Latitudes Newsletter March 2016

March 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 7 PM – Madison Bldg – LoC:  Dr. John Hessler, FRGS, LoC G&M staff, will present Watching the Apocalypse. His talk will initially focus on the history of dynamic cartography and the early attempts in the 1970s to introduce time as an explicit mapping variable in the creation of computer based cartography in motion. He will discuss some of the technical problems and how they were overcome using things like film based simulations and holograms. The last part of the talk will focus on modern flow mapping that produces dynamic in-motion maps of important far from equilibrium and quickly changing phenomena. Hessler will use flow maps created of the recent Syrian refugee crisis as an example of what this new and dynamic form of cartography can tell us about the world. WMS spends a lot of our time looking at the history of cartography; this talk will focus on the future.
John Hessler is one of the LoC’s best known polymaths and has spoken to WMS several times. Recently he played a pivotal role in the Phaidon Press best seller Map: Exploring the World. During summer 2015, he taught for the Rare Book School on The Art & Science of Cartography, 200–1550, attended by at least three WMS members. More about Hessler can be found by clicking here.
Note:  In April 2014, Dr Jen Ziemke, Co-founder and Co-director of the International Network for Crisis Mappers, spoke to WMS about crowd sourcing maps in poorly mapped areas during political crisis or natural disasters. This technique has rapidly gained credibility and was vital to relief work following the Nepal earthquake. Find out more about crisis mapping by clicking here

Saturday, March 19, 2016 – 10 to 11:30 AM – Library of Virginia – 800 East Broad Street, Richmond, Virginia:  There will be a free Introduction to Antiquarian Maps Workshop given by Eliane Dotson, vice president of the Washington Map Society, a Fry-Jefferson Map Society Steering Committee member, and the owner of Old World Auctions. Although the workshop is free, registration is required.  Click here to register.
Eliane will examine a variety of map types, discuss map terminology, color application, printing techniques, manufacture and creation, and clues to identify reproductions and forgeries. She will also explore questions such as what you should ask or think about when looking at a map and what maps can relate to us within their broader context.
I strongly recommend this to anyone wishing to get a cost-free foot-in-the-door of this fascinating world. Eliane is articulate, knowledgeable, and fast becoming an indispensable member of the map community in these parts. (The LVA is easy to find. Broad Street is one of the city’s main drags, with a direct exit (74C) from I-95; go about five blocks and it’s on the right. There is free parking underneath the building. It will be good practice for attending the Voorhees Lectures in April.)

Thursday – April 14, 2016 – 7 PM – Madison Bldg, LoC: Ed Papenfuse, former Archivist of the State of Maryland, will present Thomas Holdsworth Poppleton and the Surveyor's Map that Made Baltimore.
Saturday – April 16, 2016 – 1 PM – Library of Virginia: Field Trip to the Alan M. and Nathalie P. Voorhees Lectures on the History of Cartography, 800 E. Broad St., Richmond, VA. Donald Hawkins will present An Unappreciated Gift. Dennis Gurtz, WMS, will discuss The Evolving District of Columbia. An exhibit of maps from the LVA collection will accompany their talks (11:00 AM - 4:00 PM). There will also be a special map conservation workshop from the LVA’s conservator from 10-11 AM.  Click here for registration for the workshop. You may also pre-order lunch for the event by contacting the Library of Virginia Foundation at 804-692-3900 or


Friday – May 13, 2016 – Washington Map Society Annual Dinner – Gallaudet University:  Okay, this is a bit awkward but here goes - I’m the speaker. I’m almost as surprised as you are. Recently I was about to go home from my weekly volunteer day at the LoC when I found my path blocked by two burly, menacing senior WMS members who wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I told Ed and Ralph I’d do it.
My working title is Wind Rose: Flower of Antiquity or Mythical Black Orchid? Even I’m not entirely sure what that means. But too many modern sources use wind rose interchangeably with compass rose, and it just isn’t so – two different, albeit related, systems. We’ll travel back a millennia or two, even three, to see where all this started, and see what kind of artifacts it has left along the way.
Even with me as the speaker, the dinner should still be well worth attending. It will take place in the Kellogg Conference Center of Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. You will get a flier with the next Portolan, and I’ll have more to say in the next Latitudes. If you would like go ahead and register, there are two ways to do so. As always, you can send a check ($75 per person, made payable to WMS) to Peter J. Porrazzo, WMS Treasurer, 1924 Tysons Trace Drive, Vienna, VA 22182. This year we have also added an online registration/payment option, which will allow you to pay via PayPal or credit card (for a small additional fee).  Click here for online registration.

