Bending Lines, an Online Exhibition from the Leventhal Center

Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception, the latest exhibition from the Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library, is a wide-ranging, comprehensive look at the relationship between maps and the truth. We expect maps not to lie, but maps have misled, propagandized or at the very least provided a particular perspective for as long as there have been maps.

Every map is a representation of reality, and every representation, no matter how accurate and honest, involves simplification, symbolization, and selective attention. Even when a map isn’t actively trying to deceive its readers, it still must reduce the complexity of the real world, emphasizing some features and hiding others. Compressing the round globe onto a flat sheet of paper, and converting places, people, and statistics into symbols, lines, and colors is a process inherently fraught with distortion. […]

In Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception, we explore the many ways in which maps have “bent” reality and created a picture of the world that is oftentimes more real than reality itself. Some of the maps in this exhibition are deliberately nefarious, created by people or institutions who are trying to mislead or persuade. But for many of the others, the relationship between map and truth is more ambiguous. Some maps dim a certain type of truth in order to let another type of interpretation shine through, while others classify and categorize the world in ways that should raise our skepticism. And for some of the maps shown here, the persuasive goal isn’t trickery but liberation, as they seek to raise awareness of truths that were previously obscured or oppressed.

This exhibition was to have launched last month, but thanks to the pandemic has had to go fully online. Tackling everything from persuasive cartography to map projections to the sort of thing Mark Monmonier talks about in How to Lie with Maps, it’s an enormous undertaking in more than one sense. CityLab’s Laura Biss interviews the Leventhal’s curator, Garrett Dash Nelson, about the exhibition.

Update, 2 July: Harvard Magazine looks at the exhibition.

Map Talks Online, Past and Future

Map Time is “a series of short conversations with experts on maps and mapping from across the globe” hosted by the Harvard Library and the Leventhal Center on Instagram Live. Held every Thursday at noon, through August. Schedule and upcoming speakers here. Past talks are available on YouTube.

How to Do Map Stuff is a full day of live online mapping workshops that will take place on Wednesday, 29 April. Coordinated by Daniel Huffman, speakers will host their own livestreams at announced times (the working schedule is here).

Presentations made at last year’s British Cartographic Society/Society of Cartographers conference were recorded on video. The BCS reports that they’re now available online via this web page.

New Leventhal Exhibition: America Transformed

The Leventhal Map Center’s latest exhibition, America Transformed: Mapping the 19th Century, opened last Saturday and runs until 10 November 2019.

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.

New Exhibition at the Leventhal: Crossing Boundaries

A new exhibition opened at the Leventhal Map Center today: Crossing Boundaries: Art // Maps “juxtaposes contemporary works of art with selected maps from the collections of the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library. These pairings and trios create dialogues that illuminate the crossing of the traditional boundaries of art and maps, and stimulate a fresh appreciation of both media.” Runs until 20 April 2019; if you can’t make it to Boston there’s an online version.

Update, 24 October: Here’s a writeup from the Boston Globe.

Breathing Room: Mapping Boston’s Green Spaces

John Bachmann, Boston: Bird’s-eye View from the North, ca. 1877. Map, 64 × 47 cm. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection

Breathing Room: Mapping Boston’s Green Spaces is the latest exhibition put on by the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

Boston boasts some of the nation’s most recognizable and cherished green spaces, from Boston Common, to the Emerald Necklace, to hundreds of neighborhood parks, playgrounds, tot lots, community gardens, playing fields, cemeteries, and urban wilds. In this exhibition, you will learn how the country’s oldest public park grew from a grazing pasture to an iconic recreational and social center, how 19th-century reformers came to view parks as environmental remedies for ill health, how innovative landscape architects fashioned green oases in the midst of a booming metropolis, and what the future holds for Boston’s open spaces. As you explore three centuries of open space in Boston, perhaps you will feel inspired to go outside and discover the green spaces in your own backyard.

The online version is here. It opened last Saturday and runs until 23 September; for some reason the opening ceremony isn’t until April 3rd.

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]