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America: Making a Federal Case out of It

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In advance of the Dec. 13 opening of ?Exploring the Early Americas,? Wyatt Mason of The New York Times Magazine penned a thought-provoking piece on the naming of America (with a suitably Colbert-esque headline), focusing on the new ongoing exhibit?s 1507 World Map by Martin Waldseem?

As Mason writes, the seven-letter word that names our country and essentially the entire Western Hemisphere might be taken for granted by those who say it. But the origins of the appellation ?America? can be elusive:

And it is, in fact, a similar chance for redefinition that the Library of Congress is now providing visitors. Yes, the case, which dwarfs those of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, is somewhat grandiose, perhaps suggesting a characteristically American presumption. And yet, if we can see past the 600-pound piece of glass and the argon gas within and stare at a space on the map barely an inch long occupied by seven significant letters, you cannot help seeing an ?America? that, very briefly, has been shorn of all meaning. It is ? and most usefully ? once again a newly minted word, one that might still mean anything.

After the jump are a couple of photos of that mighty encasement (built by NIST) being delivered to the Thomas Jefferson Building, courtesy of Dianne van der Reyden, director of the Library?s Preservation



Encasement for Martin Waldseemüller's 1507 World Map


  1. good article

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