A Universe of Maps | Opening the David Rumsey Map Center

poster announcing the exhibition "A Universe of Maps"

A Universe of Maps: Opening the David Rumsey Map Center features an extraordinary selection of more than 150 rare and antiquarian maps, atlases, globes, and cartographic teaching materials, and celebrates the gift to the Stanford University Libraries of the David Rumsey Map Collection—one of the largest private map collections in the United States, comprising some 150,000 maps—and the opening of the center named for him. The David Rumsey Map Center is anchored by the Rumsey collection and augmented by other collections held in the libraries, including Glen McLaughlin’s Maps of California as an Island, the Oscar I. Norwich Maps of Africa, the Antiquarian Map Collection from Special Collections, and the historical maps from the Branner Earth Sciences Library. The Rumsey gift, building on these other collections, establishes a corpus ofcartographic material that is unparalleled on the West Coast.

The exhibition aims to inform and delight visitors with the history, purposes, and scholarly potential of maps and other cartographic material. Well-known maps and atlases, such as the first edition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Account of the Expedition . . . , with its foldout map delineating their route through the West (1814) and Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarum (1570)considered to the be first atlas, anchor the exhibition in the history of cartography. But the bulk of the display falls outside the neatline of tradition: A 19th-century Jain cosmological diagram hand-painted on cloth shares gallery space with a tactile atlas for use by the blind, an 1829 illustrated chart by J. Andriveau-Goujon showing the comparative lengths and heights of the principal mountains and rivers of the world, and A Chronological Picture of Nations, an 1836 timeline by Emma Willard that depicts the flow of historical events from 4004 BC to the 1830s as rivers of time on a single sheet.

Maps are visual and textual archives of historical information. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to peruse unusual representations of the Roman road network in the Peutinger Tables of 1619, and witness the beginnings of data visualization in Harry Beck’s pioneering 1933 map of the London Underground Railways. They will see an early 1907 road guide illustrated with photographs of each junction along the route and space for notes, an 1849 Map of the Gold Regions of California showing routes to California overland and by sea, and Coloney & Fairchild's 1866 Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters, which depicts the full length of the Mississippi River in an 11-foot by 2-inch retractable scroll.

Beautiful and enduring examples of 20th century graphic design are present as well: Lucien Boucher’s 1939 pictorial map advertisement for Air France; Leslie MacDonald Gill’s 1928 Country Bus-Services Map, a highly illustrated and embellished guide to the bus routes of greater London; and the iconic Beck’s map of the London Underground.

Novelty maps and teaching tools are featured as well, such as a map puzzle of the United States, an umbrella-type folding globe, a New York-to-San Francisco travel adventure game board, and the tiny, jewel-like  globe covered in fish-skin that opens to reveal the heavens inside.  School atlases demonstrate the importance of geography in 18th and 19th-century primary education. Several 19th-century maps created by schoolchildren are included.

Also on display is a series of contemporary solar-powered MOVA globes created using historic Cassini gores from the Rumsey collection and modern satellite imagery.

The physical objects on display represent the tip of the cartographic iceberg, providing an introduction to the range and depth of the physical collections, which are also readily available and accessible in digital format.

A digital representation of the exhibition is available at http://exhibits.stanford.edu