The name John Rennie Short is known to most map aficionados. He has written 39 books on various aspects of maps and their history, and he’s not done yet. He now lives in Washington, has attended a WMS meeting or two, and is a frequent visitor to the LoC Geography and Map Research Center.
On 18 February he spoke to WMS on the national atlas as a genre – not a specific work but a format arising in the 16th century. He identified three phases of its development. The Pre-Modern began just after the nation state system itself. These atlases were an aid to statecraft and a means of conferring legitimacy. The high expense and the low literacy rate restricted their audience to the socio-economic elite. Short focused on Saxton’s Atlas of England, 1579, and its French counterpart, Le Theatre Francois, in 1594 as examples. 

The Proto-Modern phase emerged in the early and mid-19th century, a product of nationalist sentiment which characterized the politics of that era. It arranged much of its data in the context of a larger global scientific discourse. Its audience still remained the elite. The Modern Modern Atlas (repetition intentional) appeared in the late 19th century and blossomed in the 20th. It depicted what Benedict Anderson has called the “imagined community,” and was often a by-product of political rupture and conflict.  It was comprehensive and often official, with the imprimatur of the state or a sub-element of the state. It continued the discourse of science, but also conferred a designation of nationhood through processes of legitimization and omissions and/or silences. They were often revolutionary and post-colonial as more nation states were created. They were often widely distributed and far more accessible than their predecessors had been. Short showed many examples from 20th and early 21st century works. This was a really good talk with many questions afterward.

In October 2016, Chicago will play host to three cartographic events of international importance. The first event (24-26 October) is the 34th International Symposium of IMCoS (the International Map Collectors Society), the topic of which will be Private Map Collecting and Public Map Collections in the United States. This will be held at the Newberry Library. There are significant fees for attendance at this event.

On 27-29 October, the Kenneth Nebenzahl Memorial Lectures will celebrate their 50th anniversary. They will do so by revisiting the topic of map collecting, with which they began in 1966. This updated version is titled Maps, Their Collecting, and Study - A 50 Year History. The venue will also be the Newberry Library. There is no charge for attending the Nebenzahl Lectures, but note that advance registration is MANDATORY. Finally, on 28-30 October the Fourth Annual International Chicago Map Fair will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center. There is a small charge for admission.
The crown jewels in all this are the Nebenzahl lectures. For a half century they have brought together the biggest names in the history of cartography, and the papers have been published as books by the University of Chicago Press. Many Washington Map Society members have attended the lectures over the years. Interested persons should begin now to watch for details. A good starting point would be the Newberry Library web site.

Many folks in the world of maps, including many of us in WMS, focus on one particular aspect of maps but don’t necessarily have an overall grasp of the history of cartography. The link below leads to a useful seven minute history of cartography from ancient days to the present. Needless to say, with breadth like that, seven minutes does not allow for much depth. But if that would fill a hole for you, click here to take a look.

Doing some research in the New York Times archives recently, I came across a short article from 2 August 1892, titled American Maps Are Bad.  Quoting from the Philadelphia Press, it reads:

          "It is doubtful," says Mr Jacques W. Redway, in an article on the projection of maps in the Proceedings of the Engineering Club of this city, "if anything short of a special act of Providence could give birth to a more beastly specimen of cartography than the average American wall map designed for educational purposes." We regret to say that this is strictly true. Our Federal Coast and Geological Survey maps are of the highest artistic and scientific merit, as Mr. Redway says. The topographical survey of New-Jersey, as issued by the New-Jersey Geological Survey, gives maps which deserve the enthusiasm of all who see them, and they are published by the State without profit at a cost rivaling that of any map issues. But the ordinary wall map and the atlas accessible to people of limited means in this country are the worst in the world, barring some maps in China or Turkey. As for Japan, the country as a whole is better mapped than our own. There is nothing accessible in this country like the cheap German maps."

I have no idea what set him off. Nor am I saying he’s right or wrong, although the headline could use some work; it’s pretty misleading (not that this ever happens in our own modern era).


T. S. Eliot famously began his poem The Waste Land with the declaration that April is the cruelest month. He went on to build a pretty good case, but it’s obvious he never had to live with the cussedness of March weather in the Washington area. Some of our worst snowfalls have come in that month. Once we get through it, we can retire this notice for another year. Meantime, here goes:

Notice: The Washington Map Society follows the closing decisions of the Federal Government. If they are closed due to bad weather, our meeting will be canceled. If bad weather develops on the day of our event, and the Government authorizes early release, we will probably still be forced to cancel. (If the Madison Building is closed, there’s not much we can do.) We will attempt to send a blast e-mail in that case. Please check your email before coming to a meeting when bad weather is predicted. You can also check the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) web site at  Finally, you can call the OPM status hotline at 202-606-1900.   A Word of Warning: Predicting snowfall in the DC area is an imperfect science at best.  We have cancelled meetings and then not a single drop of snow fell. That is always disappointing and irritating, but it doesn’t happen very often, and this is still the most workable system we have come up with over time.
Have a great Marc