Amazing map exhibition
June 4, 2008 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Maps: Finding our place in the world is an exhibit at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, and it runs until this Sunday June 8. That page contains images of a few of the maps. One of the many great things included is an animated map of the US Civil War in 4 minutes (one week per second, timeline noted at bottom, casualty counter rolling in bottom right corner - info about this animation) The exhibition book was previously linked here; that site includes higher-resolution versions of some more of the maps. I was floored by all the stuff they have; in terms of the rarity of the stuff in it, and the geek-delight factor, I think it's probably the best gallery show I've ever seen.

The show includes: maps made by Davinci, Geo Washington, Thos Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Cortes, and others; the first geologic map; the 1982 first map of ARPAnet, a map of the distribution of whales in the Atlantic in the late 1700s commissioned by Ben Franklin; a Marshall islands stick map; a carved nubbly chunk of wood carved into a map of the coast of Greenland; maps sewn onto silk by medieval Mediterranean sailors; Japanese, Indian, medieval European pilgrimage maps; maps made by indigenous people on every inhabited continent; the first relief map; the chart Charles Lindbergh used on his transAtlantic flight; the map that settled the boundary of the US at the surrender at Yorktown; Lewis and Clark's map; the map that historians think is the oldest city map, on a clay tablet from Sumeria; demographic and experimental maps from the social consciousness movements of the late 19th c; the Minard map of Napoleon's Russian campaign (so praised by Edward Tufte); the first Mercator projection map; maps of fictional places made by Tolkien, Frank Baum, and others; and on and on. The show includes images from the Hubble telescope and local artists' alternative mappings of Baltimore, too.

If you are interested in maps, history, or information design at all you should try to see this show; it is just breathtaking.

The exhibit was organized by the Field Museum in Chicago, and was shown there first. I don't know if it's going to visit other cities; I believe I read something suggesting it wasn't, but I can't find confirmation of that now.
posted by LobsterMitten (24 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome, I had never seen the Minard Map. The detail of information presented is purely brilliant. I think I am going to have to get that. And a new world map, as you would be surprised how useful it is to have a giant map on the wall to settle arguments.

Not at the exhibit, but an interesting maps also: XKCD's map of the internet, XKCD's map of online communities (where be metafilter)?
posted by mrzarquon at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2008

I can't begin to tell you how much I want to fly to Baltimore right now. Cursed Atlantic! Great post, I think I'll be buying the exhibition book. If you do hear about whether the exhibition will visit another city, or open again in the future, would you maybe add a comment to the post? Thanks for this. Wow.
posted by farishta at 3:26 AM on June 5, 2008

Why? Why couldn't this post have been made in March when the exhibition was still fresh and new? When I didn't already have a million things I have to do and only a few days left to see it? Why?!?
posted by Pollomacho at 4:35 AM on June 5, 2008

I'm really happy you posted a link to the map of the civil war in 4 minutes; I saw it at the Lincoln Presidential Museum (which is worth a visit if you happen to be in Springfield, IL) and thought it was incredible. But my family wouldn't let me sit and watch it over and over again...
posted by leahwrenn at 5:05 AM on June 5, 2008

Very neat; I look forward to exploring those links. Too bad I moved away from Baltimore when I was five!

The Civil War in 4 minutes is great; I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on Lincoln right now and it dovetails nicely with that. I would love to have it in HD video.
posted by TedW at 5:58 AM on June 5, 2008

I can't believe I'm going out of town tomorrow; I'd love to see this. The maps without paper are like a whole new world in themselves - the stick charts in particular. What an elegantly sparse and sensible way of seeing, recording, navigating, understanding the world - so alien to land-dwelling me and so cool.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:08 AM on June 5, 2008

There are some cool maps on display at the Library of Congress in DC, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:46 AM on June 5, 2008

The Civil War in Four Minutes is awesome! You see "Sherman's March" and then RIP!
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:07 AM on June 5, 2008

I saw this exhibit when it was in Chicago. My favorite by far was the model of Bouillon, Belgium (thanks to which model I instantly recognized that picture of the castle) and its surrounding territory, apparently used by the armies of Louis the XIV to plan a siege/assault during the Nine Years' War.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:48 AM on June 5, 2008

That was brilliant. In the comments of the 4 minute Civil War is a link to the same kind of application that shows the European front in World War 2. Don't know if it's any good, going to check it out now. Thanks LM for the links.
posted by vito90 at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2008

Ooh Here's a link to a historian who makes animated maps as a hobby. None are quite as cool as the Civil War map, and some are sort of...misleading, but neato anyway. His library gathers more animated maps, sorted by war/subject.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:50 AM on June 5, 2008

If I were on the Other Coast I would head right to the Walters (a great, great place).

