Maps Exhibition Walk Through
For Immediate Release
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Find Your Way – and Your World – through Maps
Maps: Finding Our Place in the World takes visitors on a journey through time and culture, geography and imagination, art and technology – to discover how maps help us understand our world, our history, and ourselves. The exhibition explores innovative mapping technologies from the past, present, and future, and presents maps from cultures around the globe.
The spectacular and rarely opened Atlas of the Great Elector is an apt beginning to the journey. Standing almost seven feet tall, weighing 275 pounds, and bound in fine leather and gold with brass fittings, it is obviously more than a geographic tool. It is a symbol of its owner’s learning and worldliness, of the power and wealth of the Prussian state, of national pride – and an early hint that the maps visitors will see in this exhibition will tell us more than how to get from “here” to “there.”
Gallery One: Finding Our Way
The groundbreaking graphic simplicity of the London Underground map has made it an icon among wayfinding maps. Like this example, many of the most familiar maps are designed to help us travel a route from one point to the next. But that doesn’t mean they all look like the road map in your glove compartment. In the first gallery, visitors will discover that diverse approaches to wayfinding reflect the scope of human experience. For example, visitors can follow a thirteenth-century map that guided pilgrims on an imagined spiritual journey to the Holy Land. They’ll see a “Photo-Auto Guide,” a low-tech ancestor of today’s in-car navigation systems, with its turn-by-turn pictures taken by a camera mounted on the hood of a car. And in a video illustrating the modern version, they’ll learn the role that satellites and geographers play in supporting in-car navigation systems.
While maps for ground travel may use landmarks, other environments require different approaches. Visitors will encounter the fifteenth-century Carte Pisane, the earliest existing portolan chart that showed navigators precisely how to sail between points on the Mediterranean coastline; and they’ll see a navigation chart from the Marshall Islands, constructed of sticks and shells, that depicts patterns of waves and currents that helped sailors find their way from one island to another in the Pacific Ocean. Air travel takes off with an artifact from one of modern history’s most celebrated events: the map Charles Lindbergh assembled, annotated, and carried with him, charting the shortest course by air from New York to Paris.
Gallery Two: Mapping the World
Lindbergh based his map in part on that of another great traveler, a name many visitors will recognize: Gerard Mercator, whose system of mapping lives on in nearly every American classroom. In gallery two, visitors will come face to face with his 1569 world map, the famous Mercator projection that is still used to navigate the seas…and now, outer space.
Mercator’s projection is one example of the scientific approach to map-making that began with Ptolemy, one of whose maps is here as well. These are displayed along with Captain Cook’s chronometer and an astrolabe, inventions that, along with the compass, allowed navigators to keep track of their latitude and longitude in navigating the seas. A computer animation lets visitors see for themselves what happened when cartographers brought these instruments together to create what we now know as modern world maps.
In this gallery visitors will also see how diverse cultures have sought to visualize not only the physical earth but spiritual realms. Maps representing the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Islamic, and Christian traditions show how different people incorporated geographic knowledge into their religious worldviews. A medieval European map of the world, for example, shows Jerusalem at the center, while on a Hindu globe the continents emerge like lotus leaves from the central pole of Mount Meru.
Gallery Three: Mapping Places
In Jacobo de Barbari’s beautiful woodblock print – a bird’s-eye view of Venice from the Italian Renaissance – we see the city, with its magnificent ships and buildings, in monumental aspect. This gallery, the largest and most diverse in the exhibition, shows what maps can tell us through the mapmaker’s choice of materials and representational styles. From the ancient Babylonian city of Nippur to modern Europe, from the Peruvian Andes to central Africa, maps of communities, cities, nations, and specific regions cast light on what was important to those who made them.
The gallery includes maps drawn on clay tablets, molded into pottery, drawn on papyrus and deerskin, carved into wood, and painted in reindeer blood. A video illustrates the basic process of surveying, translating the physical lay of the land; visitors will see that while technology has moved from optics to lasers, fundamental principles such as triangulation are timeless.
Here visitors will encounter the oldest identifiable city plan, a map of the town of Nippur in what is now Iraq; inscribed on a clay tablet, the map dates to about 1500 BCE. They’ll see objects we would scarcely recognize as maps, such as a papyrus text dating from the fourth century BCE and a lukasa memory board, a carved map of spiritual geography as well as earthly space that could be interpreted only by members of an elite secret society in the eastern Congo.
Among the many stunning and historically important objects in this gallery are fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae, a monumental Roman map cut in marble; Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches for the street plan of the city of Imola; maps from The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes, a twelfth-to-thirteenth-century Arabic manuscript that came to light just a few years ago; and a British national treasure making its first appearance outside the United Kingdom: the Gough map, a thirteenth-century map of Britain believed to be the first large and generally accurate map of a European country.
