Friday, August 5, 2011

The Map as a Historically Specific Object

Maps are historically specific in all their aspects. An excellent example of this is a roadmap of West Germany that I came across this morning whilst cataloguing. The Michelin Allemagne Ouest map, printed in 1944, depicts highways and roads. Like other Michelin maps, it was intended for commercial use. Interestingly, the map not only depicts highways that existed at the time, but also roads that were under construction.

This 67-year-old Michelin map, whose paper is not only darkened from the passage of time, but also from a few coffee or tea stains, is fascinating in its own right. However, the biggest surprise happened when I turned it over.

On the other side of the Michelin map I found a German topographic map of the Scottish islands Yell and Unst from 1941. It was printed for use by the German army (on it you can read the words “Nur fur den Dienstgebrauch,” which can be translated as “only for official use”). Most distinctly visible, however, is a red cross that spans over the entire map.

We can only speculate as to why two completely different maps are printed on one single sheet of paper; why one of them is in French, the other in German, and why one of them has a big red cross over it. What most likely occurred, however, is that the German map from 1941 was seized by the French and reused to print the commercial Michelin map a few years later. Paper during the War was a scarce commodity. And getting a hold of paper that could be used for map printing was even more difficult. It is for these reasons that every now and again we come across one of these unique historical gems of cartography.

Janina Mueller


Anonymous said...

Nice history
The work is very versatile, with so many concentrations intermingling,
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