Maps and the 20th Century

FAMA’s Survival map on display at the British Library in London

Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line opened at the British Library on 4 November 2016. From questions of war and peace, to understanding the movements of people, nature, and even the financial markets, it will explore how maps became increasingly present in 20th century lives.

Two World Wars. The moon landings. The digital revolution. This exhibition of extraordinary maps looks at the important role they played during the 20th century. It sheds new light on familiar events and spans conflicts, creativity, the ocean floor and even outer space. Telling the history of the 20th century in maps allows us to reconsider therecent past from different perspectives, and how maps shaped the ways we see the world we live in.

The exhibition will celebrate the rare beauty and astonishing variety of 20th century maps. From the first sketch of the London Underground from 1931, to declassified Ministry of Defence maps, a Russian moon globe and the Siege of Sarajevo survival map.

“It so happened that we, as observers and participants of the phenomenon of the besieged Sarajevo, realized that we could identify the specific needs of the time by carefully observing events. That is how the Survival Map of the city was created back in 1995/96. While choosing our daily route, we suddenly realized that an accurate map would be an invaluable asset for moving around the city besieged by hundreds of pieces of heavy and light weaponry, where in place of road signs there were warnings like Watch sniper, or If you see a piece of the hill, the hill can see you as well (snipers were placed on the hills, and Sarajevo is situated in the valley). And so we began to ‘scan’ the city, gardens, parks, hazardous areas, crossroads, buildings, protection from sniper fire, streets ... and later included these pieces of information into a hand drawn map of the besieged city. We copied the weaponry positions around Sarajevo from the original JNA map, soon realizing that the map format does not allow for all the weaponry thatterrorized the city for four years – the weaponry is therefore symbolically represented on the map. As a unique historical document, the map found its way into the mapcollections around the world. One red line around the city once and for all explained what ‘a town under siege’ meant.” (Suada Kapic, the author of the Survival Map – FAMA Collection)

Tom Harper, lead curator of Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line at the British Library, said:

“Maps intrigue and astonish us, and Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line will give a captivating and sometimes unexpected take on our recent past. Maps alwaysreflect the motivations of their creators, and we will be looking at how maps were used not only as sources of information, but as tools of power and influence. The British Library has one of the world’s leading map collections, so we are the perfect place to explore why our enthusiasm for maps is so enduring, using powerful and surprising examplesfrom across the world.”

FAMA’s objective was to produce an image of altered geography of a city isolated from the rest of the world although under the eye of the world media. The map is a testimony to the city’s survival thanks to a whole new civilization created on the ruins of the old one, a testimony to the city’s recycling, usage of the solar energy, water purification pills, and satellite communications. The map contains all the details of survival, describing also how facilities essential for every city managed to function. The map shows secret passages and tunnels, special corridors invented to enable personal movement around the town given its exposure to sniper fire all day-long. The map shows the city which replaced its parks with vegetable gardens, its rose gardens with corn fields, electricity with medieval lamps and central heating with hand-made stoves, and tap water with water from canisters filled only at a few places in town; personal recreation was replaced with running under sniper fire, caloric food with plants from window gardens, television with the art of conversation, and art was turned into a resistance to terrorism.

In the past twelve months, FAMA maps have been published by three international acclaimed institutions:

  • The Fall of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 map in ‘A History of the 20th century in 100 Maps’ – published by the British Library
  • Survival Map – The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996 in ‘Map: Exploring the World’ – published by Phaidon Editors
  • Survival Map – The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996 in ‘50th Anniversary Book’ – published by British Cartographic Society

When future generations start to research the siege phenomenon and the period of disintegration of Yugoslavia, FAMA’s Survival map will make it easy to understand the city’s geography and its limitations during the siege. The uniqueness of the Survival Map among attempts to visualize the history is also due to the uniqueness of theSarajevo experience: at the end of the twentieth century, a European city came under the longest siege in the history of warfare.