That Civil War map is a helluva thing. Great post, LoMitt. Thanks.
posted by rtha at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2008

Great post! That Civil War map was awesome.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2008

Thanks to vito90 for finding this gem, a must see in my opinion.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:50 AM on June 5, 2008

Great post—I love maps and look forward to exploring the links!
posted by languagehat at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2008

farishta: the exhibition book is good, lots of interesting text and lots of smallish pictures. BUT - I was a bit disappointed; it doesn't have full-page reproductions of many of the maps, but smaller (3"x3" for example) repros, or only parts. Just FYI. If there's any specific thing you're interested in, I can look and let you know what coverage the book has of it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2008

*drools* mmm, maps!
posted by owhydididoit at 10:18 AM on June 5, 2008

They also have the map of the low countries that's in the background of Girl with a Water Pitcher by Vermeer.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2008

Animated map of Middle Eastern empires.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:31 AM on June 5, 2008

That Civil War map sucks ass--as I said last time it was posted:

"The damned fiddle music establishes a feeling that the war was a tragedy and mistake instead of an ugly necessity and one of the greatest triumphs of American ideals. A noble but hapless South is cut to pieces by a powerful and aggressive north in a series of body blows and dismemberments.

"But another way to look at the same map is as the march of freedom. Union armies marching south were often overwhelmed by "contra-bands," enslaved black Americans who took the opportunity to shake off their bondage and flee towards the sound of the guns and freedom. It was in no small part the need to do something with all these newly freed people that forced the North to begin using black troops.

"So imagine the same animation, but with the Battle Hymn of the Republic instead of Ashokan Farewell (which is not even period music, I believe it was written in the 1980s). Instead of the iconic Masta Lee and Jefferson Davis in the corners put Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Replace the body counter with the number of Americans freed from bondage each year of the war with an occasional animated arrow showing especially large numbers. Make the Union areas the lighter color and the Confederate areas darker. You'd have quite a different narrative, and one that would better reflect the true meaning of the war in American history."
posted by LarryC at 11:36 AM on June 5, 2008

The exhibit also has John Snow's cholera map, beginning of modern epidemiology.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:25 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

LarryC, oops, didn't find that double of the civil war thing. Yeah, I agree that I would like to see a bunch of other data included with that map; surely the casualty figures are important though. The map was made by the Lincoln Museum, so I don't think it's trying to suggest that the union victory was tragic. I think the music is a bit lazy, but it's just meant to evoke that Ken Burns, gosh a lot of people died in this war, feeling. It's like the non-side-taking theme song of the war (now, post-Ken Burns).

I do wonder why the museum felt the need to not take sides; maybe out of a desire for "balance" in historical perspective. (It could be that the Lincoln museum has other similar animations alongside this one too; I don't know.)

Another map included in the book, though I'm not sure if it's in the Baltimore version of the exhibit, is the map of the distribution of the slave population of the US before the war, which apparently Lincoln studied again and again.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:35 PM on June 5, 2008

Lobstermitten: This is a good post by the way, I should have said that first.

I disagree that the Lincoln Museum did not take sides. That video supports, however subliminally, a Confederate view of the war. When you leave slavery out of the Civil War, that is what you do.

More interesting is why the museum would do such a thing. I think it is an unconscious holdover from older interpretations of the war. The sort of thing that makes us say "southerners" when we really mean "white southerners:--i.e. "southerners supported slavery, even if they did not own slaves themselves."
posted by LarryC at 3:47 PM on June 5, 2008

LarryC, I'm not fully convinced. It contains just the territory controlled and the body count (I take it it's the body count of military personnel, not civilians? Not certain). I'm sure the Lincoln museum doesn't try to divorce slavery from the war in general (or do you know that it does?). Suppose we had a similar map of WWII showing just territorial holdings and military body count, but not showing deaths in the concentration camps. Would that be endorsing an Axis view of the war? It doesn't seem to me that it would be, even though the deaths in the camps are obviously hugely morally significant, and central to the meaning of the war and to understanding what was going on at that time.

I mean, I agree that I'd like to see a similar map with a number of different stats, and I agree entirely that the war is not divorcable in general from the status of the people who were enslaved and then un-enslaved. So this map is merely-partial. But I'm not convinced that it's taking sides or that it endorses the Confederate view.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:53 PM on June 5, 2008

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