Between a bevy of different countries, dozens of different owners, and the carefully built collection of a former dean, a group of antique maps have come a long way to the Georgia College Campus.
“The title was something that we had bounced around, and we thought it was very fitting,” said GC museum studies student Laika McDermitt of the department’s “You Are Here”, an exhibit of antique maps of Georgia and the surrounding area. “Most of the maps in the collection feature Milledgeville as the capital, and they go up to the time period right before the capital changes to Atlanta, so we chose to kind of take that title and run with it.”
Taken from the collection of former Arts and Sciences Dean Thomas Armstrong and his wife, former Russel Library Director Janice Armstrong, “You are Here” features more than three dozen 150+ year-old maps of Georgia and the surrounding area. Curated and researched by students of Professor Carlos Herrera’s museum studies program, the exhibit provides an opportunity for visitors to view maps of the American South as they would have been printed for an international audience.
“The maps start at 1760 and go through about 1870,” said Herrera, who also serves as a professor of art. “The maps are Italian, German, French, English, American, and Spanish, and we have all 40 works from the collection displayed in our Museum of Fine Arts … What you see is a timeline from 1760 through 1870 that really shows the changes in the boundaries and territories like, for instance, an English map that shows the section of the United States that Sir Francis Drake claimed for England in June of 1579.”
Spread out across the bottom floor of GC’s Museum of Fine Arts on South Columbia Street, “You Are Here” paints a rich tapestry of the political boundaries that were drawn around Georgia in the days of our nation’s infancy. Featuring maps of European colonial territories, Native American tribal homelands, and various iterations of the Georgia state boundary, the maps record a full century of political upheaval that took America from a massive European colony to a full-fledged sovereign state. While the collection shows the geographic changes of what is arguably the most turbulent time in North American history, so too do the mapmakers’ methods of cartography change over time.
“One of the things that’s interesting is that you see the different territories changing, you can also go through and see the mapmaking techniques change with they way that they’re being made and the amount of detail they’re able to include,” said museum studies student Alena Rensch. “A lot of the earlier ones do include a lot of detail, but as the techniques progressed, they got: One, more accurate, and Two, more intricate in the way they were able to engrave and print them. You start to see less variation throughout singular maps in terms of what information is there and what style it’s in.”
Although the collection itself provides an excellent record of cartography and North American political geography during the relevant time period, the students of GC’s museum studies program have given their own additions to the exhibit’s historical context. Made up of students majoring in history, art history, liberal studies, and mass communication, Herrera’s museum studies students are the exhibit’s main curators, designers and researchers. At an informal talk with students in the museum Thursday afternoon, Mr. Armstrong (a former history professor) discussed his process for finding and collecting the different maps, and gave students some extra insight on the pieces he so carefully collected. In designing, curating, and gathering information on the dozens of antique maps, students said approaching the exhibit from several different fields adds a certain intrigue to the unique exhibit.
“I like the fact that it kind of brings all of our majors together, because we all brought different aspects to the exhibition,” said history major Sarah Robles. “For us history and art history majors, we love looking at ‘Ok, what was going on during this time?’, so we’re able to put some historical context to it. Of course, we have the art majors who notice details that I personally would not have noticed, which makes the maps even more special … having all those different aspects put together in this one piece has been very special.”
The “You Are Here” antique map exhibition is on display at the Georgia College Museum of Fine Arts, 102 South Columbia Street, from now until March 30. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For hours and information on scheduling a visit, contact Professor Carlos Herrera at 478-445-7025.