Saturday 10 May 2014

BCS President's Monthly Bulletin April 2014

That very rare event of a nice British Bank Holiday weekend meant that this monthly bulleting comes out a few days later than planned as it was just too nice to be sitting indoors at the computer and the garden really did need a lot of work on it. So if you have been regularly checking the website for my latest musing, I apologise to both of you.

BCS Events

Historical Military Mapping Group Bomber Command Study Tour

The HMMG Bomber Command Study Tour that took place in early April proved to be a huge success despite some initial problems with getting it off the ground. As it turned out the timing coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Raid, Bomber Command’s costliest operation of the war in terms of aircraft and crew lost. This was brought home on the first stop on our tour, The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, an aviation museum in East Kirkby. The day prior to our arrival a cross had been laid out representing the 95 aircraft and over 700 crew who didn’t return. Over the three day tour we visited a number of sites associated with Bomber Command, the highlight of which was RAF Coningsby, the home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The aircraft had spent the winter being serviced and made ready for the upcoming display season and we were very fortunate to be treated to an impromptu flying display by the Dakota and a Spitfire, with the Lancaster also outside its hangar with all four engines running – a sight and sound not to be missed. A full report of the Study Tour will appear in the Summer issue of Maplines.

The old and the new, Lancaster in the foreground, Typhoon in the background

Map Curators Workshop

The next SIG event apart from Symposium activities will be the Map Curators Group workshop in Birmingham in early September. The theme of the MCG 2014 Workshop is: "Hands across the map; co-operation and partnership in map collections". It is being held in the University of Birmingham in their Conference Centre. The Workshop will be held on Wednesday 10 September.  On the Tuesday 9 September a training day for those who find they have to deal with maps or need to refresh their knowledge entitled, "Feral maps and how to tame them" has been organised. On Thursday 11 September a visit to a map collection will take place. Full details will shortly be available via the BCS website, so keep checking for details.

BCS Annual Symposium

And having mentioned the Symposium this year’s looks like it might outdo even last year’s anniversary event in popularity. By the close of the early bird deadline on 30th April, we had already had 105 delegates signed up and since then the number has risen to over 120, an impressive number still six weeks ahead of the event. The full details of a very impressive programme of talks and workshops is available on the website, so if you haven’t already booked check out all that is happening and get your registration in soon.

Geographical Association Conference

For the first time the BCS had a stand and ran a workshop at the Geographical Association Conference at the University of Surrey in mid-April. To quote from their website, “The Geographical Association (GA) is a UK-based subject association with the charitable objective of furthering geographical knowledge and understanding through education. We support teachers, students, tutors and academics at all levels of education through journals, publications, training events, projects, websites and by lobbying government about the importance of geography.”

The main reason for BCS attendance was to increase awareness of the BCS amongst the education sector and to publicise our Restless Earth workshop. We were very successful in both cases. We signed up a few new members and certainly increased awareness through talking to a lot of the delegates about what we had to offer as a Society. Of particular interest was the fact that we got a lot of enquiries from primary school staff about what we could do for the younger age groups, something for us to ponder on. As there was no pre-booking system for the workshop we were totally unsure of how many delegates would turn up to the abridged version of the Restless Earth Workshop, condensed to 45 minutes to fit our allocated slot. As it turned out we were full and I think the stewards actually had to turn delegates away; it generated a huge amount of interest and we have already had several enquiries about running workshops in 2014/15 as a direct result.

Cartography in the news

As part of the government’s reform of qualification and the curriculum to "better prepare pupils for life after school", the Department for Education has recently published its GCSE Subject Content for a number of subjects including Geography and it is heartening to see that maps and cartography feature quite strongly. This publication sets out the learning outcomes and content coverage required for GCSE specifications in geography.

The main body of the document includes two specific references to maps and GIS and states that the GCSE specification should enable students to:

“develop and extend their competence in a range of skills including those used in fieldwork, in using maps and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and in researching secondary evidence, including digital sources; and develop their competence in applying sound enquiry and investigative approaches to questions and hypotheses (study like a geographer”

It should enable students to demonstrate skills including:
“The use of a range of maps, atlases, Ordnance Survey maps, satellite imagery and other graphic and digital material including the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), to obtain, illustrate, analyse and evaluate geographical information. To include making maps and sketches to present and interpret geographical information”

There is also an annex detailing specific skills to be developed which includes:

“Cartographic skills
  • use and understand gradient, contour and spot height on OS maps and other isoline maps (eg weather charts, ocean bathymetric charts)
  • interpret cross sections and transects
  • use and understand coordinates, scale and distance
  • describe and interpret geo-spatial data presented in a GIS framework”

I say old chap these new-fangled developments in mapping are jolly interesting don’t you know. All you need is a tellurometer, ‘a girl to help’, not forgetting that we are producing maps at ‘three bus lengths to an inch’, and then you can’t go wrong! If you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about check out the video clip at, made by Pathé in 1961.

