Maps can tell us as much about the people who made them as the places they depict. Like all texts and images, maps serve the agendas of their creators, implicitly or avowedly. Consider this map produced around 1920, during the Irish War of Independence and title The English Terror in Ireland: List of Irish Towns and Villages Ravaged by British Troops or Police During the Past Twelve Months — the author’s pro-Irish stance is easy to discern, and we can interpret the data with the proverbial grain of salt.
More often, however, a map invites the viewer to contemplate a multitude of angles. This 18th-century map showing the locations of Jesuit missions in Paraguay and Brazil, for example, offers insight into the aims of the Jesuit missions, the imperial ambitions of European powers, and how these powers viewed the rights and interests of indigenous South Americans.
The range of subjects found within Burns Library’s maps corresponds closely with the collecting strengths of the library generally. Maps relating to Irish history, Boston history, and the Jesuits are therefore well represented. So too are maps of Africa and the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, collected by the Jesuit missionary and anthropologist Joseph J. Williams (1875-1940) and dating from about 1630 through the mid 20th century.
To view a map at Burns Library, you will first need to find it in the library catalog. Depending on your patience for sifting through irrelevant search results, you may prefer to begin with a Google-style keyword search, or else take a more targeted approach. I recommend using the Advanced Search option, selecting Maps from the Material Type drop-down box, and searching the Subject field for the location that interests you. In the screenshot below you can see how my search for maps of Boston yielded 22 results.It is important to note that by limiting the material type to maps, you are searching for maps produced as individual sheets, and for atlases wholly made up of maps. Excluded are books which may happen to include maps among its illustrations. For instance, this 18th-century book of Irish road maps, would be excluded by a search limited to Material Type Maps, on the basis that it is not a map but a book containing some maps.
While I know of no simple, targeted approach to searching the catalog for these books-that-contain-maps, one fruitful strategy is to search Any field contains map* (the asterisk will make the search engine return results for both “map” and “maps”). Combine with a Subject search for the locale of your choice (I used Vermont), and you may serendipitously discover that 1794 edition The Natural and Civil History of Vermont you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.
–Noah Sheola, Special Collections Cataloging Librarian