Off the Map


May 8th 2012

The mystery of the Marco Polo maps! Interested? Dr. Benjamin Olshin, Renaissance scholar extraordinare, offers his expertise this coming Saturday, May 12th, 2:30 pm at the Mid-Manhattan Library, 455 Fifth Ave at 40th St (across the street from the main library), on the 6th Floor. Olshin’s lecture, free of charge, is sponsored by the New York Map Society: see their website for details.

Civil War Map Exhibit, NYC

April 9th 2012

Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Ronald Grim–Curator of Maps for the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library–has created an exhibit of remarkable maps through which you can glean the history of the conflict. The exhibit opened in Boston last fall, but now has arrived at the Grolier Club in New York City: it will be there through April 28th, 2012. At 2:30 pm on Saturday, April 14th, join the New York Map Society for a (FREE!) tour of the exhibit led by Ronald Grim–note the particulars on the Map Society’s “Meetings” page.  The exhibit is great, and so is the Grolier Club: read its history here.

Happy 500th Birthday, Gerard Mercator

March 5th 2012

Mercator is aging well, or at least his maps are. He was a most remarkable and famous map and globe maker, known for his world atlases (in fact, he coined the word “atlas”), his piety, and his global projection–hey, Google uses it, so Mercator’s still the man! If you want background information, visit everybody’s go-to site or read Nicholas Crane’s great biography, Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet (NY: Henry Holt, 2003).

Or, if you’re in the NYC vicinity, attend some birthday parties. The first is the New York Map Society’s monthly lecture (FREE!), this coming Saturday, March 11, at 2:30 pm, 6th floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library.  Our speaker is renowned map scholar Mark Monmonier, talking about the problems inherent in map projections, starting with Mercator’s. (In case you don’t know, here’s the problem: the earth is round, maps are flat). After the meeting, we’ll cross 5th Ave. to the Schwartzman Building,  the main library with the lions in front, where Geospatial Librarian Matt Knutzen will show us original Mercator atlases. Aside from his importance as a mapmaker, Mercator’s maps are incredibly beautiful–beautiful digitally, but more beautiful in person.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! There will also be an exhibit of Mercator maps and globes in Room 117–the splendid map room–from March 13th to September 29th. FREE! Libraries are FREE!

A Cloud in the Firmament

May 12th 2011

No, this is not a bad weather report. Cartographic historian John Cloud is traveling north from DC to give a free talk at the New York Public Library at 2:30 this Saturday (April 14th 2011) sponsored by the New York Map Society, on whose board I sit (have I said that I’m in charge of programming? Recommend a speaker if you know a good one; I aim to please).  John’s one of the best map speakers I’ve ever heard; furthermore, HE’S A ROPER, a little something he learned growing up in West Texas, which makes him–aside from his great oratorical skills–the coolest cartographic historian ever.  Below are particulars:

John Cloud holds a PhD. in geography from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he wrote a dissertation on the geographic applications of the declassified CORONA reconnaissance satellite system. He is now the NOAA historian of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, the oldest element of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which makes NOAA the oldest scientific agency in the US government.  The agency began in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast, under a plan devised by the Swiss emigrant Ferdinand Hassler and accepted by President Thomas Jefferson. From the beginning, Hassler’s Survey was centered in, on, and around “New York Bay and Harbor and the Environs.” as Hassler termed it. Therefore, it is appropriate for NOAA people to return now and again to the ancestral homeland of the agency, here in “the Environs” of New York Bay and Harbor.

Vulgo (and other matters)

March 17th 2011

In honor of St Paddy, I dined on corned beef, cabbage and potatoes–and, in a rare departure from wine–beer. But I’d like to honor a more contemporary Irish spirit, the on-line Irish culture magazine Vulgo, whose NY Diarist, Julia Judge, just happened to feature me at just about the same time a genealogical search revealed  that I’m more Irish than I thought. Here’s the article. Read it first, of course, but check out the whole magazine–subscribe, even–it’s really good.

The map-making workshop I announced in my last post filled up immediately: that’s what happens when you combine “free” with wine and cheese. I’m planning to do another one on Sunday,  May 22nd, from 2-5. Again, it’s free, and we’ll have a fortified social hour at the end. For the substance of the workshop, see my 2/27/11 post.

I’ve volunteered to be the program coordinator for the New York Map Society for the 2011-2012 season. The Map Society meets once a month for a lecture at the New York Public Library, or a field trip elsewhere in the metropolitan New York area.  We’re interested in all aspects of mapping and cartography, not just antiquarian matters. If you’re aware of a speaker, map exhibit, map organization, or event you think we should feature, please let me know. Even if you can’t help me out here, check out our schedule and come to a meeting.

