Sponsored by the Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library and the MacLean Collection Map Library in Chicago, IL, the Library of Congress is pleased to announce its participation entitled Mapping A World of Cities in a joint project with the American Geographical Society (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), the David Rumsey Map Center (Stanford Libraries, California), the Harvard Map Collection (Boston, Massachusetts), the John Carter Brown Library (Providence, Rhode Island), the New York Public Library (New York, NY), the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine (Portland, Maine), and the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan), centered on maps of cities large and small from each collection. The goal of the web site is to provide an opportunity to investigate and compare detailed maps of cities from different continents, countries, time periods, and institutions – all from the comfort of your living room!
Curators from each of the participating institutions were invited to select maps and provide captions detailing their significance. The Geography and Map Division selected a total of five maps and two focusing on Washington, DC are shown below. The fist, published in 1792 and annotated to show information from 1798, presents a picture of urbanization in the city. The second map, published in 1884, clearly illustrates the dramatic growth and urbanization of Washington, DC:
The web site poses several interesting questions and answers including how, when, where, and why do cities develop? Maps are one of our best tools for answering these questions. Cities are founded and grow in particular locations, driven by geographical features like fresh water or deep harbors as well as historical events like royal charters or speculators’ claims. Looking at maps helps us to understand the changing geography of urban life. Maps didn’t just serve as snapshots of how cities looked at one moment in time; in the form of plans, maps were also used to build, speculate, and fight over urban form. Historical maps reflect cities’ ethnic and economic transformations, systems of domination and oppression, sites of monumentality and squalor. They capture good times and bad, expansion, decay, and destruction. City dwellers take great pride in their cities, as part of a shared sense of place that embedded in a historical trajectory. Maps tell the stories of a city’s past, present—and perhaps its future.
Mapping A World of Cities is a digital collaboration between ten map libraries and collections in the United States. Covering four centuries, these maps show how world cities changed alongside the changing art and science of cartography. Explore the maps and images, and click through to the host institutions’ pages for more collections.
The Library of Congress is grateful for the invitation to participate in this unique project as we continue to search for ways to share our collections.
Do you have a suggestion for future collaborative projects? Please leave a comment below!