Goodbye to paper maps and pdf’s, hello to cloud enabled GIS

The latest death knell for paper maps was sounded on 20th April by Matt Sheehan. To quote his article, the full details of which can be found at the link, “You cannot beat a beautiful paper map. Cartographers are talented people. But in today’s fast paced, mobile world, paper maps used for day to day work are no longer practical.” The article is at,

Sorry I just can’t agree with this as a statement, and even the author concedes rather arguing against himself, “Is this the end for paper maps? Absolutely not, they will always be with us. Just used less widely ….” If the quantity and quality of entries for this year’s BCS Awards is anything to go by then the paper map is alive and well and in particularly rude health. Admittedly, they do not all lend themselves to “day to day” work, but many do and remain the best way of navigating and understanding the area around you. We cannot afford to be complacent and the growth of digital and web cartography is causing us to have a rethink about award categories to better reflect the modern cartographic industry but there are more than enough instances of paper maps being critically important to everyday activities. One interesting statistic that backs this up is that in the last 5 years, search and rescue in Scotland has seen a five-fold increase in calls due to people taking to the mountains with just their smartphone and then losing signal or battery strength and getting into difficulties.

The fact that Newly designed US Topo maps covering West Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia are now available online for free download, also shows that the days of the paper map are no quite yet numbered. The new editions have a crisper, cleaner design - enhancing readability of maps for online and printed use. The complete article at explains how the design is looking to combine the best of both printed and online to enhance the usability of the product.

MapCarte for April

The selection of maps for the month of April covers a wide range of styles and types from the antique to the ultra-modern and there should be something, as usual, to suit everybody’s taste. My top three are quite eclectic and cover the entire range. Wainwright is a name synonymous with memorable cartography, with the emphasis very much on ‘art’. His hand drawn maps of the Lake District, an integral part of his pictorial guides, are truly stunning, their clarity and ease of use enhanced by being ‘simple’ pen and ink compositions. A combination of planimetric and perspective views enhances their usability and they remain as useful today as they were when first produced in the 1950s.

John Ogilby enjoyed the title of His Majesty’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer at a time long before the term ‘cartographer’ had been coined. The first time I saw an illustration of Ogilby’s strip maps, I remember thinking how modern they looked, their presentation of information clear and linear and not subject to much of the fanciful artistry of the time. Very simple in conception but ‘breaking the mould’ in many ways, not least in not maintaining a constant North, they are easy to read and understand and poring over them today large elements of the routes are still clearly recognisable.

My final ‘choice’ is Google Maps. I can’t imagine that many regular users of the internet are unfamiliar with Google maps and I certainly use it on an almost daily basis. Whilst stories of mistakes still appear in the press, most recently the removal of Basingstoke, this really does a disservice to an API that has popularised mapping and enabled anyone to customise their information and present it in cartographic formats. Whilst the results of this opening up are not always pleasing on the eye, it has greatly increased awareness of mapping and its uses. To quote the Map Carte description, “Quite simply the map is, and continues to be revolutionary. The 2005 map would get nowhere near MapCarte. The 2014 version is state-of-the-art and in less than 10 years Google are leading big league cartography and fully deserve inclusion.”

And Finally….

I know I shouldn’t like this, but as an example of map silliness it works. Featured in the Onion “America’s Finest News Source”, it purports to show the distribution of Kevins on a global basis, something in which the US is a world leader and as the website says, “There are certainly areas of Australia, the U.K., and Canada where the concentration of Kevins is high, but they all fall well short of the United States’ Kevin population across all demographics. And when we look at the benchmark Kevin-to-John ratio, no country comes even remotely close to the staggering .205 figure the U.S. posted in 2013.” What more can I say? Full details at,35856/

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
10th May 2014


Twitter: @geomapnut

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