About the Collection
A Personal Statement
In the summer of 1980, I wandered into an exhibition of old and unusual maps at the Pompidou Center in Paris (“Carte et Figures de la Terre”), and I was fascinated. I began collecting soon after, acquiring each year one or two good, early maps of the world and the Americas. Along the way, I found myself buying the occasional odd map that simply intrigued me even though it wasn’t consistent with my collecting plan. These maps were unusual, frequently ephemeral, outside of the traditional geographical niches – “cartographic curiosities” in the map trade. They were fun, interesting, sometimes puzzling (and often inexpensive).
Every map has a Who, What, Where and When about it. But these maps had another element: Why? Since they were primarily “about” something other than geography, understanding the map required finding the reasoning behind it. Each time I acquired one of these maps, I tried to solve that puzzle. As the internet developed, it became easier to come across these “curiosities” – and easier to research their raison d’etre. In recent years, these maps became my principal collecting interest.
Photo by Elaine Mode
At some point along the way, I realized that there was a common theme in this group of maps: they were intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs, to send or reinforce some message, rather than to communicate objective geographic information. I can identify two specific things that may have inclined me to collect in this area. First, I was much affected by Denis Wood’s exhibition, “The Power of Maps” (after his book of the same name), which I saw at the Cooper-Hewitt in New York in 1992 and again when it was remounted at the Smithsonian in Washington in 1994. I still have the exhibition brochure, with Wood’s summary: “Since every map takes a point of view, it is important to ask, whose point of view is this? Whose interest is served by this particular view of the world?” Wood 1993, 19.
Second, once I became interested in maps, I may well have been predisposed to collect persuasive cartography by my day job. I practiced law for many years, first in Washington, more recently in New York. My practice principally involved litigation in the courts and regulatory agencies, and I was convinced that the effectiveness of advocacy was greatly enhanced by graphs, charts and other visual displays. I was an early user of Edward Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and often recommended his work to colleagues.
At this time, I continue to collect persuasive maps, but the great majority of my collection is now on line. The Collector’s Notes posted with the images summarize my own research and analysis (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cornell University). I don’t claim expertise in all of the many subjects covered by the collection, and I’m certain there are substantive errors and omissions among my hundreds of Notes. Corrections, comments and suggestions would be very welcome, and there is a Feedback/Contact link to that end.