Mapping a World of Cities

Map of Tenochtitlan and the Gulf of Mexico, 1524
Map of Tenochtitlán and the Gulf of Mexico, attrib. Albrecht Dürer, 1524. 29.8×46.5 cm. John Carter Brown Library.

The Leventhal Center’s latest online map exhibition, Mapping a World of Cities, draws examples of city maps from ten map libraries and collections across the United States; those examples range from a 1524 map of Tenochtitlán (above) to a 1927 map of Chicago gangs.

Looking at maps helps us to understand the changing geography of urban life. Maps didn’t just serve as snapshots of how cities looked at one moment in time; in the form of plans, maps were also used to build, speculate, and fight over urban form. Historical maps reflect cities’ ethnic and economic transformations, systems of domination and oppression, sites of monumentality and squalor. They capture good times and bad, expansion, decay, and destruction. City dwellers take great pride in their cities, as part of a shared sense of place that embedded in a historical trajectory. Maps tell the stories of a city’s past, present—and perhaps its future.

The Library of Congress’s Geography and Map Division contributed five maps to the exhibition; see their post.

Author: Jonathan Crowe

Jonathan Crowe blogs about maps at The Map Room. His essays and reviews have been published by AE, Calafia, The New York Review of Science Fiction, the Ottawa Citizen, Strange Horizons and Tor.com. He lives in Shawville, Quebec.