Magazine article Geographical

Oxford: Mapping the City

Magazine article Geographical

Oxford: Mapping the City

Article excerpt

OXFORD: Mapping the City

by Daniel MacCannell; Birlinn; 30 [pounds sterling] (hardback)

By the late 10th century, Oxford was the crossroads of England, writes Daniel MacCannell, holding key positions on the east/west and north/ south trade routes, and enjoying an enviable riverside location: its importance pre-dates the existence of the university. This collection of charts and maps, chronologically arranged, explores the city's changing role over the centuries, and the manifold ways in which maps can be used to reveal and conceal geographical truths.

Oxford was the Royalist capital during the Civil War, and was altered to fit, with new fortifications constructed along its walls; a map of the time--drawn by one Sir Bernard de Gomme in 1644--differs so much from another contemporary source that it might plausibly have been intended to misinform the enemy.

The increasing detail and vibrancy of the maps gathered here show a parallel development--that of the city and of cartography itself--but what really gives life to the collection are the idiosyncrasies on offer: maps of Oxford's cemeteries and railways; a rather wonderful 'drink map' drawn up by the Committee of the Oxfordshire Band of Hope and Temperance Union in 1883, marking a total of 319 licensed premises for their easy avoidance (few of them in North Oxford, the wealthier end of the city); a hand-drawn Oxford City Police map from 1968, showing the location of public lavatories and placement of streetlights around the city centre's main car park, prepared as part of a crackdown on homosexual 'importuning'; and a Soviet map of the city from 1972, one of a vast collection created in anticipation of a street-by-street occupation of the UK (the obviously mistaken importance placed on University College, colour coded here as a governmental target, was probably because of its name). …

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