Latitudes newsletter Jan 2016

(formerly the WMS E-Newsletter)


The old WMS e-Newsletter is now called Latitudes. Does this mean there are big changes ahead? No. We just wanted a name that didn’t sound like a leftover from the early days of the web when nearly everything virtual was e-Something. Finding a good name was harder than we thought; a lot of them were already taken.  (Jon Dotson came up with this one.)  Its content will remain pretty much the same because its role remains the same: keeping members in touch with the Society between Portolans and informed about events, especially meetings.


Thursday, January 21, 2016 – 7 PM – Madison Bldg – LoC: (Revised Description) Dr. Geoffrey Martin, Archivist, American Association of Geographers (AAG), will speak on the development of his recent book, American Geography and Geographers: Toward Geographical Science. The rise of American geography as a distinctive science in the United States straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, extending from the post-Civil War period to 1970. Originally the result of a German educational trend, it culminated in a distinctly American enterprise in the nation’s academic firmament.  From their grasp of local, regional, global and cultural phenomena, geographers played pivotal roles in world historical events, including the two world wars and their treaties, as the US became the dominant global power.  Dr. Martin is considered to be the foremost historian of American geography and has been the official archivist of the Association of American Geographers, for nearly 30 years. For more, click here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016 – 7 PM – Madison Bldg – LoC: John Rennie Short Professor in the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will speak on The National Atlas.   This talk looks at the emergence of modern national atlases in various nations in the late nineteenth century and down to the present day; it reflects on the rise of the postcolonial, the newly independent, and the recently reinvented. The talk considers a number of themes including how these atlases depict national landscapes, embody national communities and condense national debates.  Dr. Short is the author of 37 books and many papers in academic journals, many dealing with cartographic themes. For a look at the US experience in this field, click here.

Thursday – March 24, 2016 – 7 PM – Madison Bldg, LoC:
John Hessler, FRGS, LoC G&M staff, will present Watching the Apocalypse: Using GIS and Social Media to Map Refugees.
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 Alexandria, Virginia: In and Out of the District of Columbia, 1791-1865. Dennis Gurtz, WMS, will discuss Iconic Maps of Washington D.C. An exhibit of maps from the LVA collection will accompany their talks.
Friday – May 13, 2016 - Washington Map Society Annual Dinner: Planning is actively under way; speaker and location tentatively chosen; will be announced as soon as confirmed.

The 3 December presentation by Jay Lester was fine, as everyone who knows Jay expected it to be. One of the best known maps from the colonial era is the so-called Mouzon map, first published in May 1775. Beautifully executed, it was actually titled An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina with their Indian frontiers, etc. The map was the culmination of cartographic effort over the span of about 50 years with contributions from a number of cartographers. One could argue (and Jay did) that Mouzon was among the least important of these. In his seminal Southeast in Early Maps, Professor William Cumming made it clear that the map was the work of many hands, but he published an essay about the map in which, for brevity’s sake, he called in the Mouzon Map. The short-hand name eclipsed the hard-won accumulation of knowledge which had been built up by Mouzon’s predecessors over half a century. You can read the full story on Jay’s blog here.

The 17 December talk by Matt Gilmore on The Real Plan of the District of Columbia: The 1893-1908 Map of the Permanent System of Highways provided the next chapter to the talk given by Chas Langelan the month before on Henry B. Looker. For those familiar with Washington, especially the north and northwest portions, it was fascinating to see how it used to look, almost looked, and eventually did look. In the late 1800s, the District of Columbia consisted of three elements: City of Washington, Georgetown, and Washington County. The L’Enfant Plan extended only as far as Florida Avenue. Beyond that, development was at the whim of individual developers, and the result was often not pretty. Congress finally demanded a master plan to provide for more orderly growth, and this map was the result. There was great debate over the final design. The final plan was pushed by a land developer that just happened to have two U.S. senators among its monetary backers. Plus ca change…  This talk was publicized locally and many in the audience were non-member visitors. For more information, click here.

By now, many if not most WMS members have heard the news, but on 4 December, the story broke that one of the maps stolen by E. Forbes Smiley over a decade ago had been recovered by Ron Grim, curator of maps at the Leventhal Center for the Map, Boston Public Library. The map had been created by explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1612 and provided a description of the New England coast and what would later become Canada. Its theft from the BPL occurred before Ron’s arrival, but Ron was acutely aware of the library’s losses to this thief.  He spotted it in a catalogue of a very reputable dealer based on photographic images the BPL had of the missing document. Ron was ultimately able to convince the dealer of the map’s provenance, and it was returned to BPL. Many of us in WMS have known Ron for decades. He is retired from the Library of Congress where he worked in the Map and Geography Division. Closer to home, Ron is a former president and director of the Washington Map Society. He probably would have chosen another description than the “eagle-eyed curator” which the Boston Globe dubbed him, but the fact is that he’s one of the good guys:  diligent, knowledgeable, and not afraid of a difficult task. Click here to read the Boston Globe article.

The Washington Map Society website is a sort of Information Central for members.  If you have a question or just want to see what folks are up to, that should be your first stop:

Among the useful tools on the web site are those designed to help you make contact with members whose interests are the same as your own. The first of these is the Membership Directory. Log on, enter the directory, and simply do a word search likely to produce your specialty. The second is the Membership Profiles. These take more patience as they can only be searched electronically by name, but they often contain far more information.
At present, less than half our members have a profile on the web site. We would like to see this number grow. Some persons are concerned about security. There have not been any breaches since the profiles were set up, but members may also carefully consider how much or how little they share. If you are among those missing, please consider sharing at least enough information that other members can more fully understand your interests.

In each edition of the Portolan, there is a one or two page feature called Cartographic Notes, compiled by our editor, Tom “Deadline” Sander. It contains short items that fall short of an article, or don’t fit elsewhere. Most of them contain a link to a web site. That’s great, but some of those links can run to a couple lines in length. Since the Spring 2013 issue, therefore, we have placed each of these on the WMS web site. The links are live and we are confident that with a little practice you will be able to click with the best of them to get where you want to go. Click here for a direct link to the page on the WMS site.

(No change – notice will appear for duration of winter, if winter ever gets here.  With temps in the seventies over Christmas in the DC area, we’re starting to wonder.)

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.