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'Think about maps in a different way': Bancroft exhibit shows maps from around world

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From historical maps of 18th-century California to fictional maps from novels, Bancroft library opens an exhibit highlighting the different "flavors" of cartography.


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SEPTEMBER 27, 2022

Update 9/28/22: This article has been updated to reflect information provided by director of The Bancroft Library Kate Donovan.

Containing items ranging from handmade Indigenous maps to those based on works of fiction, Bancroft Library’s newest cartography exhibit brings a rich breadth of treasures for public display.

The exhibit, “Visualizing Place: Maps from The Bancroft Library,” will be on display until June 23 in the Bancroft Gallery, according to a Berkeley Library press release.

“Exhibitions are so important in sharing the collections that we have with the world,” said Kate Donovan, director of The Bancroft Library, in an email. “Taken together, I think the exhibition is a good snapshot into the vastness and the diversity of the library’s collections, from maps to rare books, manuscripts, and one-of-a-kind objects.”

While the exhibit contains maps from around the world, there are many maps of the Bay Area and Mexico, according to Theresa Salazar, one of the exhibit’s curators.

The Latin America collection includes maps of Mexico throughout history, including its colonial and national periods. The exhibit also features a series of maps and atlases created by renowned Mexican cartographer Antonio Garcia Cubas, according to Salazar.

“Maps tell us a lot about place, and also when we think about exploration, a lot of maps tell us where to go,” Salazar said. “Maps of some sort help us get a lay of what’s out there.”

One collection displays California as an island, which is based on a 100-year-long period where California was mistakenly mapped as an individual piece of land, according to Salazar.

Salazar added that one of the exhibit’s highlights is a hand-drawn 1776 watercolor map of San Francisco — one of the earliest maps of its kind.

“We also wanted to show different ways of seeing San Francisco,” Salazar said. “It doesn’t just have to be a straight survey or cartographic map. You can show the different flavors and community.”

Another section of the exhibit looks into landmarks and includes a number of early maps and atlases from Europe. One map, Salazar noted, shows the Lewis and Clark expedition as a Western landmark.

Handmade maps are a major theme of the exhibit, according to Salazar. Highlights include a map of the Sierras drawn by John Muir and a Polynesian map made of sticks, twines and shells that helped Polynesians chart journeys through the seas.

“When you’re trying to do an exhibit, you want to give a point of view that’s slightly different. We just didn’t want to do like a ‘treasures of a map’ collection,” Salazar said. “We came up with all these themes and we tried to figure out what in our collection fit in these themes.”

In its literary maps section, the exhibit included more playful interpretations of maps such as fictional maps from Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Salazar also noted the exhibit’s section on the technology behind maps, which explores the progression of map technology from wood cuts to digital methods.

“Come to this exhibit because it’ll help you think about maps in a different way. They tell us so much about not only past life but contemporary life,” Salazar said. “What’s fun about maps is that they’re always changing … Each map can tell a different story.”

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SEPTEMBER 28, 2022