Maps are among the most paradoxical of objects: dedicated to accuracy, measure, and precision, they are unfailing harbingers of fancy, imagination, and the dream. They are tangible records of our yearning for adventure and exotic places and people; they record our physical daring and inherent homesickness for places we have never been. Elaborately drawn and carefully colored, a map can often exceed its practical function to become as much a work of art as a useful document.
Maps have been acquired by the Boston Athenæum since its founding in 1807 and have always been a vital component of its research collections. Today, the institution’s cartographic collection includes maps, charts, plans, and atlases ranging from the fifteenth to the twenty-first centuries. The majority of these are printed, but the collection contains a number of important manuscript maps as well.
The maps, charts, and plans that comprise this exhibition were all acquired since the year 2000. They are brought together now as part of an ongoing series of exhibitions titled Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum in the 21st Century, of which this is the third iteration. As this installation clearly demonstrates, the acquisition of cartographic materials remains an important part of the Athenæum’s mission.
Curator of Maps