2009 – 2010 Meetings

Date: September 17, 2009
Title: How a Jamaican Planter Established Greenwich Longitude
Speaker: David Buisseret
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

Charles Boucher had the good fortune to make friends at Oxford University with Edmund Halley, and in the misty Thames Valley they would make astronomical observations together. So when he went back home to Jamaica, Boucher took a collection of books and instruments. He lost many of them when his ship hit a reef, but all the same, was able to send some remarkably accurate observations back to Halley, as a result of which the English cartographers were able to revise their figures for the longitude of Jamaica. And, in what would be a rather revolutionary development, these were now calculated west from England, and no longer east from the Canaries. Catastrophic shipwrecks, like the one Boucher encountered, became much less common.

Date: October 15, 2009
Title: People Behind the Maps: A Family Album of the Men and Women Who Made the Newberry a Center for Cartographic Studies
Speaker: Bob Karrow
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

We talk a lot about the Newberry’s cartographic collections, but seldom about how they got here or what was done with them after that. Generations of benefactors, collectors, librarians, scholars, and curators gave thousands of hours to these tasks, and this talk will try to identify many of them, providing a sort of illustrated genealogy of Newberry map folks. Along the way, we’ll see some of the maps, catalogs, and other works which they created.

Date: November 19, 2009
Title: The Fourth Part of the World
Speaker: Toby Lester
Location: Ruggles Hall, The Newberry Library

For millennia Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia. They drew the three continents in countless shapes and sizes on their maps, but occasionally they hinted at the existence of a “fourth part of the world,” a mysterious, inaccessible place, separated from the rest by a vast expanse of ocean. It was a land of myth—until 1507, that is, when Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, two obscure scholars working in the mountains of eastern France, made it real, printing a huge map which, for the first time showed the New World surrounded by water and distinct from Asia. I in honor of the supposed discoverer, Amerigo Vespucci, they gave this New World a name: America. The Fourth Part of the World is the story behind that map, a thrilling saga of geographical and intellectual exploration, full of outsize thinkers and voyages. Taking a kaleidoscopic approach, his narrative sweeps across continents and centuries, zeroing in on different portions of the map to reveal strands of ancient legend, Biblical prophecy, classical learning, medieval exploration, imperial ambitions, and more. In Lester’s telling the map comes alive: Marco Polo and the early Christian missionaries trek across Central Asia and China; Europe’s early humanists travel to monastic libraries to recover ancient texts; Portuguese merchants round up the first West African slaves; Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci make their epic voyages of discovery; and finally, vitally, Nicholas Copernicus makes an appearance, deducing from the new geography shown on the Waldseemüller map that the earth could not lie at the center of the cosmos. The map literally altered humanity’s worldview.

Toby Lester is a contributing editor to and has written for The Atlantic on subjects that include the sociology of new religions, the attempt to reconstruct ancient Greek music, the struggle to change alphabets in Azerbaijan, and the chance harmonies of everyday sounds. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Date: December 17, 2009
Title: Peary and Me: Arctic Travels and Research
Speaker: Harry Stern, Polar Science Center, University of Washington
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

It was a hundred years ago this year that Admiral Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole (or did he?). The ship he went north on was commanded by Captain Robert Bartlett, who got the Peary party to within 130 miles of the pole. Bartlett went on to have his own celebrated career as an arctic explorer and hero, and from 1925-1945, at the command of his schooner, the Effie M. Morrissey, he led many important scientific expeditions to the far north. Our speaker (not our Harry Stern, but his son, Senior Mathematician at the Polar Science Center of the University of Washington) will review for us the history of Peary’s epic journey and Bartlett’s later adventures, and reveal a personal relationship that connects him to both men. Time permitting, he will also share with us some of his observations (not e-mails!) relating to global warming.

