Dec 302016

Diego Gutierrez, The Americas, c. 1562 (Click on the map to see the full-sized image at the British Library)

In 1562, Diego Gutierrez and Hieronymus Cock created a map of the Spanish Empire for King Phillip II. Gutierrez was a cartographer and cosmographer for the Casa de Contración (a government agency tasked with trying to control Spanish exploration and settlement); Cock was a master etcher and painter in Antwerp, which was then part of the Spanish Netherlands. Cock is also credited with shifting etching and printmaking from a strictly individual endeavor to an industrial approach that relied on a division of labor.

Sea monster in the Atlantic. Image from Library of Congress, 1562 Map of America.

The map, titled Americae Sive Quartae Orbis Partis Nova Et Exactissima Descriptio,” in notable in a number of ways: it was the first to name California and Appalachia (Apalchen); it depicted, rather accurately, a wide range of geographic features, including the Amazon watershed; and functions not only as a map but also as a work of art, most notably because of the embellishments, including monkeys, sea monsters, cannibals, giants, and Phillip II portrayed as Neptune.

The map was meant to describe and delineate the reach of the Spanish Empire, claiming much of the territory in both North and South America as part of the Spanish Empire…ignoring, of course, the claims of prior inhabitants. While the were useful in terms of navigation and understanding of geography, they were (and still remain) a propaganda tool designed to underscore the power of the Iberian peninsula (i.e. Spain, Portugal, and, by marriage, France). As the Library of Congress notes “it is apparent that one of the intentions of preparing the map was to define clearly Spain’s America for the other European powers who might have designs on the region.” Only two copies of this map are known to exist: one resides in the British Library and the other is in the map collection of U.S. Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Did You Know?…

The Library of Congress has the largest map collection in the world. According to their website, their collection includes “5.5 million maps, 80,000 atlases, 600 reference works, 500+ globes, 3,000 raised relief models, and a large number of cartographic materials, including over 19,000 cds/dvds.” To see all of them, you have to go to Washington D.C., but a fairly good collection (albeit a drop in the bucket) exists online.

Projects & Activities:

1. Create a Memory Map

A memory map is used to capture and record memories relative to local geography. It is a hand-drawn map of a place you are fond of or for which you have strong memories. It might be your grandparent’s farm or your parent’s neighborhood or your school. Unlike regular maps that provide geographic information (roads, place names, geographic features like streams or mountains, etc.), memory maps also include information (stories and comments) and embellishments (illustrations) not typically found on your average map. We’ve provided an example of a memory map below:

Start by drawing a rough map in pencil and then start filling in the detail. Write notes on your map to indicate those areas that trigger strong memories. In the example above, I included the croquet pitch–my grandmother was a demon croquet player who rarely lost and, while generally a very nice person, took inordinate pleasure in sending other folks balls in the opposite direction of where they needed to go. There was a red and white bridge spanning the irrigation ditch that ran along the north side of the house (actually, I think it was, in reality, the west side…but I was somewhat directionally challenged as a child). My grandfather built the bridge since I tried to follow him everywhere, including across the plank they had used to cross the ditch for years.

2. Make a map using a GIS (Geographic Information System) program.

There are a number of online mapping programs, from Google to Grass. One of our favorites, however, is Scribble Maps. It is a free mapping program (basic service) that allows students and teachers play with geography.  The site includes some excellent examples. While there are some tutorials, this is really the type of site where you just play.

Map Resources:

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda, and Art. Exhibition at the British Library, 2010.

Maps. The British Library. One of the best map collections and collections of map resources (articles, videos, et alia).

The 1562 Map of America by Diego Gutiérrez, Library of Congress. Excellent discussion of the Gutiérrez & Cock map.

Map Collections. Library of Congress. An excellent resource for all sorts of historical maps…railroad maps, national park maps, Civil War maps, WWII Military Situation Maps, the Sanborn Insurance maps,  and many others.

