Maps: Finding Our Place in the World Main Press Release
For Immediate Release
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MAPS: FINDING OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD
Journey through Landscapes of Time and Space, Science and Imagination
November 2, 2007 to January 28, 2008
What makes maps so hypnotic? Is it their endless detail that magically draws us in? The worlds of possibilities they offer as they take us on vicarious journeys? Their connection to a moment in history? Their sometimes dazzling beauty?
Whatever your own connection to maps, you’ll discover unexpected new dimensions of these remarkable objects in Maps: Finding Our Place in the World. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see more than 130 of the world’s greatest maps: Maps from ancient Rome and Babylonia. Gorgeous, ground-breaking maps by Leonardo da Vinci and Mercator. Maps borrowed from the Vatican, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the great libraries of the world. You’ll see the oldest road map of Britain and the map that drew the first boundaries around a new American nation. Maps that scarcely look like maps at all: mysterious forms carved in wood, landscapes fired on ceramic vessels, navigational charts composed of sticks and shells. You’ll see maps made by dreamers like J.R.R. Tolkien and by visionaries like the Internet pioneers. You’ll learn how early maps were made, discover how map-making has changed over centuries, and see how map technology is being used by Field Museum scientists today. And in a series of high-tech displays you’ll have a unique opportunity to experience the latest map technologies.
Maps: Finding Our Place in the World is organized by The Field Museum and The Newberry Library. In addition to maps from over 60 lenders worldwide, it features artifacts from both organizing institutions, including more than 20 rare maps from the Newberry’s world-famous collections. The exhibition is presented by NAVTEQ.
Unfolding the Meanings of Maps
Most people think of maps as useful tools to get us from where we are to where we want to go – and of course they are, says James Akerman, Director of the Newberry Library’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography. “But maps tell us much more than where a place is or how to get from here to there,” he adds. “They tell us what’s important to the people who made or used them.” For example, he says, in places where river transport was of prime importance, rivers are shown as much wider than they would be if drawn to scale; modern road maps emphasize drivable roads, with little regard for rivers and lakes; and subway maps note the order of stations, usually without regard for the distance between them. They also tell us what’s not considered important to the makers and users – such as a map of colonial America that completely ignores large Indian nations.
World maps are equally revealing. In maps that represent religious or traditional views of the world, a sacred place – Jerusalem for the Medieval Christian world, the mountains of central Asia for Hindus and Buddhists – is often at the center, and spiritual or supernatural realms may appear beside geographic locations. Navigational maps, by contrast, may focus on patterns of wind and waves, on coastlines, or on measurements of latitude, longitude, and angles – all aimed at getting sailors where they need to go. And the Congo artist who created the exhibition’s lukasa memory board – a conceptual map of local chiefdoms, history, and politics – was concerned as much with secret knowledge of Luba genealogy as with visible places.
You Call That a Map?
The lukasa, carved with ideograms…a clay fox astride a pot…an Inuit shoreline carving…an arrangement of sticks. Some of the objects in the exhibition scarcely look like maps at all. What are they doing here?
“We deliberately set out to stretch visitors’ ideas of what a map can be,” explains Robert W.. Karrow, Jr., Curator of Special Collections and Curator of Maps at the Newberry. “We tend to think of geographic accuracy as the main goal of maps, but it’s important to recognize that there’s more than one way to view that.” An Inuit paddling his kayak along a shoreline in the dark, for example, has more use for a carved object with contours he can feel than for one with carefully drawn lines of latitude and longitude or boundaries drawn precisely to scale.
The idea driving the exhibition, says Karrow, is to look at maps on their own terms. Maps are as old as language, he points out, and old maps are not primitive versions of our own but languages suited to their time and place. “We don’t read Chaucer and say he couldn’t write well,” Karrow says. “We read him and get a picture of his times, and a new perspective on ourselves.” Similarly, maps are windows into lives and times and cultures. And like all products of human culture, they show us people addressing needs that are as old as humankind.
Expanding Our Knowledge
One basic need addressed by maps is to convey information and knowledge. The exhibition offers many examples of map-makers developing ways to convey knowledge, especially new knowledge, about the world we inhabit: visible things, like the newly discovered continents of the Americas or the great city of Tenochtitlan, and things not yet seen, like the roundness of the earth, the realms of the spirit, and the geography of fictional lands.
Scientists, in particular, often have the imagination as well as the knowledge to map things unseen. Leonardo da Vinci, Jim Akerman points out, was a cartographer as well as an artist, and his map of central Italy – the first to use color to indicate changes in elevation, today called a hypsometric map – was a breakthrough. “There was no precedent for it,” Akerman says, “and there would be nothing like it for another three hundred years.”
Scientific maps can even create knowledge and make important discoveries themselves. For example, John Snow’s famous map of a cholera outbreak in the 1850s allowed him to pinpoint the source of the disease: a single contaminated well. A century later, Marie Tharp’s charts of the Atlantic sea floor provided evidence for plate tectonics, the movement of the earth’s crust. But perhaps the most famous was a geological map of England created 200 years ago by William Smith. In revealing the relative ages of layers of rocks, it laid the foundation for Darwin’s work a few decades later – and came to be called “the map that changed the world.”
Mapping the Road to the Future
Once used primarily by rulers, navigators, and other members of elite society, maps have now become a part of our daily lives – thanks in large part to new technologies. Nearly 250 years ago, Captain Cook set sail with a new kind of chronometer and for the first time was able to accurately measure longitude and pinpoint his position on a map. A generation ago we sat in the family car enthralled by the road maps that guided our summer vacation. Today we turn on the television to see a radar weather map, go to a Web site to chart the best route to a new restaurant, and use an in-car navigation system to guide us there, step by step. Computer animation, videos, and interactive displays throughout the exhibition provide engaging opportunities to understand all of these technologies, and more.
For many, though, the most exciting displays will be those that allow us to look to the horizon and glimpse the new generation of mapping technologies. From hand-held devices that guide you to the nearest pizza parlor (and even display its menu!) to in-car systems that change your route to avoid traffic jams, maps are becoming increasingly clever and powerful instruments. They’re the iPhones of tomorrow…and you’ll see them first at the Field.
The exhibition will be shown at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore from March 16-June 8, 2008. For more information, please visit www.thewalters.org.
Tickets to Maps: Finding Our Place in the World include Museum admission and are priced at $19 for adults, $14 for seniors and students with ID, $9 for children 4-11. Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Visit www.fieldmuseum.org or call 312-922-9410 for details.
To purchase tickets visit fieldmuseum.org. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Call our Group Sales office toll-free at 888-FIELD-85 (888-343-5385).
Hours and General Information
The Field Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day. Last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. For general Museum information call 312-922-9410 or visit our interactive web site at www.fieldmuseum.org.
Location and Travel Information
The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, on CTA bus lines #6, #12, and #146, and close to other routes and the Metra electric and South Shore lines. An indoor parking garage is located just steps from the main entrance. For more travel information, call the Illinois Department of Transportation, 312-368-4636, or the RTA Travel Center Hotline, (312) 836-7000.