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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Rev. Badger’s Misfits at Harvard Map Collection

public spaces recycling  

Research Librarian Joseph Garver examines an early 18th century chart depicting various empires in a "river of time."


September 7, 2010 – When he set out to develop the first classification system for maps, Rev. Henry Clay Badger, Harvard Map Collection curator from 1889-1892, used geographical categories--continents, nations, regions, cities, and so on.  Though the system worked well, challenges remained. How would maps of fictional or imaginary places be classified? Where would maps of timelines and genealogical tables, puzzles or geographical parlor games fit?

A new exhibition, “Rev. Badger’s Misfits: Deviations and Diversions”, opening September 8 at the Harvard Map Collection, asks viewers to consider some of these “cartographic curiosities.”

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Among the exhibition highlights is a 1730 German map portraying human vices as separate kingdoms, with Latin names like Magni Stomachi Imperium, or The Empire of the Big Stomachs, and Litigonia, or Land of the Litigious. Town names are in idiomatic German. The land of the drunkards contains towns like Stolpen (Stumble,) Schlampen (Guzzle,) Hundsrausch (Dog Drunk,) and Schickihnheim (Send Him Home.)

Other items included in the exhibition include a facsimile of Sebastian Adams’ “chronological chart of ancient, modern and biblical history” – a 24-foot long timeline depicting all of human history, from 4004 B.C. until 1881 and an 1834 map satirizing Dutch university life, in which students must pass through the Mountains of Mathematics before entering nations representing scholarly disciplines like philosophy, medicine and literature.

Many of the items might not even be called maps, strictly speaking. As an example, research librarian Joseph Garver points to an early 18th century chart that depicts the rise and fall of various empires as streams in a “river of time.”

“Certainly, this is not a geographical map,” Garver said. “It’s a chronological map. For cartographers, it was an interesting challenge to portray the passage of time, because, in a way, it’s representing space as well. By tracing the various empires, they were illustrating how long it lasted, and the territorial expanse it covered as well.”

The idea for the exhibition was sparked, Garver said, by the requests he receives for unusual items.

“From time to time, patrons come in asking for items that don’t fit into the old Badger system,” he said. “That prompts me to take out one of the folders to see what is in it, and it’s always fascinating material.”

Rev. Badger’s Misfits: Deviations and Diversions will be on display in the Harvard Map Collection in Pusey Library through January 5, 2011. Hours, Directions