Garver Publishes Book of Historic Maps of Coastal Massachusetts

Joseph Garver of the Harvard Map Collection has just published Surveying the Shore: Historic Maps of Coastal Massachusetts, 1600-1930.

September 15, 2006 - When Europeans first settled New England in the 17th century, they laid claim to the land by mapping the territory. Over the centuries, cartographers continued to map the area for reasons political, commercial, and cultural. The resulting maps reflected the evolving goals and needs of each generation.

In his new book out this month, Surveying the Shore: Historic Maps of Coastal Massachusetts, 1600-1930 (Commonwealth Editions), Joseph Garver, Reference Librarian in the Harvard Map Collection, demonstrates how 90 maps of coastal Massachusetts—full-color, historic, and spanning more than 300 years—reflect both the development of the state and the development of mapmaking.

Garver wrote the book, a two-year project, not for map collectors or specialists, but rather for people "seeing these maps for the first time," he says. Thus he held firmly to three criteria. One, he wanted aesthetic appeal. Two, he looked for a thorough representation of various map genres: nautical charts, state surveys, pre-Revolution maps, county atlases, city atlases, and so on. Finally, each had to tell a story.  

"There were thousands of maps available," he says. "The ones I picked were ones that I thought would grab people with their narrative quality."

Garver, who has a PhD in history and a degree in library science, both from the University of Pittsburgh, spent three months investigating Massachusetts maritime history before he even considered which maps to use. Only after he'd read the histories of cities and towns like Salem, Boston, Newburyport, and Provincetown did he begin choosing maps to reproduce and discuss for Surveying the Shore.

"Once I narrowed it down to 150 maps, I started reading in more detail where the maps came from and who made them," he says. "A lot actually appeared in books—tourist guides, railroad guides, bicycle guides." He also specifically looked for historic maps that presented a bird's-eye view of the land. Interestingly, many of these maps represent towns that don't actually have any hills, which means the cartographers had to rely on their artistic skills and knowledge of perspective to illustrate the town from above.

Garver eventually culled 90 maps for his book, drawing about half from the Harvard Map Collection. Other selections came from Houghton Library, the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum, the Massachusetts State Archives, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Among the maps selected for the book are Samuel de Champlain's first map of Plymouth, done in 1613; a pre-Revolutionary chart of the "Sea of New England" that helped locate the sunken pirate ship Whydah  over two centuries later; some of the first town surveys of the pre-Civil War period; 19th-century train and trolley routes; and bird's-eye views of  Cape Cod before and after the creation of the canal.

Garver has plans to author a similar volume for Rhode Island in the near future. He also has a full lineup of bookstore events this autumn to promote Surveying the Shore, including a signing at the Harvard Coop on Thursday, November 2, at 7 pm.


Page Last Reviewed: May 12, 2009