Mapping has always been central to understanding and interpreting New York City. As the city developed in the late 18th century, its population increased and diversified. A need developed for maps that depicted more than just the built environment and would hopefully help city officials and the populace understand a new threat to the city: disease. Beginning with Valentine Seaman’s maps of the yellow fever outbreak of 1795, New Yorkers strove to both quantify and identify through cartography the locations and causes of epidemics.
This display explores that effort by showcasing over one hundred years of mapping contagion in the city of New York. Prototypical examples of the mapping of yellow fever, cholera, pneumonia, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis are presented not only as representations of the mapping of disease but also as examples of the development of data visualization. These cartographic objects from the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division are supplemented by posters, photos, books, and ephemera from the Library’s Print Collection, General Research Division, and the Picture Collection. This material provides context for each time period’s cultural and societal reaction to disease and places the maps in conversation with the larger social and scientific trends of each era of New York City’s history.