THE Atlas of Scotland is an ambitious new project to create the first major Scottish atlas for more than 100 years.

Produced as a visually striking hardback book, combining text with illustrated maps, the Atlas will shed new light on Scotland’s size and resources, its cultural and political history, as well as its long standing as one of the ancient kingdoms of Europe and the richness of its international connections.

Today, modern technology may have replaced traditional paper atlases, but I believe there is still something valuable about being able to see a whole vision of a country, laid out and illuminated on paper.

Atlases throughout history have been a snapshot of the times and circumstances in which they are made, and the dreams and visions of the nations that make them. By returning to map-making in pen and ink, and by retelling the story of Scotland’s history and culture, my new atlas project aims to be a reflection of where Scotland stands today, as well as revealing one of the world’s oldest nations in a whole new light.

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Some of the earliest Scottish maps were created by a Kirk minister called Timothy Pont more than 400 years ago. Pont mapped out the country in his distinctive inky sketches, showing the shapes of major mountains and rives, as well as individual depictions of settlements with recognisable landmarks such as castles, churches or abbeys. His early maps give a valuable insight into the town planning and architecture of Scotland at the time.

The first full Atlas of Scotland, however, didn’t emerge until 1654, with the work of the Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu. The opening words of Blaeu’s Scottish atlas, first printed in Amsterdam, were clearly designed to entice the reader: “Look now on Scotland, which hitherto shadows have enveloped, lit and gleaming with a clear light, in all of its parts.

Blaeu’s vivid and meticulous work came as a revelation to many, both in Scotland and abroad, because it was not only a physical reading of the shape of the land but a bright vision, “gleaming with a clear light”, of a nation once considered dark, shrouded and remote.

As a writer and artist with a keen interest in Scottish literature, history and culture, I’ll be taking inspiration from Blaeu’s centuries-old vision, aiming to show today’s modern Scotland with clarity and detail.

My new atlas will show Scotland in all of its parts, looking closely at the local histories of our towns and cities, telling their stories, as well as exploring lesser-known areas of intrigue and interest across the whole of the country.

Some of the world’s earliest atlases, including Blaeu’s, were designed so people could explore parts of the world from the comfort their own living rooms. During this pandemic, while we’ve been shut away at home, many people have been craving travel, adventure and discovery.

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Creating a new Atlas of Scotland is one way of exploring a country in the imagination, of seeing mountains and rivers, islands, towns and cities, and learning about their histories with fresh eyes.

Towards the end of last year, I launched my second book, The Illustrated Declaration of Arbroath, at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. It was designed to be a creative and accessible celebration of the Declaration of Arbroath in the run-up to the document’s 700th anniversary in April.

Despite anniversary celebrations being cancelled or postponed the book project received a positive reception through press coverage, reviews and online talks, and led to some interesting spin-off projects such as an illustrated educational pack for schools and involvement in Lesley Riddoch’s Declaration documentary film.

THE new Atlas of Scotland project is in many ways an expansion of the same idea, to make Scottish history and culture more accessible and more widely understood.

This time, the project will inevitably be less focused on physical events, which is why I’m planning to create more digital content such as short films to share different aspects of the finished atlas online.

I’m hoping to raise £12,000 to support a year’s work on the Atlas of Scotland, with a goal of having a fully produced book by autumn 2021. The funds will be put towards materials, labour, printing costs, and short films for social media.

I’d like to appeal to readers of The National to become supporters and patrons of the new Atlas of Scotland. By donating to the fundraising campaign at readers can sign up for a number of rewards, including finished hardback copies of the Atlas, map prints and more.

Any donation or support in promoting the project would be hugely appreciated, and with your help I hope to produce something which is a real celebration of the whole of Scotland.