Past Exhibitions

Shakespeare’s Here and Everywhere

September 3, 2016 through February 26, 2017

William Shakespeare’s plays are set in Europe, Asia and Africa, from classical times to the Renaissance. How did he and other authors, mapmakers and readers of his day imagine foreign and often exotic settings, the “other” as well as the familiar? What roles do place, identity and travel play in his comedies, tragedies and histories? Explore these questions and more through maps, atlases and illustrations of Shakespeare’s time and beyond, and armchair travel with the Bard to “here, and everywhere.”

This exhibition is funded in part by Mass Cultural Council.

Hy-Brasil: Mapping a Mythical Island

June 29, 2016 through October 23, 2016

In 1325, an island appeared on a nautical chart, just off the southwest coast of Ireland. This island, shrouded in mist, was said to appear once every seven years and was home to an advanced race that was immune to sickness and the passing of time. This mystical place, known variously as Brasil, Brazil, Breasil, Hy-Brasil, O’Brasil and numerous other names, would appear on maps for the next five centuries. Its exact location on maps would change over the years, and numerous expeditions would venture into the North Atlantic Ocean to find the island. Some mariners claimed to have discovered the legendary island; however, these reports teemed with fantastic accounts of alien beings, and eventually fell into legend.

In this online exhibition of forty maps from the collection at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library and the Mapping Boston Foundation, visitors will see the transition of Hy-Brasil over the course of five centuries from legitimate island destination, to “imaginary” place, to simply a “rock,” before it finally stops appearing on maps in the late 19th century. A variety of map formats are included in the online exhibition, such as portolan charts, woodcut engravings, copperplate engravings and lithographic prints. Hy-Brasil even makes an appearance on a 1492 globe.

In addition, several sketch books and drawings of internationally acclaimed visual artist Caoimhghin Ó Fraithile (Quee-veen Ó Frá-ha-la) (Ireland) will be on display in the Leventhal Map Center gallery. His sketchbooks illustrate images of his site-specific floating artwork entitled “South of Hy-Brasil,” a three-dimensional piece that will be sited in the lagoon behind the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from late summer through mid-October 2016. His floating work is part of Tír na nÓg, a temporary public art project in the Fenway section of the Emerald Necklace park system.

The outdoor artwork by Mr. Ó Fraithile is part of Ireland’s 2016 Centennial – a global initiative to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising which set Ireland on its path for independence. Tír na nÓg, and its related exhibitions and events, are supported by Culture Ireland as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. Medicine Wheel Productions is the lead organization for Tír na nÓg and their Cultural Partner is the Fenway Alliance. Additional key supporters of the project are Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Consulate General of Ireland in Boston, and Boston Parks and Recreation. To learn more about Medicine Wheel and Tír na nÓg, or to see a full listing of project sponsors and collaborators, please visit:

From the Sea to the Mountains: The Trustees 125th Anniversary

April 2, 2016 through August 28, 2016

In 1891 landscape architect, Charles Eliot asserted the bold idea to form an organization that would preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts. At a time when land conservation and ‘being green’ was not widely discussed, his vision was forward thinking. Today, the organization he founded, The Trustees of Reservations, oversees more than 26,000 acres of preserved places from the Atlantic Coast to the Berkshire Mountains.

The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library is partnering with The Trustees in celebration of their 125th Anniversary on a 70-item exhibition, featuring maps, photographs, and historical items from both collections. Visitors will be introduced to Trustees properties, become familiar with a number of distinctive map formats, learn about natural landforms and geologic terms, and cultivate an appreciation for the natural, historical, and cultural treasures of Massachusetts.

Women in Cartography: Five Centuries of Accomplishments

October 31, 2015 - March 26, 2016

Histories of map-making generally emphasize the role of men; however, since the advent of the printed map, women have worked as colorists, engravers, shop owners and publishers, and most importantly as map-makers themselves. Women are active in all aspects of cartography today, and are leaders in the world of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and digital mapping. In this exhibition of forty maps, globes, atlases and works of art from the 17th century to the present, visitors will encounter works by female map creators, designers and educators, learn about the various cartographic skills employed by women over the centuries, and observe the transition of women in cartography from marginalized, to celebrated.maps, statistical cartographic presentations of social data from the immigrant rich Near West Side neighborhoods of Chicago.

