Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boston & Beyond Map Exhibit at Boston Public Library

A new exhibit opened this week at the Boston Public Library (BPL) entitled Boston & Beyond. The exhibit displays 48 maps taken from the library's Norman B. Leventhal Map Center that provide bird's eye views of Boston and New England cities, with a handful of foreign cities as well. (Leventhal, by the way, developed the Boston Harbor Hotel, and one of the hotel's lobby is filled with great old maps of Boston and New England.) It's a must-see for any carto-philes (yes, I made that word up), budding Mercators, or anyone who enjoyed coloring in maps in junior high social studies.

Most of the maps date from the 1870s and the 1880, and it's fascinating to see how Boston and other cities looked back then. This map of Boston is typical of the maps in the exhibit. Even though the maps provide a bird's eye view, the cartographers did not soar to the sky in a balloon to get their perspectives. They walked the streets of the cities and made sketches that they transformed into these perspectives. There is a sketch book in the exhibit that shows how these map-makers produced these views.
The exhibit includes stunning maps of Boston, including ones in full color. (It's funny to see how much the city has changed. For example, the area out by Fenway is wide open, undeveloped land in some of these views.) Not only downtown Boston views-but neighborhoods such as Hyde Park and Jamaica Plain. Another section has maps of mill cities such as Nashua and Manchester in New Hampshire (no television satellite trucks or presidential candidates in these 1880s maps) and Springfield, Worcester, and Lowell. There are coastal cities such as Gloucester and Newburyport. Another section includes maps of suburbs such as Newton, Waltham, and Watertown (aka God's Country).

One of the most interesting pieces in the exhibit is an early map of New Amsterdam (New York City). You won't recognize Manhattan circa 1672 with its steep hills and winding streets. And for good reason! The map is a blatant copy of a 1617 map of Lisbon, Portugal. You can check out the New Amsterdam and Lisbon maps yourself on the BPL's web site.

After you visit the exhibit, there's no more appropriate place to grab a bite to eat than at the Sebastian's Map Room Cafe inside the library. It's right next to the exhibit.

The exhibit runs through June 30, so there's plenty of time to check it out. Lectures are scheduled for March and April on map topics, and they include a gallery tour after the talk. If you can't make it, you can check out these maps and others on the web site of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

I love Boston history and I love old maps. Thanks for the reminder about this show.