Today, we went to the British Museum to see Magnificent Maps. Rooms full of maps—from a Roman map carved from stone, to a map for King Henry VIII, to Grayson Perry's Map of Nothing — illustrated that their use as a geographic tool was not necessarily as important as their ability to enhance social and political status as works of art and visual history lessons.
The content, colors and details — minute forests to unbelievable mystic serpents — are a testament to humanity's permanent interest in growth, beauty and the unknown. Some maps represented a large period of time, and significant warfare was documented through battling ships on the high seas or forts across vast terrain. Before spending this much time with a variety of historical maps, I had never thought of them as visual histories. T, however, made a good point: there really is no better way to document a war than on a map — what could be more strategic and practical than a map? After all, they play an integral role in warfare.
Admittedly, I have trouble with maps. It takes me ages to figure them out, figure out where I am, and figure out where I'm going. But still, we all have used a map at least once in our lives, and that's why I was delighted to see an amazingly receptive audience at the exhibition. There was so much chatter, quiet laughter (who could resist when faced with the world's largest atlas!?) and animated gesturing among groups of people. They were truly engaged in the exhibit, as was I.