2 March Map Events in Manhattan

March 8th 2011

Come to the New York Public Library at 2:30 this coming Saturday (March 12) to hear John Woram–fellow New York Map Society board member, explorer, cartographic expert and author of many books–discuss “Putting Tierra del Fuego on the Map.”  John always laces history and scholarship with humor, and is thus able to keep an audience awake and happy for an hour and a half. The lecture–free and open to the public– is sponsored by the New York Map Society; read details here.

Tuesday, March 22nd at 6:30–As part of Asia Week, The Korea Society is sponsoring a lecture entitled “Mapping Identity: Antiquarian Korean Maps of the MacLean Collection” by curator Richard Pegg. Here’s a description:  “Richard Pegg, Asian art curator of Chicago’s MacLean Collection, examines Korean maps in a variety of formats, the challenges faced by cartographers, and the formation of multiple identities in Korea during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The MacLean Collection, housed in a private museum outside Chicago, focuses on the cultures of Korea, China, and Southeast Asia.”  The lecture costs $20 if you make reservations ahead; add $5 if you buy a ticket at the door. For more info, see The Korea Society website–lots of other interesting events there.

Googley-eyed Speaker, January 8th

December 29th 2010

Come to the New York Public Library at 2:30 on Saturday, January 8th, to hear Jesse Friedman discuss Google Maps. I met Jesse (whom I’d actually describe asbright-eyed rather than googley-eyed), a Product Marketing Manager for Google, when I was a speaker at the 2010 Gel Conference–I like his intelligence and enthusiasm, and am pleased that he accepted the New York Map Society’s invitation to speak.  Visit the map society website for particulars.


May 8, 2:30 pm: New York Map Society

May 5th 2010

On Saturday, Matt Knutzen, Geospatial Librarian for the The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division at the New York Public Library, will speak at the New York Map Society’s monthly meeting, held at the NYPL.  Read details on the Map Society’s website. Open to the public.  While you’re there, visit the beautiful map room (Room 117) and the current map exhibit, Mapping New York’s Shoreline–don’t procrastinate, because the exhibit ends on June 26.


Save the Date: April 10th Talk at the New York Public Library

March 23rd 2010

I’m giving a talk at the New York Public Library (the main building at 42nd and 5th, in the lower auditorium) with Roger Panetta, with whom I share the same views of history and the value of original documents (well, maps, of course) in education. Please come–no registration necessary, and no entrance fee.  The lecture is sponsored by the New York Map Society.Although we’re targeting educators, Roger and I think our observations will interest anyone intrigued by maps.

Saturday, April 10th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Breaking Borders: The New Map Scene
and what it means to Education

Connie Brown: “Mining Maps”

Mapmaker and owner of Redstone Studios, Ms. Brown will discuss the convergence of satellite mapping and the internet, and how the rise of cultural cartography creates a map explosion providing resources, creative inspiration, and tools for critical thinking. She will present new ways to read maps, explore the exuberant proliferation of serious and playful maps on the internet, the use of map imagery in fine arts, and the redemptive value of making maps by hand.

Roger Panetta: “Panoramic Maps and Reading the Landscape”

Fordham University Visiting Professor of History, Dr. Panetta will discuss the ways in which Wade & Croome’s 1846 Hudson River Panorama provided an engaging way to view the Hudson River landscape and became a rich tool for classroom instruction. For about one dollar—a bit more for a colored version—mid-nineteenth century Hudson River steamboat passengers could buy this small fold-out map to guide them along their river journey.


History is one f****** thing after another (Alan Bennett, The History Boys), Part I

November 29th 2009

Maybe, maybe not.

On November 18th, I participated in “Educators’ Evening,” a function at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.  Surrounded  by one of our globes,  a print of our most illustrious map (The Hudson River and its Watershed),  and some map-related educational material I’d developed, I talked to a slew of teachers  about cultural cartography and about mapmaking as a student activity. I think I have some pretty good ideas, and I was heartened by conversations with creative and dedicated teachers. I dozed through history when I was a kid:  dull textbooks, teachers blathering on.  I think I’d have come to life in the right hands and with good materials.

If you’re an educator interested in maps, chime in.  And stay tuned:  under the auspices of  The New York Map Society, I’m organizing a symposium on cartography in the classroom to be held (tentatively) at the New York Public Library on April 10th, 2010.  What I have in mind is a forum for the free flow of ideas. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, know that the AMNH regularly holds these free events for teachers.  This one involved a reception with really great food (in case you happen to bestarving young educator), a free tour of their new Silk Road exhibit, live Silk Road music, talks, and an opportunity to talk to organizations providing educational resources, including Redstone Studios.   For info, visit the museum’s website.