Harvard Maps Collection

Past Exhibitions

The Map Collection schedules several exhibits annually. While it is not possible to preserve all of the exhibits that are prepared, we strive to maintain many of our past exhibits for future reference and research.

The Land Remains: A century of conservation in America’s National Parks

The maps in this exhibition showcase units of the National Park Service in all stages of their history. Many date from before the idea of the government preserving areas of natural beauty or cultural significance had even formed. Many are from the first days of preservation of a site. Some show the process of creating a park and the struggle to protect and preserve hallowed ground while still allowing in the people for whom it is preserved. We hope that these maps will remind you of the beauty and importance of this country’s natural and cultural treasures, and inspire you to #FindYourPark.

Embellishing the Map: Empty Spaces and Treacherous Waters

This exhibition is an exploration of the imaginative imagery that early cartographers used to populate the unknown areas of the world.  Including dragons, sea monsters and flying turtles.

The Ancestry of the Mother Road: Mapping Route 66

Route 66 looms large in American culture. In song and story, the mother road carries us to the promise of a better life. Traveling Route 66 is still the ultimate road trip even now as we pick our way along a road disrupted by the modern, looking for remnants of an earlier path. Route 66 was years in the making as Americans sought the best path from the East to the West, and is being remade even today, as it continues to hold a special place in the imagination of travelers and wanderers of all kinds. Railroad scouts and surveyors, early auto adventurers, dust bowl migrants, suburban road-tripping families, all following their own paths, but all on the same road.

Beacons of the Water World: The Evolution of the Sea Chart

For much of human history the most efficient and least cumbersome way to cover long distances and transport goods was on water. Yet navigation—whether by canoe, galley, caravel, ketch, or schooner—was never without its hazards. Survival often depended upon detailed information gathered orally from seasoned mariners or from written instructions compiled from numerous logs of voyages into unfamiliar seas. By the late 16th century, the expansion of trade within Europe and the increasing pace of exploration abroad created an urgent need for reliable accounts and accurate surveys of new navigational routes. This exhibit investigates the evolution of sea charts—from pilot books with a focus on European waters to multi-volume atlases ranging the great seas of the world. It surveys the major chartmakers of northern Europe, with attention to the development of a common symbolic language for depicting navigational hazards and aids.

Courting Clio: Maps and the Historical Imagination

Ever since the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance, Europe's most prominent mapmakers—including Mercator, Ortelius, Janssonius, Sanson, and Delisle—have regarded it as part of their professional duty to apply their craft to an imaginative restoration of the past. Each age has its own peculiar Zeitgeist (yearning for a Golden Age, looking for inspiration in religious saints or secular heroes, or taking satisfaction in the extent of progress from "less enlightened" times), but the urge to court Clio (the muse of history) has been an ongoing theme in cartographic circles. This exhibit explores the ways in which mapmakers frame past events, how they deploy textual and graphic aids in the service of historical narrative, and how they endeavor to convey temporal changes through static images. Whether the subject is the Exodus, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the barbarian invasions of Europe, or the arduous trek of Mormons to the Great Salt Lake, the focus here is on efforts to map our collective peregrinations through time.

At a Glance: Early Methods of Cartographic Visualization

From their earliest manifestations, maps have embodied some form of data visualization. Whether describing geographical coordinates, navigational hazards, transportation routes, or the night sky, maps have served to distill the complexities of our observations and render them more readily comprehensible. However, the cartographic techniques used to depict topographical features and the built environment were often of limited utility in illustrating data derived from in-depth investigations of the physical universe, the biosciences, the economy, or the social system. This exhibit explores early experimentations in visualization impelled by the explosion of empirical data (and the infrastructure for collecting statistics) since the late 18th century. It includes thematic maps of disease, crime, geological strata, ethnographic patterns, and electoral results.

