Seminar Description

Historically, research map collections have mainly been in the business of preserving maps drawn or printed on paper or parchment. Most of these libraries, the Newberry Library included, have invested in providing digital access to these materials through the creation of online archives. Some have experimented with robust online resources that add map commentaries, integrate resources in other formats, and provide for the correlation of the historical images and data with contemporary geospatial data and tools. These developments have changed the landscape of scholarly research and teaching with historic map documents. Digitization has provided access to map images to an extent scarcely imaginable before, and in combination with other forms of geographic and historical information, is producing new ways of seeing and understanding these maps. Yet, these digital representations are not the map—or, rather, not the map as it exists materially, housed in the libraries where it is preserved. In many respects, reading historic maps and using them in research and teaching is easier and more productive in the digital age. However, the visual qualities of map documents that can be transmitted electronically do not displace the need to understand them and nor should they supplant the study of maps as material objects.

These assertions, and their implications for higher education and humanities scholarship, lies at the heart of Material Maps in the Digital Age.

Over a course of four weeks Material Maps in the Digital Age will provide 16 higher education humanities scholars the opportunity to review a variety of perspectives in current map scholarship in the humanities through close study and discussion of material maps. They will also sharpen their own map research skills by working in a great humanities research collection featuring nearly six centuries of material cartography. The curriculum, consisting of seminar sessions, workshops, field trips, and personal research, will introduce participants to both the historical diversity of mapping and to its topical range.

The participants will attend three-hour morning sessions three or four days per week. In the first 90 minutes, these sessions will cover assigned readings, one or two book chapters or academic articles per session, focused on the day’s topic. We will provide all required readings to participants at least two months in advance via a password protected website. Where appropriate, online archives and resources relevant to the topic will be integrated into these discussions. After a break, afternoon materials workshops will explore selected portions of the Newberry’s map collection, providing opportunities for group work and sharing strategies for map interpretation and analysis.

In addition to the seminar sessions and materials workshops, visits to the library’s Conservation Laboratory and the Modern Manuscripts will provide opportunities to learn about the physical qualities of maps, books, and manuscripts. Two field trips will be dedicated to an examination of how material maps historically have mediated human environmental experience and understanding in the unique urban setting of greater Chicago. Weekly brown bag lunches will provide a forum for the presentation and discussion online historic map resources participants have created or found useful to their work. Finally, each summer scholar will propose and conduct an individualized research project utilizing the Newberry’s collections appropriate to the themes of the seminar. One full day per week and most afternoons will be free for independent research, culminating in the presentation of the results of this research on the final two days of the seminar.

Seminar Outline

Part One: “On Mapping and Materiality.” The arc of these seminar sessions will begin with an overview of the history of cartography, the impact of digital cartography on map use and scholarship, and a consideration of materiality in map reading and map use. We will provide an introduction to the policies and major themes of the seminar, to the Newberry’s map collection, program faculty and library staff, and current themes in map scholarship and interpretation. A special Monday afternoon workshop will introduce participants to the Newberry’s map collection and give them a chance to try their hand at map interpretation. The summer scholars will be invited to study of related groups of objects, including world atlases from different eras; maps from the same era offering different interpretations of the same place; maps deployed in fictional and non-fictional travel accounts; or similar maps issued at different scales and formats.

Part Two: “Mapping Environments.” This part of the seminar will turn to the ways that historic material maps have shaped human contact with and comprehension of social and physical environments. Dr. Nekola will lead the group on the first of two all-day field trips, titled “Field Work, Field Maps, and the Emergence of Ecological Thinking.” The excursion will consider how the material process of field mapping and documenting allowed researchers to develop theories of ecological succession at particular sites in the Indiana Dunes, and how the material nature of the mapping processes involved allowed for the sort of reasoning demanded by the then-new theory of ecology. Readings will include historical map reproductions, images, and texts, including work by Henry C. Cowles and several of his students, who formulated some of the basic concepts of ecology in the Indiana Dunes. Dr. Nekola will also discuss multicultural and cross-cultural approaches to mapping (“Maps across Cultures”), emphasizing Indigenous North American approaches to the representation of landscape, in which considerations of the particular material natures of many maps are essential to understanding the cultural and intellectual contexts of their use. Supported by Barbara Belyea’s studies of the varied of interpretations of Native maps in North America, the accompanying workshop will consider the materiality of several such maps in the Newberry’s collections in light of historical accounts of their production.

Part Three: “Grasping World Views and Histories.” The third part of the seminar will explore how material maps helped their makers manipulate and their readers comprehend the world and its history, encompassing readings of world maps and globes, atlases, and historical atlases, and literary and artistic imaginations of the world. Dr. Akerman will focus the discussion and activities on world maps, school geographies, and globes. He will also lead a discussion of how maps have been situated in literary travel accounts, fantasies, and artistic displays. The discussion will be guided by literary scholar Ricardo Padron’s survey of “Mapping Imaginary Worlds,” and artist and cartographic historian Ruth Watson’s reflection on the use of maps by modern artists. The materials workshop will feature Teodor de Bry’s collections of voyages, and examples of maps in fictional works such as Utopia, Gulliver’s Travels, The Lord of the Rings, Winnie the Pooh, and the Song of Ice and Fire book and Game of Thrones television series.

Part Four: “Material and Digital Cartographies.” The fourth and concluding session considers more directly the continuities and discontinuities of mapping in material and digital formats, drawing on case studies focused on travel, propaganda, and scientific mapping. It will begin with an extended workshop and discussion of the Newberry’s web resource, Mapping Movement in American History and Culture. Each seminar participant will select and read an interpretive essay from this collection The final two seminar sessions speculate on two cartographic genres that invite comparisons across their digital and print formats. In a session entitled “Maps in Propaganda, Advertising, and Tourism”, Dr. Akerman will examine the use of persuasive cartography and its adaptation to digital distribution. The featured readings by Akerman and John Pickles consider the bases for these forms, which are rooted in the imagination of national communities and the expression of political and economic power. The materials workshop will feature selections from the Newberry’s extensive collection of texts and maps for tourists and migrants. In the final session (“Overlays”), Dr. Nekola will use digital tools to illustrate the resonances and distinctions between mapping distributions of social and environmental phenomena and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), guided by readings by Zephyr Frank, Craig McClain, and the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). The final two days of the seminar will be devoted to presentations by the participating summer scholars on the progress of their research projects.

A Preliminary Syllabus of Material Maps in the Digital Age may be found here:

2019 Preliminary Syllabus

For a description of past NEH Seminars, see the NEH Summer Programs page.

Independent Research. Summer programs at the Newberry offer summer scholars superb opportunities to renew and develop scholarly interests and skills at a premier research library, as well as become a part of the Newberry’s large community of curators, scholars, and library staff. Accordingly, each participant will pursue a research project during the seminar. Although the projects may be continuations of work already begun and need not be completed during the seminar, we will ask each participant to prepare a brief report, including a bibliography. Use of Newberry Library items in their research will be expected, and meetings with library staff strongly encouraged, but we will also encourage participants to use online resources. The creation of web resources resulting from individual research projects will be welcomed, where appropriate.

For more information on researching at The Newberry, please go to this website’s Researching at The Newberry page and the Research page on the Library’s website.