Exhibit traces 300 years of Wisconsin and Great Lakes maps

March 21, 2007

Original maps of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region from 17th-century drawings concocted from travelers’ accounts to 21st-century images captured by satellites are on display through June 29 in the Department of Special Collections in Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Image of Lake Superior map

Original maps of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region are on display through June 29 in the Department of Special Collections at Memorial Library. Audio commentary is offered on iPods available at the exhibit and visitors can enter a drawing to win an iPod or a historical guide to the Lake Superior region.

Image: Department of Special Collections at Memorial Library

The exhibit features an illustrated, hand-colored map of North America made in 1670, one of the first maps to show all five Great Lakes. Audio commentary, offered on iPods available at the exhibit, is provided by experts in history, cartography and satellite imagery.

Christopher Baruth, curator of the American Geographical Society Library at UW-Milwaukee Libraries, will give a related lecture, “The Early Mapping and Charting of the Great Lakes,” at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, in Special Collections on the ninth floor of the Memorial Library.

Maps from the 18th century reflect the importance of waterways as transportation routes for fur traders and the struggle among European powers to claim New World territory. The exhibit also includes the first maps made of Wisconsin’s land surveys, state highways, railroads, native vegetation, and topography. The collection also includes nautical charts and a 3-D bathymetric survey of the Great Lakes. Several maps illustrate the latest capabilities of satellite remote sensing technology.

The exhibit traces the influence of the Great Lakes on settlement in Wisconsin and the technical evolution of mapmaking over three centuries, according to Mary Lou Reeb of UW–Madison Aquatic Sciences. Reeb is also assistant director of the Sea Grant Institute and one of the organizers of the project.

Sea Grant is a national network of 30 university-based programs of research, outreach and education for enhancing the practical use and conservation of coastal, ocean and Great Lakes resources to create a sustainable economy and environment.

The subject goes deeper, says Matthew Edney, geographer and director of the History of Cartography Project at UW–Madison and one of the audio commentators.

“Maps are part of the way we create meaning in the world,” Edney says. “They partly define the way we think about the world.”

Visitors can enter a drawing to win an iPod or a historical guide to the Lake Superior region by UW–Madison professor emeritus of history Margaret Beattie Bogue, another audio commentator in the exhibit. The guide will be published in May by the University of Wisconsin Press.