Date: January 21, 2010
Title: The NLCC (Newberry Cartographic Catalog)—What’s in it, How to use it
Speaker: Patrick Morris
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

More and more lately, if you Google the title of an old map (in quotes) one of the first hits you’ll see will be for a site called “Biblioserver.” That’s because Biblioserver hosts the Newberry’s Cartographic Catalog, one of the largest online listings of maps, atlases, and literature on the history of cartography. Currently including 68,383 records and growing by hundreds of records a mouth, the NLCC is the basic gateway to the Newberry’s world-class cartographic collections, Pat Morris, Map Cataloger and Reference Librarian (and long-time CMS Treasurer) has been adding to the map catalog since he came to the Newberry 21 years ago, and has built the NLCC to the behemoth it is today. With a live internet connection, Pat will demonstrate how you om plumb the depths of the Newberry collections from the comfort of your own home. Wondering what maps we might have of interest to you? Bring your curiosity and your questions.

Date: February 18, 2010
Title: Exploring Byzantine Cartographies: Ancient Science, Christian Cosmology, and Geopolitics in Imperial-Era Mapping
Speakers: Alex G. Papadopoulos, DePaul University
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

Byzantine cartography is an important link to the mathematical, astronomical, and geographic vanguard of the Hellenistic period. It has connections to the works of Claudius Ptolemy, to geographical models of pre-Socratic philosophers and Classical period historians, and to Byzantine theology which engaged in a biblical exegesis of the world through the medium of cartography. The study of Byzantine maps illuminates how Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean people understood themselves, their belief systems, and their political position in the known world. Prof. Papadopoulos will explore the challenges of studying the East Roman and Byzantine mapping traditions and objects, and propose a taxonomy of such objects that can direct future study.

Date: March 18, 2010
Title: The Spectacle of Maps in America, 1750-1800
Speaker: Martin Brueckner, University of Delaware
Location: Ruggles Hall, The Newberry Library

This talk will explore the rise of wall maps as a popular decorative object during the period encompassing the first consumer revolution in North America. Taking his cue from much overlooked 18th-century definitions that declared maps to be “pictures,” Prof. Brueckner will talk about how display maps intersected with theories of visual representation, decorative/architectural design, and actual display practices. Considering, among others, Henry Popple’s Map of the British Empire (1733, the century’s largest map), Lewis Evans’ Map of the Middle British Colonies (1755), and John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French dominions in North America (1755), Prof. Brueckner will track their decorative uses as they and other map-like objects circulated through public assembly halls and private parlors. He hopes to demonstrate how decorative maps may have “carto-coded” early America in surprisingly uncartographic ways, affecting everything from domestic living culture to ideas about modern interiority.

Date: April 15, 2010
Title: Reconstructing Past Geographies: Historical Perspectives on Some Illinois Maps and Views
Speaker: Gerald A. Danzer, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

One of the major purposes for studying old maps and views is to reconstruct past geographies in order to envisage a region as people in the past conceived it. Time travel is one of the pleasures of looking at a dated map. Like all thoughtful journeys, it helps us to grasp our situation in time and space. Tonight’s program will take an intensive look at selected historic maps and views from our city and state.

Date: May 20, 2010
Title: Field Trip to the Northwestern University Library for an Introduction to the Map Collections at Northwestern University and a talk on the Conservation, Digitization, and Importance of “The Oldest Map of Evanston”
Speaker: Chieko Maene, Maps and State Documents Librarian, Northwestern University Library
Location: Ver Steeg Faculty Lounge, Northwestern University Library

Join us on a springtime expedition to a great local map collection at Northwestern University. Our guide, Chieko Maene, will introduce us to the collections (containing more than 200,000 maps) and will give us an overview of the GIS resources and services they provide. We will see the very rare map of Evanston published around 1871 by Theodore Reese and we’ll learn about the digitization, restoration, and preservation that the University undertook on the map.

Date: June 15, 2010
Title: The Newberry’s ‘Lost’ Manuscript of Ptolemy’s Geography
Speaker: Renate Burri, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Location: Towner Fellows’ Lounge, The Newberry Library

Besides our wonderfully complete collection of printed editions of Ptolemy’s Geography, the Newberry owns three manuscript editions, two in Latin and one in Greek. The only Greek Ptolemy in North America came to Chicago as early as 1895, but until now it has never been intensively studied. Greek manuscripts of the Geography are the topic of Ms. Burri’s doctoral work, and she has already revealed to us new discoveries about the date and origins of the manuscript. Come join us as she introduces us to the manuscript tradition of the greatest cartographer who ever lived, and shares with us some of the unusual features of Ayer MS 743.