Not So True North: Early Mapping of the Arctic

Map-makers have been depicting the high arctic since the late 15th century. The cartographic image of the far north began before anyone had actually travelled to the polar regions, so the earliest maps reflect theory and fantasy rather than actual observation. But mapping of the far north evolved rapidly in the Age of Exploration, thanks in particular to the reports brought back by expeditions seeking a Northwest or Northeast Passage to the riches of the Indies. For over two centuries further arctic exploration and the expanding geographic range of whaling continued to alter our concepts of the polar regions. This exhibit traces the history of how the arctic was imagined, perceived, and portrayed in maps.

Not So True North: Early Mapping of the Arctic

Map-makers have been depicting the high arctic since the late 15th century. The cartographic image of the far north began before anyone had actually travelled to the polar regions, so the earliest maps reflect theory and fantasy rather than actual observation. But mapping of the far north evolved rapidly in the Age of Exploration, thanks in particular to the reports brought back by expeditions seeking a Northwest or Northeast Passage to the riches of the Indies. For over two centuries further arctic exploration and the expanding geographic range of whaling continued to alter our concepts of the polar regions. This exhibit traces the history of how the arctic was imagined, perceived, and portrayed in maps.

Mapping Imperial China: A Cultural Exchange

Conventional narratives of East-West interaction in the cartographic sphere tend to portray the cultural exchange as a lopsided, tutelary relationship in which the more “primitive” society inevitably pays fealty to more scientifically sophisticated and objective standards of mapmaking. The simplistic assumptions embedded in this model often misrepresent the dynamic negotiation that occurs in the definition of geographical space. This exhibit examines the complex web of influences and cross-influences that resulted in the frequent metamorphoses of “China” over the centuries. With a focus on the last two dynastic periods—the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912)—the maps displayed here will illustrate the genealogical associations of concepts, images, and stories that have shaped our views of one another.

A Fair to Remember: Mapping International Expositions

Ever since the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, millions of people have flocked to world’s fairs and their extravagant displays of invention and artifice. With their eclectic juxtaposition of edifying exhibits, exotic cultural tableaux, and sideshow attractions, these celebrations of human ingenuity have had ramifications far beyond their restricted time and space. They have influenced aesthetic styles and promoted the adoption of new technologies. By reinforcing or challenging popular stereotypes, they have also shaped perceptions of gender, race, and ethnicity. This exhibit explores the cartographic depiction of world’s fairs in London, Paris, Philadelphia, Antwerp, Chicago, Buffalo, St. Louis, San Francisco, New York, and Osaka. The pictorial maps, views, and plans on display are accompanied by related artifacts such as trade cards, postcards, cane maps, photographs, and booklets (including a guide to the contents of a time capsule).

The Evolution of Vermont in Maps
August 1 – November 27, 2012
This exhibit traces over two hundred years of cartographic history, which reveal mapmakers’ common confusion over Vermont’s boundaries. The region was caught between the colonial provinces of New Hampshire and New York, creating an ever shifting geographical landscape. Pieces of note include the first map to name the State of Vermont, and the grants given by both New Hampshire and New York.

A Border Line Case: Harvard's Maps and the Northeast Boundary Dispute
March 8 - July 3, 2012
In 1828, the United States and Great Britain agreed to let the King of the Netherlands settle the long-standing dispute over the Northeast Boundary (Maine’s borders with New Brunswick and Quebec). To support American territorial claims with topographical evidence, Albert Gallatin (who represented the US government’s interests) requested the loan of 22 maps from the Harvard College Library, and these maps accompanied Gallatin’s retinue to the Hague. When arbitration failed, the maps made their second transatlantic voyage, but this was only the first stage in a journey that spanned more than two decades. Long after the boundary was settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, Harvard continued to press for the return of its cartographic loan. This exhibit explores the complex history of this unusual transaction—why these particular maps were chosen, how they were used to support American claims, and why it took 25 years for Harvard to get its maps back. Among the cast of characters who played roles in this story were: three Harvard presidents (Quincy, Everett, and Sparks), several Secretaries of State (including Daniel Webster and James Buchanan), and President Millard Fillmore.

