Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience

Washington and his family

April 20, 2013 – January 5, 2014

ceramic picture with new world map on itToday maps are known primarily as tools to help us reach our destination, but in the 18th and 19th centuries they were key to the American experience and became the social glue that bound a young nation into a community.

This exhibition takes you on a journey through the centuries that included the colonial wars, the American Revolution, and decades of nation building. During that time, maps evolved to become part of everyday life and material culture, changing from rare collectibles to ubiquitous objects.

Common Destinations features selections from Winterthur's fascinating collection of traditional maps on paper as well as map-related objects, such as ceramics, geographic playing cards, and printed handkerchiefs.

The story of maps in the American experience is told through six themes:

•    Sociable Maps: Parlors and Pubs—Maps became popular conversation pieces with which Americans debated current affairs or explored their knowledge of the world. Whether in homes, taverns, or coffee house, maps were the perfect medium for conversations, games, and exchanging news and information.

•    Indoors/Outdoors: Men and Their Maps—Maps played a crucial role in the political and commercial activities as well as the personal lives of American men. They shaped reading and writing activities and were part of everyday outdoor activities, including traveling and land-surveying.  At a time when social status was predicated on land ownership or commerce, maps were both tools and status symbols for American men.

hand fan with map imprint•    Maps in a Woman’s World—Maps were important to American women’s lives in many ways. They served as a teaching tool for home-schooled children; they provided needlework and embroidery themes for interior decoration; they were fashionable accessories when used as handkerchiefs and fans; and they became a source of entertainment for both women and children.

•    Before the Revolution: Science, Pictures, and Baroque Maps—In the 18th century, the aesthetics of maps became just as important as the accuracies of the geography. Designs were borrowed from baroque furniture, emblem books, and even theater sets.

•    The National Map: 1784–1815—Building a sense of community among a young nation that spent decades with political uncertainty was one of the biggest contributions of maps after the Revolutionary War. They were no longer imported from abroad but were replaced with first-generation domestic maps that illustrated national unity and became part of the school curriculum to help build a new society.

•    Maps and Masses: Cartography in the Industrial Age—The application of machine-made paper and lithography during the 1830s made maps a highly diversified commodity as they were tailored to meet the needs of national and international audiences. With mass production, map ownership became almost universal and for the first time, entered window displays in shopping districts and became a staple at national and international fairs.

Join us on this journey to explore an important part of American history through maps and map-related objects and see how they helped shape America as a young nation.

Read more about the exhibition in the March issue of County Lines magazine.

The exhibition's companion book, The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860 is available for purchase online.

The exhibition will be hosted in the Graves & West Galleries. All exhibitions are included with admission and are free to Winterthur Members.

Presented by Presented by DupontPresented by M&T Bank

This exhibition is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and with additional support from Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP and Office of the Provost at the University of Delaware.

Image at the top of the page: The Washington Family, by Edward Savage, 1798–1805. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont. 1961.708.

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