hand, many of the particularities of Scotland's history--military conflict with England, France and Germany, the Act of Union. the Jacobite rebellions, the Clearances, Tartanry, the impacts of hydro-electric dams and North Sea oil, and mass tourism--are well illustrated through maps.

Maps help to frame the pictures that people have of Scotland and help to illuminate our understanding of the relationships between things and places. In these and in other ways, maps are fascinating and vital documents and that is why they have played a pivotal role in Scottish history.


Nicolaes Visscher, Exactissima Regni Scotiae tabula tam in septentrionalem et meridionalem ... (1689) This glorious representation of Scotland by the leading Amsterdam mapmaker Nicolaes Visscher coincided with the beginning of the joint reign in Scotland of William and Mary The mapmaker's clever use of colour in depicting the boundaries and areas of Scotland's provinces, as well as the inclusion of the symbols of kingship and nationhood--lion, unicorn, crown and royal insignia with suitably gilded embellishment--add immeasurably to the grand effect of the map. During the 17th century, the Low Countries and France dominated world cartography, producing sumptuous atlases for a small market of affluent patrons, and both mapmakers and map users had very limited direct knowledge of the countries depicted. The geography of Scotland shown here is primarily the result of original survey work carried out about a century earlier by Timothy Pont, who had died before his maps of Scotland were engraved and published.



John Bartholomew, New Plan of Glasgow with Suburbs ... (1884)

The Edinburgh-based Bartholomew firm published a number of urban maps with colourful overlays to illustrate particular themes and causes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This map has been skilfully crafted in support of the temperance movement, presenting a mass of red danger in the form of numerous public houses and licensed grocers, barely checked by the scattering of churches and branches of the Glasgow United Young Men's Christian Association. An accompanying statistical table reinforces the moral and cartographic message: in 1884, Glasgow had 1,485 public houses and 263 licensed grocers. In that year alone, there were 22,364 cases of assault and 14,366 people were arrested for being drunk and incapable. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.