Gallery Four: Mapping History
In 1782, British and American negotiators met to sign a peace treaty and define the territory of the new American nation. They used a map drawn some years earlier by John Mitchell, on which they outlined the U.S. boundaries in red, creating what came to be known as the “red line map.” After the treaty was signed, the map was presented to King George III, who made his own notes on it.
The red line map is one of several maps in the exhibition that not only document history but played a role in shaping it. Such maps reveal both what was and what people aspired to. For example, a 1784 map attributed to Thomas Jefferson outlines the proposed western states; and an 1849 map of the California trail charts the westward expansion that settlers were beginning to see as their “Manifest Destiny.”
A few steps away visitors will discover a different view of those aspirations: a map drawn in 1837 by Non-chi-ning-ga, an Ioway Indian, shows the historical movements of his people and stakes out their rights to their territory. An even older map similarly challenges the idea of the New World as vacant territory waiting to be claimed: a map of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, which Hernan Cortés triumphantly sent back to Spain in 1524 clearly shows the existence of a great city with a thriving culture at the center of a great empire.
Gallery Five: Visualizing Nature and Society
It has been called “the Map that changed the world,” and for good reason. William Smith’s early-nineteenth-century map of geological strata across England and Wales helped to overturn long-held ideas about the age of the Earth…and laid a foundation for Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Scientists use maps in remarkable and often ingenious ways to manage information and study the world from new angles. Their maps reveal patterns and phenomena that are otherwise unseen – in effect, giving shape to the invisible. This gallery holds many fascinating examples in addition to the Smith map. Visitors will encounter maps that revolutionized branches of science from epidemiology to plate tectonics; maps that illuminated issues in linguistics and sociology; and a beautiful drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that was the first map to use color to show changes in a landscape’s elevation – a technique centuries ahead of its time.
Visitors will also see several interactive displays illustrating how Field Museum scientists use maps and mapping technologies in their research. One, for example, will bring to life mammalologist Bruce Patterson’s use of radio telemetry and satellites to study the behavior of lions in Kenya. With the press of a button, visitors can see live-feed data on the movements of Kiboche, a male lion currently wearing one of Patterson’s radio-signal collars. In another interactive, visitors will explore the remote-sensing technology that archeologist Ryan Williams uses to see deep into the ground and across wide areas to uncover remnants of ancient civilizations.
Gallery Six: Mapping Imaginary Worlds
Where is the treasure on Treasure Island? Where will the yellow brick road take Dorothy before she gets to Oz? The books of our childhood are mapped on paper as well as in our hearts. While most cartographers use their imagination to help us visualize real things, like a round Earth or a continent divided into nations, others use the realistic methods of map-making to show us imaginary places.
This gallery is devoted to maps of places that have been traveled by countless readers, though they exist nowhere on earth. From Lilliput to Middle Earth, from Utopia to Yoknapatawpha County, visitors will delight in maps from favorite literary works. Many will consider the star of this gallery to be J.R.R. Tolkien, a man almost as obsessed with mapping Middle Earth as with telling its characters’ stories. Two of Tolkien’s original drawings are here, including Thror’s Map, which was published in The Hobbit, and one that he drew only for himself.
Gallery Seven: Living with Maps
Imagine that your cell phone could suggest a customized jogging route with precisely the level of hills you like. Or that while you’re walking through a new neighborhood, your handheld device could give you information about apartments for rent or special sales nearby. And how much easier would your life be if your in-car navigation system could notify you of difficult traffic conditions ahead and suggest an alternate route? Maps like these are just over the horizon …and visitors will have a chance to preview them in the exhibition’s final gallery.
Once the property only of the elite, maps long ago became an essential element of our everyday lives – whether we’re riding a subway, taking a road trip, or watching the evening news. The gallery begins with some early, low-tech example: maps used in interior decoration, wearable maps, maps for tourists and travelers, and maps made for children – including the world’s first jigsaw puzzle, a map of Europe divided into its countries.
These maps, like the others in this exhibition, served the needs of their times. But times – and technologies – are changing faster than ever before, as visitors will discover when they step into a highly immersive experience on the frontiers of mapping. Through a variety of interactive displays they can learn how digital maps are made…share a public exploration of any spot in the world through Google Earth…and dig into the demographics of any neighborhood in the U.S. They’ll discover how leading-edge map technology is being used to define special conservation areas, set up boundaries around military operations and public events, and respond to natural disasters. And they’ll have an opportunity to try out the high-tech, multi-purpose maps that will be a part of our everyday lives tomorrow.