You know what they say about change, that it can be both good and bad, and is one of the few constants in life. The Donald W Hamer Maps Library has been experiencing a great deal of change in the last few weeks. Our maps librarian recently left us to become curator of the American Geographical Society collection in Milwaukee, one of the premiere map collections in the country, if not the world. Another of our blog contributors, Sherry, who liked to highlight cutting-edge map services, transferred to a different department. So if our postings here are a bit far and few in-between for a while, forgive us; Karen and I are both adapting to a changed workload, as well as some administrative changes.
In the world of maps, change can be a helpful tool in dating materials. There are the broad-scale changes, such as in techniques, moving from copper plate engraving to lithography, or in material type, vellum vs paper, which can give you an idea of the period in which a map was printed. But it is the small-scale changes that allow for the selection of a more narrow range of probably publication dates. For example, I recently came across a British road map which our catalog had described as being published in the 1890s. This seemed pretty unlikely to me, and by looking at information on the cover, including the publisher’s address and the price of the map, we were able to establish that the map was actually printed in 1921. If the publisher hadn’t moved a couple of times during their history and the price of their maps hadn’t changed, it may not have been possible to correct this error.
A more fun example of using change to date a map occurred a couple of weeks ago, when we asked one of our cataloging team members to catalog a globe sits on our shelves but wasn’t in our records. I always look to Africa to get a sense of the period in which an older map may have been published, and indeed, on this globe, the continent was carved up into territorial and colonial possessions of European nations, a quick clue that the globe was from before the 1950s. Steve looked to Europe itself, that hotbed of political change, and narrowed the range down to post-World War I, toward the beginning of World War II. Then he expanded his search and found a smoking gun in Asia: Thailand. Previously known in the Western world as Siam, Thailand adopted its current name in 1939. The name on this globe is displayed as “Thailand (Siam).” So the globe could not have been printed before 1939, nor after 1945.
Calculating a range of dates certainly is not as precise as having a date of publication marked on the item itself. But searching for clues, tying geography in with history, is much more fun. And without change, as challenging as it may be to deal with, we wouldn’t be able to fill in these gaps. So please hang in there with us as we undergo our changes. Hopefully, it will be useful, and we’ll all learn something along the way.