Map Videos:

Maps are especially useful in bringing history to life…whether it is looking at changes in Europe over time or looking at the routing of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

After you watch the above video, take a look at the Driving Through Time site developed by the University of North Carolina.

In both cases, the maps are communicating an idea rather than just providing travel information.

Geography @ the Cambria Toy Station

Check out some of the great geography products we have at the Cambria Toy Station:



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Dec 072016

It was a dark cabinet in the far corner. An enoumous cabinet that would creak and groan with age and weight. As a wee elf, I was terrified of my great grandmother’s cabinet of curiosity. It was filled with the most terrifying of artifacts: an amber jar filled with pixie dust she gathered from the stone circle in the field below the inn where we lived; the aqua scale from a mermaid who lived in the thick, black waters below Kentraw; a brown bottle filled with the moans of a Highlander who fell at the Battle of Culloden. My older cousins would sneak in and loose the moans and the sound would fly through the house until my great-grandmother caught it and slipped it back into the bottle and place it at the rear of the top shelf.

Barbara McTavish was her name, my great-grandmother, and she loved collecting the unusual. Each time she would find something new, she would pick a different colored container and place it in what she called her “cabinet of curiosities.” When there were family gatherings, she would show off her latest finds and tell stories to explain her latest trades. The bottle of moans she acquired in trade for a cart of thistles she had traded for something else. She was always trading and collecting. The adults always seemed to love her stories and would discuss the details long after the story came to a close. I was a young elf at the time, not more than seven or eight, and the cabinet and her stories freightened me perhaps well beyond reason.

I was twenty when I was packaged up and sent to the United States as a part of the gifts for Hogmanay. I say “packaged up” because we elves have a knack for looking like inanimate objects and are often mistaken for Christmas orniments by the humans with whom we often live if we are seen. Normally, we are not seen, but I lacked the talent of hide and seek that the rest of my family had seemingly perfected.

When I arrived and was unwrapped, I discovered a home with no curiosity cabinet but filled with curiosities. Not like my great-grandmother’s curiosities. Lighter. Different. Pictures and postcards and books and things the woman called knick-knacks and threatened to throw out everytime she had to dust. I was a gift to a twelve-year old child, who liked me well enough that she set me up a shelf in her room, the same shelf with her set of encyclopedias. I spent my day reading the volumes of encylopedia and discovered that they really were not that much different than my grandmother’s cab They were filled with stories and oddities and the unusual, or at least so it seemed to a young elf whose world experience had been limited at that point to a small village in Scotland.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not has been published since 1919, when the first comic appeared.

One of the things I learned was that cabinets of curiosity were not limited to elves, although the idea of cabinets has changed over the years. Facebook is a cabinet; Pinterest is a Cabinet. I don’t remember Betty McTavish, the owner of the inn in Kilmartin, having a cabinet of curiosity, but she did love a good ghost story. On the shelf below the encyclopedias, Meg, the daughter, had a whole collectioRipley's Believe It or Not has been published since 1919, when the first comic appeared.n of Ripley’s Believe It or Not books. Most of them seemed quite old, with yellow pages and broken bindings. Years later, when she was teaching, she collected a publication called The Weekly World News and assigned her students to write a story that would fit with the paper. They are cabinets. Some of the stories in those books, although not in the paper, were about tribes who collected shrunken heads and farmers who raised ten legged cows and men who would grow beards so long that they would trail behind them,–just the sorts of things my great-grandmother would have loved to add to her collection.

I have been assigned to take on this blog, an assignment that requires I create a new type of cabinet of curiosity. I have spent a couple of days thinking about cabinets of curiosity and about my great-grandmother’s cabinet and the adults who listened to her stories each time she reached for a new object. Meg says that all people and places and things have stories, and stories are filtered by individual experience. Of course, she also says that all great writers have a Scot in the woodpile or a green elf on a shelf or both.

Time to go explore Google Earth and find my next story.


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