In Memory

Barbara McCorkle

Remembering Barbara McCorkle

By Ed Dahl

The historical maps community lost a dear friend with the death on 1 November 2017 of Barbara Backus McCorkle, in Lawrence, Kansas, at the age of 97. Many readers of The Portolan will know her because of past membership and contributions to the journal, her attendance at the International Conferences of the History of Cartography, her dozen years as a map curator at Yale University, and her important map-related publications.

         Barbara was born on 9 September 1920 in New York City and spent her childhood, through high school, in New Haven, Connecticut. She received her B.A., cum laude, from Hunter College, New York City, in 1942 (Phi Beta Kappa), and, in her mid-40s, in 1968, earned her M.L.S. from Emporia State Teachers College (now Kansas State University at Emporia). Throughout the years from 1950 to 1970, she continued her education by completing courses in geology, English literature, Russian language and literature, and Polish language at the University of Kansas.

               Her library career began in 1968 at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and later included three years at Purdue University.  It was as a map curator at Yale University from 1981 to 1993 that she made her mark, a period that was recognized by the Honors Award of the Map and Geography Round Table (MAGERT), American Library Association in 2000 for outstanding lifetime achievement and major contributions to map librarianship.

               I think Barbara would agree that her most important publication was New England in Early Printed Maps, 1513 to 1800: An Illustrated Carto-Bibliography, published by The John Carter Brown Library in 2001, when she was 81. This landmark work pulled together for the first time a description of the known printed maps of the New England region and became one the essential building blocks for an understanding of the history of the mapping of this area. Her work showed the progressive shaping of New England, from a vaguely described region in the earliest European maps of the New World, to its formal creation by John Smith in 1616, to highly detailed maps of a region still defined today.

               Barbara's last publication, A Carto-Bibliography of the Maps in Eighteenth-Century British and American Geography Books, was published on the Web in 2009, when she was 89.

               Barbara's other publications include a catalogue, titled America Emergent, to accompany an exhibition of maps and atlases in honor of Alexander O. Vietor (her predecessor at Yale); articles in The Map Collector, Mercator's World, and Meridian; a major chapter in Mapping Boston (1999); an index to Map Collector's Circle; and many shorter articles, book reviews and conference and other reports. Although she was always enthusiastic and positive about her work as a map curator, her retirement from Yale University in 1993 must have been a liberating event in some sense since the rate of her publications rose markedly thereafter.                                                                                                                                           Modest as always about her professional achievements, Barbara once wrote in an e-mail: "In my opinion, my greatest accomplishment is to have contributed six wonderful children to the world!"

Edward H. Dahl is formerly Early Cartography Specialist, National Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada).  This remembrance appeared in the Spring 2018 issue (#101) of The Portolan.  For more about Barbara’s achievements, see

Barbara McCorkle, photographed in January 1988. Photo by Ed Dahl.