First X, Then Y, Now Z: Landmark Thematic Maps at Princeton

Inevitably today, when you open the pages of the New York Times or an issue of National Geographic, you will encounter a thematic map. It may highlight an historic walking tour, locate where to find the cheapest gas, or identify global warming hotspots. Though the topics are endless, their geographical presentations will be visually interesting and intuitive—at least that is the goal. How, where, and when did this genre of cartography develop?

Opening on August 24 in the main exhibition gallery of Princeton University Library, “First X, Then Y, Now Z: Landmark Thematic Maps” introduces viewers to the early history of thematic mapping—the topical layering (Z) of geographic space (X-Y)—through both quantitative and qualitative examples. On display will be early, if not the earliest, thematic maps in various disciplines, such as meteorology, geology, hydrography, natural history, medicine, and sociology/economics. In some cases the maps literally changed the world in the sense that new scientific avenues of investigation resulted. Also, a selection of more fanciful, “theme” maps, on literary subjects, love/marriage, and utopia, will be shown.

Several groundbreaking atlases will be included in the exhibition:

•    Dr. Heinrich Berghaus’ Physikalischer Atlas . . . (1845-1848), a two-volume work by German geographer Heinrich Berghaus (1797-1884), is considered to be the first scientific, physical atlas. This work represents the culmination of all the innovations in the different ways men had looked at the geographic landscape of the world, and the evolving techniques that had developed to display those views, since the time of English empiricst Francis Bacon.
•    Maps drawn from the first U.S. statistical atlas, based on the 1870 census and compiled by American economist Francis Amasa Walker (1840-1897), a future president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offer colorful interpretations of post-Civil War America.
•    The worldwide distribution of such crops as wheat, rice, and corn, as well as other plant groups, is the subject of maps in Grundzüge einer allgemeinen Pflanzengeographi (1823), the first vegetation atlas, created by the Danish botanist Joakim Frederik Schouw (1789-1852).

Among landmarks of thematic mapping on exhibit will be:

•    The first geological map of North America (1756), “Carte minéralogique, où l’on voit la nature des terreins du Canada et de la Louisane . . . 1752,” by French geologist Jean Ettienne Guettard (1715-1786).
•    The first linguistic map, “Europa poly glotta: Linguarum genealogiam exhibens, una cum literis, scribendiq[ue] modis, omnium gentium” (1741), by German rector Gottfried Hensel (b. 1689?).
•    The first postal road map, “Carte géographicque des postes qui trauersent la France” (1632), by Nicolas Sanson (1600-1667), the French royal geographer.

In addition, there will be four thematic maps created recently by Princeton graduate students who are employing cartographic data representation methods (GIS) in their research projects.

Finally, the exhibition hopes to answer this basic question: Who is the typical Princeton exhibition viewer? An on-going thematic map will be created from viewer responses regarding gender, Princeton or other affiliation (student, alumnus, faculty/staff, local resident, other visitor), and the state or foreign country where the person was born and/or grew up.

Gallery hours are: M-F (9-5), Sa-Su (noon - 5). The exhibition runs through 10 February 2013. Curator tours will be given in the exhibition gallery at 3 p.m. on the following dates: 9/9/2012, 11/11/2012, 1/13/2013.

A companion volume and website are available. See:
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