Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On the Map

Civitates Orbis Terrarum


"I'm one of those people who get dizzy just being in a bookshop, so you can imagine what these rare books did to me."

Thus spake Barbara Ellis, aka Bellis, about how it felt to assist the head of Caltech's Archives and Special Collections in putting together an exhibit of rare maps and books. The "On the Map" exhibit, created by Shelley Erwin, explores the concept of mapping earth and sky, and includes such rarities as a copy of Ptolemy’s map of the world that was printed during his lifetime.*

He could have touched it himself.

I know, right??? AS IF!

Here's an early map of Moscow. I couldn't take my eyes off it.

The exhibit is small, filling a few display cases on the second floor of the Parsons-Gates Hall of Administration on the Caltech Campus. It's a wonderful opportunity because these books and maps literally rarely see the light of day. As it is, they're displayed in low light to protect them from UV rays.

This is Kronborg Castle.

I know! Elsinore! Where Shakespeare set Hamlet! Cool! Also cool, and factual as opposed to theatrical: Tycho Brahe's island observatory, Uraniborg on Hven, is pictured. It's the little island in the sound.

Most of the items were donated to Caltech by Earnest C. Watson, founder of the Watson Lecture Series, professor of physics and dean of the faculty at Caltech for many years. I'd love to know what else they've got in the archives. It must be an amazing place for the eyes, imagination, and white-gloved fingers to wander.

Bellis says, "I was very thrilled to be allowed to touch those books and look through them, though very sparingly and gently."

Read Barbara Ellis's excellent article about the On the Map exhibit in Caltech's Engineering and Science Magazine.


*Sooo wrong! See Bellis' comment.

26 comments:

Kim said...

WOW! What a treat to see this. Thank you for sharing these shots, Petrea.
-Kim

Kate said...

A terrific experience to see these artifacts. Lucky you!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'm all a-tither for cartography. I am.

I was lucky enough to be commissioned to do the globes for one of the 1492 movies that came out on the 500 year anniversary. All full of wild half this and half that creatures.

Now off to read Bellis

Lori Webster said...

Ohmigosh, I'm with Bellis....I'd love to be able to touch those old books. Wow.

Petrea said...

I know! It's not like you can't look at Ptolemy's map online, but the one in the exhibit was actually printed during his lifetime. Must see.

PA, I thought I remembered you saying you like maps. You will love this.

I'm sorry, Kim and Kate, that this might be too far of a drive for you. But Lori, PA, do go see it if you can.

We're fortunate to have Caltech right here with the Huntington so close by, and so much of what they have made available.

J+P said...

Ah, coordinate systems. Where would we be without them?

Petrea said...

We'd be clumsy.

Bellis said...

Even a short time in the dimmed glass cases can diminish the bright colors of the pictures, so some of the pages are turned from time to time; it's worth going back to take a second look.

At first, I also thought the world map was printed during Ptolemy's lifetime, but he lived in 150 AD, and all his maps were drawn by hand. Imagine how much work that was for the ancient copyists when his book was a bestseller! Well, guess what? They couldn't keep up with the demand, so most copies were sold without anyone bothering to copy the maps themselves. In fact, no-one since the Fall of the Roman Empire, as far as I know, has ever seen Ptolemy's original maps, except perhaps the Arab scholars who rescued his books during the Dark Ages. When the Catholic church held power in Europe, Ptolemy's works were banished. The map in the exhibition was redrawn by the printer Martin Waldseemuller in 1513 from the gazetteer of a Greek copy that had survived in an Italian monastery, but it's still a picture of the world as Ptolemy knew it. Hurray for printing!

There's a great book about these early maps called The Fourth Part of the World, by Toby Lester. Waldseemuller coined the word America, and the discovery of the lost map on which he printed this name makes a very interesting story.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Great article Bellis. I even googled Hven

Petrea said...

Thanks, Bellis. Fixed.

Irina said...

Moscow, the size of Kremlin, which I totally walked in 1,5 hours 2 weeks ago... Amazing. These books radiate the interest of centuries of map-lovers. I need to reread Eco's "The name of rose", thank you for the idea).
I do not often comment, too busy, and your posts need attention and thinking and right words, just " Great!" does not work here.

Virginia said...

I can see why you were over the moon, P. These are marvelous. Well shot to mon amie!
V

HearkenCreative said...

Oh wow. Now I've got to get back over to Caltech to see these...and I love it: we're all a bunch of map fetishists! I remember when the Pasadena Map Company went out of business (over on East Colorado, across the street from the old Colorado Theatre), I went and bought a bunch of local maps that they were getting rid of because I couldn't bear to see them go in the trash. Maybe someday one of my great great grandchildren will donate that collection to Caltech...although my collection pales in comparison to these. Way to go, Bellis! And thank you for helping make these available to the public.

Petrea said...

Irina, I'm so glad you came by today! I thought of you when posting this.

Merci, Virginia!

Hearken/Loren, I seem to remember hearing about that. Maybe from you! I wish I'd been around to compete with you for some of those treasures.

pasadenapio said...

When I worked for a brief time (10 months) in the Public Affairs Office at San Diego State University, that office was on the fifth floor of the library right next to the rare books collection. I spent practically every lunch hour there, poring over the wondrous collection and getting a back-stage pass, as it were, to the non-public areas. It was a marvelous experience.

Kathy H said...

I think that "Ptolemy" is the coolest name because it begins with "Pt". I think you should change the spelling of your name to "Ptrea" in his honor.

Petrea said...

HAhahahahaha Kathy!

Look out, I just might.

PIO, I would have done the same thing.

Ms M said...

Fascinating! I love old maps!

Bellis said...

Ptrea is pterrific, Kathy!

Dianne Emley said...

I could get "lost" in those maps... :-) Very cool. Thanks for the post.

Katie said...

Stunning! Amazing how bright the colors still are. Bummer I won't be able to see the exhibit, but I look forward to reading the article.

Dina said...

Greetings Ptrea.
These are indeed wondrous creations.
Lucky you!

Petrea said...

I'm pleased this post has gotten a good response. I hope it means increased traffic to the second floor of the Parsons-Gates Hall of Administration at Caltech. I understand the exhibit will be up until March, is that correct, Bellis?

Gina said...

I will definitely be paying a visit to Parsons-Gates to look in person.

@Bellis, I didn't realize you wrote for E&S. I got my B.S. from Caltech and actually just applied for a science writer position there!

Susan Campisi said...

I read this the other day when I was in a hurry and came back to absorb the rich details. So cool. Just read Bellis' article too. Really great stuff. Can't wait to see the exhibit.

Amy said...

Wow. I mean, wow. This is amazing! What a truly awesome experience. :D Thanks for the great shots. I'll try to keep my drool on this side of the computer.