The “Manuscript Maps: Hand-Drawn Treasures of the Harvard Map Collection” exhibit has been open to both Harvard affiliates and the general public free of charge. The maps are centuries old—in one case dating back to 1620.
“We wanted to highlight some of the unique maps,” said David E. Weimer, Librarian for Cartographic Collections and Learning. “A lot of the times the focus of the exhibition is on the content of maps, so we wanted to have an exhibition that focused on the process.”
The oldest work in the collection, a portolan chart made in Marseille, is a richly colored example of a style of maps rarely seen today. The chart was drawn on vellum parchment with lapis lazuli, toasted lead, verdigris, and gold to produce bold colors that have endured four centuries.
Another one of of the highlights of the collection is “Massachusetts,” a multi-layer map of the state from the mid-nineteenth century. While the original copy is kept behind glass, there is an uncovered reproduction on display. Visitors may lift the map’s layers to reveal an abandoned draft beneath.
“It definitely shows the craftsmanship and care that goes into [the maps],” Jake Y. Tilton ’19 commented . “They’re also just cool to look at aesthetically, and also very informative.” Tilton also remarked that for him, the most salient feature of the exhibit was the “variety of different maps and different styles.”
This diversity in geography and time was carefully considered by the curators of the exhibit.
“It’s always a matter of figuring out the kind of story you want to tell,” Weimer said.
The Map Collection boasts more than 400,000 maps, meaning that selecting individual maps to display for the exhibit could be complicated.
“It was [a matter of] balancing some of the unique personal stories that each of the maps has, against how striking they were visually, versus some geographical range,” Weimer said.
This exhibit will be on view in the Map Gallery Hall on the first floor of Pusey Library from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m from Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday through Sept. 27.
The Map Collection has also made an online version of the exhibit available. The Map Collection offers print reproductions for $2 per square foot for University students, faculty members, and staff.
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