Book Review: Maps and Map-Making in Local History

Maps and Map-Making in Local History by Jacinta Prunty

I am in the process of updating a lecture on Irish Maps to be given at the 2013 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. This process reminded me of what is probably my favorite book about maps and I thought readers may also want to know about it.

Maps and Map-Making in Local History. Maynooth Research Guides for Irish Local History. By Jacinta Prunty. Published by Four Courts Press, 7 Malpas Street, Dublin 8, Eire. US Distributor: ISBS, 920 N.E. 58th Avenue, Suite 300, Portland OR 97213. 2004. 344 pp. Illustrations, index, maps. Softcover. $30

This book opens with the quote: “Maps are graphic representations that facilitate a spatial understanding of things, concepts, conditions, processes or events in the human world” (p.15). The rest of the book expands upon that theme, successfully introducing the reader to the use of maps in research, writing and presenting local history. The illustrations are all from Ireland, so it is especially valuable for those researching in Ireland, but the concepts and ideas introduced are applicable for anyone working with maps. In fact two of the appendices are worth the price of the book alone, simply because they do apply to any location —  “Questions to be asked of maps” and “Questions to ask of your place in the search for maps”.

This is essentially a practical guide, including notes on the map series that are immediately useful for local history, and thus family history in Ireland, plus information on the major repositories, catalogs and finding aids, ways to use the maps in research, and the ways the maps themselves were made. Maps provide the context in which family historians place families within a community. In local history, researchers examine how that community operated in relationship to its neighbors, what resources were shared, how the interactions and development was affected by the landscape, all of which can be seen with maps.

The book is divided into four sections. The first, and largest, provides a historical overview of map-making in Ireland. The watershed here is the six-inch to one mile Ordnance Survey maps. Their production, content and legal standing are described in detail. The maps created before and after this significant series are also thoroughly described. This section is well illustrated and provides researchers with a glimpse of what is available. The author suggests, in the process, that the researcher should obtain any and all maps for the relevant geographic area, regardless of the time period or the maps focus (e.g. railways, canals, roads, military, plantation, geology, antiquities, estates, or bogs).

A very practical chapter on map-reading skills discusses scales, projections, orientations, national grid, grid references, sheet numbering, height, contours, boundaries, measurements, dates, and symbols. Ms. Punty explains where to locate maps, how to get started, and how to use guides to local and major archives or library collections, some of which are online. The book concludes with some case studies on how maps can be used by historians, local and family. This last section of the book also addresses the issues of copyright ownership, and provides guidelines for making your own maps, with or without computers. Many references to published and online materials provide further guidance throughout the text for researchers wanting to explore Irish maps and map-making further.

There is no doubt that this will become the standard guide for anyone working with Irish maps. It is highly recommended for personal and society collections.

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