During the 19th century, the United States expanded dramatically westward. Immigrant settlers rapidly spread across the continent and transformed it, often through violent or deceptive means, from ancestral Native lands and borderlands teeming with diverse communities to landscapes that fueled the rise of industrialized cities. Historical maps, images and related objects tell the story of the sweeping changes made to the physical, cultural, and political landscape. Moving beyond the mythologized American frontier, this map exhibition explores the complexity of factors that shaped our country over the century.
As usual, there’s a comprehensive online version, which is peppered with acknowledgements of the very white, very settler-colonialist perspective of the maps on display. Which are, of course, justified, but as far as I can see they’re asterisks and asides on an otherwise unchanged exhibit.
Le Monde en sphères, a new exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, looks at spherical representations of the world throughout history. Globes, to be sure, but there are other spherical representations to consider as well. See the exhibition website (in French; buggy in some browsers) or visit the physical exhibition, which opens on 16 April 2019 and runs until 21 July at the François Mitterand building. Tickets €7-9.
BNSF is one of the largest railways in North America. It’s the end product of a series of rail mergers, and as such it has records for all its antecedent railroads. Including, as an item posted to its website this month reveals, maps, which BNSF is now in the process of digitizing.
Some of the most historically significant maps that BNSF has are maps filed by our predecessor railroads. These maps depicted the beginning of the railroad as we know it, and were often the first official survey of some of the more remote areas of the developing West.
Many of our vital maps were found in boxes or stashed in file cabinets or storage rooms. “We went to 200-plus locations going through thousands, if not tens of thousands of boxes,” said Obermiller of the conversion. “Now we are preserving the most vital maps to ensure we are retaining our vital records and are good stewards of our heritage.”
No word in the piece as to whether those records are available to researchers or the public.
Temascaltepec, ca. 1579-1580. Archivo General de Indias. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España.
Texcaltitlán, ca. 1579-1580. Archivo General de Indias. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España.
Tuzantla, ca. 1579-1580. Archivo General de Indias. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España.
Seven maps from late 16th-century Mexico are the focus of a 2018 study by University of Seville researcher Manuel Morato-Moreno (Cartographica article, press release). Part of a series of maps sent back to Spain by local administrators, the maps are hand-drawn, but imitate the style of printed maps: the hatching deliberately evokes woodcuts, while the animals are reminiscent of cartouches, sea monsters and other illustrative elements. But the maps also incorporate Indigenous design elements.
Although all the maps were done in the European style, they also show some characteristics that suggest the influence of indigenous cartography, like footprints on the routes and eddies in the rivers, in which fish can also be seen on the surface of the water. Having these indigenous conventions in coexistence with European cartographic characteristics suggests an effort to adapt the two cartographic styles to each other. “The authors of these maps might have unconsciously mixed European and native conventions,” the researcher adds.
In addition, the experts have identified the influence of another renaissance practice which originated in the portolan charts: drawings of figurative scenes of indigenous people and animals of the region, like deer, rabbits, vultures and armadillos. “Possibly the disproportionate representation of these animals is a way of emphasising the animal species that were characteristic of the region, or, as in the case of the armadillo, highlighting those exotic species that were unknown in Spain.”
Colby Bartlett “took a chance” on a water-stained 1841 map of Lafayette, Indiana he found at a pawn shop, where the asking price was $80. But his research into the map’s origins took a completely unexpected turn. The Lafayette Journal and Courier has the story about how Bartlett inadvertently discovered the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s missing copy of the map before the library realized it had gone missing. Believe me, you want to read this. [Tony Campbell]
Every year, at about this time of year, gorgeous hardcover collections of maps start appearing in bookstores. The timing is not coincidental: map aficionados need gifts bought for them, after all. But there’s something about these books, usually assembled from a single library’s massive collection, that’s worth thinking about. The British Library, for example, has more than four million maps in its vaults—how does an author preparing a book based on that collection decide which of those maps to include? (Some maps will be no-brainers: they cannot not be included.) And less obviously, but more critically, how do you organize the book, if it has no specific theme or focus? If you’re going to put out a book that says, essentially, “look at all these maps we’ve got locked up here,” you have to decide on some kind of order.
There are several ways to do it: Treasures from the Map Room, Debbie Hall’s 2016 collection of maps from the Bodleian Library (reviewed here), organizes itself by subject, for example. Whereas the book under consideration here, Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library (The British Library, 11 October), curated by the Library’s Tom Harper, organizes its many interesting and beautiful maps by continent. This is exactly the structure of a world atlas, and explains Harper’s choice of title. The chapters on each continent are bookended by chapters on the universe, world maps, seas and oceans, and fantasy worlds; and the continents are deliberately and pointedly arranged in alphabetical order, with Africa leading and Europe last.1