Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
First off, a couple of observations about the 100 or so map historians who hit town Sunday.
None staggered in out of the heat to the cool Library of Congress clutching a map of the District, having tried and failed to decipher the routes around the confounded circles or along major arteries that zig or zag a block this way or that. Although the International Conference on the History of Cartography has never been held here, nor even in this country, and this is the seventh one, these world travelers seemed to know their way around.
Among the men, bow ties are extremely popular. "Maybe," a man suggested with a smile. "it keeps your neckite out of the red ink."
No question, cartographers can get absorbed in a good map. They practically had to be dragged from an early American map display set on the first floor of the Library when it came time to sip some wine in the Great Hall above.
Before long it became quite apparent that members of this worldwide group not only could impress a layman who has difficulty finding his way across the city, but also could positively captivate each other, so specialized are their concerns. At least 35 papers are to be delivered through Wednesday in the conference sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Service, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of History and Technology. Special exhibitions for the public are being shown at all locations, with varying schedules.
Not only are professionals attending the conference - people like Wolfgang Scharfe of Berlin, who noted that a "real blackout in map publishing in Prussia" occurred in the 18th century because King Frederick II didn't want enemies getting the information - there also are those who have taken up the study of maps and mapmaking as an avocation.
A Nepture City, N.J., surgeon, Peter J. Guthorn, is an expert in Revolutionary War era maps and has nothing but praise for Robert Erskine. Erskine's skills were discovered by George Washington, who had him make maps for the Continental army.
In those days, related Guthorn (wearing a red bow tie) map makers made "sketches by eye when they'd get to a high point . . . or they'd make them from horseback." Studying Erskine's precision has greatly satisfied the New Jersey physician. "I do this instead of playing golf," he said. "It's a much better hobby."
Like Guthorn, James Welu also arrived at an interest in cartography indirectly. An art historian with the Worcester (Mass.) Art Museum, Welu (tan bow tie) has come back here to give a talk about the maps in Vermeer's paintings. "They'd so detailed, that's the phenomenon about Dutch painting in the 17th century," Welu said, so detailed "you can reconstruct the maps through the paintings."
Back them, it was fashionate to hang large maps on walls as decorations, and Vermeer captured these.Today, however, lack of wall space is a serious problems faced by cartographers, or so says Helen Wallis of the British Library, here to discuss the Royal Map Collections of England.
"Maps are so related to the control of territory," she said, "that once maps developed as a scientific thing, kings wanted maps of their kingdoms." She said that the biggest globes in the world up to 1683 - two of them, each 15 feet in diameter - were presented to Louis XIV by a Venetian named Coronelli.
King Charles II got hold of the largest atlas in the world in 1660, a present from some Amsterdam merchants.
It's called the Klencke Atlas, after one of the merchants. "It's on wheels," Wallis said. "It's over 6 feet high and made of very heavy leather. It takes four people to open it. Turning the pages is quite an operation. Two hold one side while one turns."
Anticipating a joyous week, the bow-tied chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress, Walter W. Ristow, welcomed the visitors and introduced Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, also wearing a bow tie, who quoted Cervantes' Don Quixote:
"Journey over all the universe in a map, without the expense and fatigue of traveling, without suffering the inconveniences of heat, cold, hunger, and thirst."