Visions and Revisions: The Cartographic Construction of Canals
October 2011 - February 2012
Canals represent major achievements of civil engineering, but they often originated in schemes that were initially derided as the quixotic visions of impractical dreamers. In many cases, the major proponents of canals were motivated as much by utilitarian concerns as by an idealistic quest to dissolve barriers between different regions, cultures, and bodies of water. This exhibit explores the cartographic trail left by some of the most ambitious of these projects, including China’s Grand Canal, the Erie Canal, the Suez Canal, and the Panama Canal. It will examine the physical, political, and ideological obstacles that had to be overcome before these visions could be realized. In many cases, the initial plans were drastically revised, new solutions were improvised, or the entire enterprise was postponed for another generation of dreamers.

Going for Baroque: The Iconography of the Ornamental Map
May - September 2011
Maps offer guideposts to orient us in physical space, but they also employ a repertoire of graphic tools to convey overt and covert messages that channel our geographical perceptions. The ornamental features that may now seem little more than decorative embellishments once acted as richly nuanced symbols, analogies, and coded commentaries. This exhibit explores how decorative cartographic devices - cartouches, vignettes, figural borders, title pages, and frontispieces—could provide narrative underpinnings for the geospatial content of maps. To those accustomed to their visual vocabulary, these ornamental elements (whether emblems, insignia, heraldic shields, mythological figures, or allegories) could make an eloquent case for the authority and vision of the mapmaker.

Online exhibition also available.

Toward a National Cartography: American Mapmaking, 1782-1800
January - May 2011
This exhibition documents the development of mapmaking in the United States in the years immediately following the American Revolution. That period saw the emergence of a cartography that was distinctly American, different in goals, subject matter, methods, iconography and aesthetics from the British maps that had dominated the Colonial era. Twenty-one maps will be exhibited, most of them of the greatest rarity, organized into six broad themes. The first three-“Nation,” “States,” and “Towns”-emphasize different spheres of allegiance and identity, a profound challenge to those early leaders who sought to erect a cohesive republic. The latter three-“Navigation,” “Expansion,” and “Connection”-highlight maps produced in support of three epic projects, each essential to fostering a coherent national territory. Despite the many differences of goals, content and style, the stories behind each highlight the entrepreneurial, ad hoc, and dynamic character of American mapmaking in the postwar period.

Rev. Badger’s Misfits: Deviations and Diversions
September 2010 - January 2011
Rev. Henry Clay Badger, curator of the Harvard Map Collection from 1889 to 1892, took it as his personal mission to create a classification system for the 14,000 sheet maps under his care. Temperamentally ill-disposed to “floundering,” he devised a scheme to bring order to the chaos of bundled, rolled, and folded maps. Even in the most rigorous cataloging system, however, some materials elude categorization. In Badger’s case, he relegated his misfits to the one part of his scheme not based on geography. In this exhibit, we explore some of the “cartographic curiosities” (maps of nonexistent places, time lines, genealogical tables, comparative charts, lessons in the art of cartography, puzzles, and geographical games) that challenged Badger and continue to challenge his successors.

Mapping Discoveries in the Heavens and Controversies on Earth
December 2009 - March 2010
Four hundred years ago Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius, in which he reported his explorations of celestial phenomena through use of the telescope. This exhibit, featuring antiquarian astronomical maps and charts from the collection of Michael Mendillo, celebrates the new ways of "seeing" initiated by these discoveries--topics that continue to challenge contemporary views of evidence and belief.

Taking the Measure of Rhode Island: A Cartographical Tour
February – June 2009
Rhode Island seems to invite superlatives: the first state to promote religious liberty, earliest to industrialize, most densely populated, smallest in area, yet able to boast that it is the state that has been most mapped per square mile. This exhibit examined the cartographical history of Rhode Island from the colonial period to the early 20th century, with examples of boundary surveys, state maps, nautical charts, town plans, city and state atlases, topographical and geological maps, road guides, and bird's eye views.

