Boston and Beyond
Boston and Beyond: A Bird’s Eye View of New England. An exhibit from the collections of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, January 2008-June 2008.
By: Ronald E. Grim, Roni Pick, and Eileen Warburton.
Boston and Beyond, the third gallery exhibit of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, marks the public debut of one of the world’s pre-eminent collections of urban bird’s eye views and celebrates its preservation through a Save America’s Treasures award.
Unlike conventional flat maps, bird’s eye views are a fascinating kind of specialty map that present an urban area as if it was being viewed from an elevation of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. The town “below” appears in a kind of imaginative snapshot at a moment in history, revealing the factories, homes, parks, cemeteries, churches, and even the details of vernacular architecture.
The story of the exhibit, so vividly dramatized through these fascinating maps, is of the growing economic vitality and urbanization of Boston and the New England region during the last half of the 19th century, when industrialization and immigration were the primary engines of urban growth. These maps are also arresting works of popular art, all devised by the Boston craftsmen who were the leaders in the field. The public is reintroduced to these talented, forgotten artists and to a genre of graphic fine art not often seen today. To illuminate the process and intentions of the mapmakers for creating these unusual perspectives, the exhibit includes examples of their diaries, field sketch notes, and manuscript drawings.
The exhibit catalog features full-page color illustrations of the bird’s eye views displayed in the exhibit, as well as extended captions discussing the history and economy of the individual communities. The views, which generally are not oriented with north at the top of the page, are paired with late 19th-century topographic maps that identify the artist’s vantage point in composing the drawing. In addition, essays by Alex Krieger and Debra Block provide cartographical and historical background for appreciating this fascinating collection of urban views.
Boston and Beyond: A Bird’s Eye View of New England
By: Debra Block, Ronald E. Grim, and Alex Krieger.
Essays. In the essays written to accompany the gallery exhibit, three scholars enrich our understanding of these unique bird’s eye view maps and the 19th century historical milieu that produced them.
Ronald E. Grim, Ph.D., Curator of Maps at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, explores the unusual motives and perspectives for this kind of map-making in “Which Way North?”
In “As Though in Flight,” Alex Krieger, FAIA, Professor in Practice, GSD, Harvard University, places the bird’s eye views of this exhibit in a fascinating historical context stretching from centuries of imagined aerial views to the realities of today’s Google Earth.
Debra Block, Ph.D., Director of Education at the Map Center, examines the implications of the signs of rapid urbanization and industrialization in the American 19th century landscape depicted in these bird’s eye views in “Time Shifts: A Changing America, 1850 – 1900.”