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Mapping It Out- UNH Museum Exhibit of Early U.S. Maps

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
September 16, 2009

Maps of the United States made during the late 1700s and early 1800s showed more than boundary lines. The divisions between states and the depiction of parts of the continent beyond the formal limits of the United States were a reflection of the social and political beliefs of the time.

“Mapping the Republic”,  a new exhibit at the UNH Museum presents a collection of reproductions from the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine. The exhibit runs Sep. 21 through Dec. 4.

The maps, found in homes, schools and other public buildings, depict how Americans viewed and understood the United States of America from about 1790 into the 20th century.

“These early maps show how the former colonies intended to affirm publicly their independence,” says librarian Thelma Thompson.

They also show the compromises that were made. Maine, for example, gained its statehood in 1820 in an effort to balance off Missouri, which was a slave state.

Many of the maps include details that don’t exist on present date maps. For example, an 1802 map of Maine has a mark with this accompanying notation, “Here has been discovered a very extensive but have not yet identified lake.” Another, a county wall map, reflects the individual properties and names of landowners.

“This is invaluable historical documentation,” Thompson says.

Atlas maps also are part of the exhibit; the first atlas published in the U.S. was in 1795.

The UNH Museum has tied in the local connection through a display of surveying equipment and maps from various eras. The compass belonging to the university’s benefactor Ben Thompson is on display as is a map of Thompson’s 253 acre farm as the area appeared in 1891—two years before the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts moved from Hanover to Durham.

A computer set up in the exhibit will allow visitors to view UNH’s own digital map collection, which includes topographical maps of New England and New York from 1890 to the 1950s; an 1878 atlas geology of New Hampshire –the first to show detailed geology of the state; and a town atlas of New Hampshire published in 1892.

The UNH Museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. during the semester. For more information visit izaak.unh.edu/museum or call 2-1081.


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