From the Amazon to the Volga: The Cartographic Representation of Rivers
September 2008 – January 2009
For centuries cartographers have wrestled with the difficulties of depicting rivers, and in the process they have devised many ingenious ways of answering the challenge—from streambed profiles to bird’s eye views, ranging in format from portfolio atlases to strip maps, accordion books, and scrolls. This exhibit examined how mapmakers from the 15th century to the early 20th century sought to measure, track, and frame some of the major rivers of the world, including the Tigris and Euphrates, Amazon, Don, Danube, Nile, Congo, Rhine, Volga, and Mississippi.

Mapping the White Mountains
April – July 2006
This exhibition featured the early mapping of New Hampshire's majestic mountains from 1677–1988. The exhibit included John Foster's map of New England in 1677, Joseph Blanchard and Samuel Langdon's 1761 map of New Hampshire, Samuel Holland's 1784 map, a rare Carrigain edition, AMC maps, USGS maps, and Bradford Washburn's 1988 map of Mount Washington.

Mapping California as an Island
December 2005 – March 2006
This exhibit featured a selection of French, Dutch, German, and English maps and atlases including the first depiction of this cartographic anomaly appearing in 1622.

Lots and Lots: Early Maps of Parts of Boston and Cambridge
November 2004 – March 2005

Recent Acquisitions and Interesting Finds
July – November 2004
A selection of recent atlas and map acquisitions plus some unusual maps discovered among the Map Collections holdings.

Civitatis Londinium: London from 1572
February – June 2004
Spanning over four centuries, the exhibition documented how one of the cultural centers of the world grew from town to city to mega-metropolis.

Treasures of the Harvard Map Collection
June – September 2003
In conjunction with the 20th International Conference on the History of Cartography, the Harvard College Library hosted its first exhibit to highlight Harvard's cartographic treasures. Featured were items from the Houghton Library's Leichtenstein Collection, the Harvard Map Collection, the Gutman Library of the Graduate School of Education, and the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. Items included: Casper Vopel's ca. 1558 world map in 12 sheets; Jodocus Hondius' 1595 eight-sheet map of Europe; John Seller's 1675 map of New England; Lewis Evan's 1749 map of the Middle British Colonies; Sanuto's 1588 atlas of Africa; Jeremy Belknap's 1796 manuscript maps of the boundaries between the United States. and the Indians; a Korean manuscript atlas from the 17th century; Haestens' 16th century six-sheet map of Jerusalem; and Osgood Carleton's map of the United States and his 1797 map of Boston.

The Pictorial Maps of Ernest Dudley Chase
Featured selections from Mr. Chase's gifts to the Harvard Map Collection. Ernest Dudley Chase (1878–1966), a graphic artist from Winchester, Massachusetts, designed pictorial maps ranging in scale from his own hometown to global themes of navigation, exploration, communication, and world peace. He could be alternately whimsical, didactic, and subtly allusive—often on the same map.

The All-American Road Map
September 2002 – January 2003
Featured early road maps representing the development of the nation's roadway system.

Shaping the Emerald Isle: Early Irish Maps 1548–1860
December 2001 – March 2002
Featured maps of Ireland from 1548 (Gastaldi), large-scale maps by John Rocque and Henry Pelham, and the unique cartography developed by the Irish Railway Commission.

Emergent Africa: Early Maps of the Continent
May – August 2001
Featured 23 original maps from the past 500 years that reveal the European exploration of the continent. Each was selected for its artistic, historic, and regional representation of the image of Africa as it emerged in the world's eye.

A House Divided: Maps of the Civil War
September 2000 – March 2001
Featured 35 Civil War period maps. Many of the maps were donations by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), Union officers who gathered to pledge their continued allegiance to the government during the dark days that followed the Lincoln assassination.

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