The Great Lines Project: An exploration of the History of the Invention of Contour Lines

Karen Rann

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Since first hearing of Newcastle born Charles Hutton in 2014, I have been researching the history of the invention of contour lines. Each time they were invented (and there were many births) it was in response to a particular problem which required a (visual) solution – on a map. I assumed foolishly that there would be one book that pulled together all the strands: who first, why,
who saw their map and created the next evolution, including why Charles Hutton and the mountain Schiehallion are so important to the story. But that book isn’t there. Instead I’ve been amassing leads in the Netherlands, Italy, Britain and France, slowly pulling together the threads.
The project has involved research, writing (a blog) and making:
• A 4ft x 4ft ‘replica’ of Charles Hutton’s ‘missing’ first contour map
• Two models based on the scale of the ‘missing’ map, Hutton’s heights (conceived as columns) and current OS (horizontal ‘plates’)
• ‘How to Draw a Mountain’ (drawings & prints)
• ‘Water according to Cruquius’ (isobaths drawings & prints of the River Merwede)
• ‘Altitude’ (a series of drawings & prints re-imagining ‘home’ as a contour line)
Many of the drawings will be available as limited edition prints - please contact me for details [Website:]
First edition 2016, Second edition 2017. Self-published and funded through Arts Council England and Visual Arts in Rural Communities. Copyright with the author.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-9933496-2-1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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