Skip to main content

Rare Book School courses at Library of Congress, Washington

decoration02 Dec. 2018|07 Dec. 2018

The Art & Science of Cartography, 200–1550 taught by John Hessler 

The foundations of modern cartography begin with the researches of the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in the second century and the re-discovery of his texts in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Ptolemy invented the concepts of latitude and longitude and also the idea of a map projection. Early mapmakers used Ptolemy’s ideas and extended them to account for the new discoveries made by explorers in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. These early modern maps also took full benefit of the developments in mathematics, navigation and astronomy to display the world visually in innovative ways.

Parallel to the tradition of Ptolemy was another and more mysterious form of cartography that appeared around 1250 and died out in the mid-sixteenth century. These maps took the form of a medieval sailing chart and were made for use on board trading vessels that sailed the Mediterranean Sea. Charts like these, called portolans, generally survive as large manuscript maps on vellum and derive from a mapmaking tradition that does not take into account map projections and whose original construction methods still baffle scholars today.

This course will introduce students to the earliest forms of cartography and discuss both the scientific and artistic innovations that made these two kinds of mapmaking possible. We will examine in detail the construction methods of some of the masterpieces of Renaissance cartography, such as the 1507 and 1516 world maps by Martin Waldseemüller, and other examples of early cartography found in the Library of Congress. Students will look closely at the making of portolan charts and take full advantage of new analytical research on their make-up. In addition to close scrutiny of the maps themselves, class discussion and reading will consider medieval and early Renaissance theories of the earth and the relationship of cartography to contemporary developments in astronomy and navigation, as well as the social and cultural aspects of patronage and production.

Preservation Imaging: Science, Scholarship, and the Artifact taught by Fenella France

Utilizing non-invasive integrated digital imaging systems such as spectral imaging provides the scholar and researcher with a tool that can provide useful, hidden and unknown information about an artifact. When we look at a document, we do not usually see everything that is contained within the original material. The unaided eye often cannot detect features such as writing and inks that are erased, hidden by overwriting or varnish, or faded because of environmental factors; nor can it identify important provenance components such as colorants. These features on photographs, manuscripts, maps, and other materials are important for scholarly investigation, authentication, “fingerprinting” and the care of collections. Looking at documents at various magnification levels and in various types of light (raking, transmitted, reflected and different wavelengths) can capture these elusive features. The application of hyperspectral imaging to the preservation analysis and study of cultural heritage artifacts is a powerful, non-invasive, non-destructive technique to provide scholarly content information. Imaging with LED lighting, in sixteen spectral bands and raking light for preservation studies, provides a system with safe conservation lighting that is integrated with the camera to minimize light on the object. Hyperspectral imaging has been used to analyze numerous artifacts including the Waldseemüller 1507 world map, the L’Enfant plan of Washington D.C., the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, and many other significant Library collection items.

This course will examine the interactions and links between non-invasive analytical scientific techniques and the cultural, societal, and provenance information contained within original sources that is not apparent without undertaking such document archeology. Course activities will include lectures and hands-on examination of historic materials, expanding into working with non-invasive techniques and data processing to understand better the tools available to enhance knowledge and deepen research techniques on these artifacts. Students will be introduced to the concepts and processes of preservation science and the range of types of analyses that can be undertaken to assess and discover a depth of unknown information hidden within the original source material.


02 Dec. 2018|07 Dec. 2018
Library of Congress
Rare Book School Virginia
  • share