Map Exhibitions in Boston

“Bird’s-eye View of the Eastern Railroad Line to the White Mountains and Mt. Desert.” Boston: Rand Avery Supply Co., 1890. Harvard University Library.

Opening today at Harvard University in front of the Map Collection in Pusey Library and running until 28 February, Look but Don’t Touch: Tactile Illusions on Maps looks at the use of simulated textures in maps.

Beginning particularly in the eighteenth century, philosophers began to debate what role each of our senses has in this experience. For eighteenth-century philosophers, the crucial distinction was between sight and touch. Would we, they asked, be able to experience depth and understand size without our sense of touch? George Berkeley and Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, among others, hypothesized that touch, in fact, was primarily responsible for our experience and understanding of space. All visual knowledge about depth and size, they suggested, derived from tactile experiences. In other words, we needed touch to teach us to see. But what happens to the map if we take seriously this challenge to a visual understanding of space?

All maps in this exhibition toy with the relationship between touch and sight. For some, their interest in touch and sight is ornamental. Either by delighting in the visual illusion of tactility or by referring to a visual cliché, these maps enliven their design—and attract buyers—by appealing to our hands. For others, their interest in touch and sight is about knowledge itself. Either by depicting cartographers’ tools and materials or by tempting us to touch what is not there, these maps play with our sense of what a map is and where it comes from. Paradoxically, they teach us visually about particular places while also questioning the basis for their own visual instruction.

The online version can be found here.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe has a review of the Leventhal’s exhibition on subsurface mapping, Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below (previously).

Three Map Exhibitions

Historic Maps of the Southwest, an exhibition at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts in Los Lunas, New Mexico (just south of Albuquerque), features maps on loan from the Albuquerque Museum. Opened on 9 September and runs until the end of December. The Valencia County News-Bulletin has details: “Most of the maps in the exhibit are originals of the Spanish colonial era, the Mexican era, the New Mexico Territorial period and the early statehood period, such as the 1926 and 1928 automobile trail maps.” [WMS]

Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below opened last Friday at the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center and runs until 25 February 2018. The theme: subsurface mapping. “In this exhibition, you will see how ancient Romans carved vast underground catacombs, how minerals and natural resources have been studied, engineered and transported since the 19th century, how today’s scientific and cartographic advancements have enabled us to picture the entire ocean floor, and what lies below the streets of Boston.”

Finland in Ancient Cartography, an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence, is being hosted by the National Archives of Finland in Helsinki, in cooperation with the Embassy of Italy in Finland and the Italian Institute of Culture. “The exhibition focuses on the depiction of Finland and offers a journey through ancient cartography history and the representation of the country from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. It places special emphasis on satirical cartography between the end of nineteenth century and the First World War, as these periods are strictly connected to Finnish independence. More than 40 maps from the Gianni Brandozzi Collection and the National Archives are displayed.” Opened 21 September; runs until 17 November. [WMS]