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Heading West: Mapping the Territory


March 9th, 2001 - May 19th, 2001

From the Greeks to Columbus, the westward passage was always toward the new, toward hope. The earliest maps of America imply a constricted west, amounting to perhaps a two-week march over the mountains to the great Western ocean. The dream of a northwest passage, cutting through the American continent that was blocking easy passage to Asia and its riches, pulled many westward for more than 400 years. The Map Division has over 6,000 sheet maps of the American West, from which the materials in Heading West will be drawn, supplemented by materials from the General Research Division. There are military maps of various Indian territories; geological and railroad reconnaissance surveys; government maps conveniently citing locations of gold, silver, quicksilver, and coal; maps of land grants, military reservations, and Indian lands; maps of the gold rush lands; city plans; early maps of national parks; and explorers' maps. The maps also illustrate the evolution of mapmaking in this country, from copper plate engraving, to New York City "heliographer" Baron Von Egloffstein's fantastic relief map, to rough and ready lithographs from frontier presses.

An illustrated companion volume for this exhibition and for the companion exhibition Touring West includes 70 images, in color and black and white, from the collections of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.