We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence

Boston Public Library - May 2 to November 29, 2015
Colonial Williamsburg - March 6, 2016 through January 29, 2017
New-York Historical Society - November 2017 through March 2018

This exhibition commemorates the 250th anniversary of Britain’s 1765 Stamp Act. This pivotal moment sparked American opposition to Britain’s restrictive colonial policies, particularly taxation without representation, which was established to help pay for troops stationed in the colonies during the French and Indian War (1756-1763). Protestors in Boston hung one of the tax collectors in effigy on an elm tree near the Boston Common. The tree became known as the Liberty Tree, and the loose organization of protestors were known as the Sons of Liberty. This early opposition throughout the colonies to British imperial control set the stage for growing opposition to British rule during the next ten years, resulting in the American Revolutionary War.

Literary Landscapes: Maps from Fiction

February 2 to October 25, 2015

Maps of imaginary places have accompanied literature for centuries. Visualizing the fanciful worlds described in works of fiction sets the stage for events taking place in a story and often provides insight into the characters themselves.

In this exhibition of forty items, visitors will discover maps from a variety of fictional genres, learn how authors create imaginary worlds, and appreciate why descriptive geography is essential to the story. People and creatures—even those who exist only in tales—are related to place, and maps of their imaginary worlds allow readers to be transported into the geography of fantasy.

Back to School: Geography in the Classroom

September 2, 2014 - January 2015

American schoolchildren have studied geography since the late 18th century. Traditionally viewed as an essential subject for boys’ and girls’ education, geography was taught to children in primary school, and to young adults studying in high school and college settings. In this display of forty maps, globes, games, atlases and related objects, we see the evolution of geographic education, examine the visual aids used by teachers in the classroom, and marvel at unique student-produced geography projects from the late 18th to the 20th centuries.

A City of Neighborhoods: The Changing Face of Boston

March 22 - August 23, 2014

What makes "new" Boston different from "old" Boston? Explore Boston's ethnic diversity and neighborhoods with a special exhibition featuring maps of Boston's immigrant population based on the 2010 Census using historic, modern and digitized maps.


This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mass Humanities “A Commonwealth of Ideas

Made in Boston

November 8, 2013 - March 17, 2014

Boston was the metropolis of England’s North American colonies, with the largest population and economy of any urban center through the 1750s. It was also the leading producer of printed maps, including major colonial “firsts” such as the first printed map, first city map, first battle plan, and first map engraved on copper.

This exhibition brings together, for the first time, a majority of these maps “made in Boston” in the century before the American Revolution. As a group they are remarkable for their idiosyncrasies of style and important contributions to geographical knowledge.

These maps reflect distinct concerns of New Englanders in general and Bostonians in particular: Pride in their fine city, the hazards of navigating the New England coast, conflict and collaboration with the native inhabitants, and the French for mastery of North America, and landownership concerns. This exhibition affords a unique perspective on the ambitions, anxieties and sense of identity that animated colonial Bostonians.

Charting an Empire: The Atlantic Neptune

May 1, 2013 - November 3, 2013

Part I: Atlantic Canada (May 1 to July 28, 2013)
Part II: Eastern Seaboard of Colonial America (August 1 to November 3, 2013)

The period following the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was a time of change and discovery in North America. In this display of charts, views, and maritime objects, we look at the decade following the war, when Britain set out to accurately chart the coast and survey the inland areas of their new resource-rich empire in Atlantic Canada, as well as the eastern seaboard extending from New England to the West Indies. The resulting charts were published collectively by Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres in The Atlantic Neptune, a maritime atlas which set the standard for nautical charting for nearly half a century.

Boston in the Gilded Age: Mapping Public Places

November 16, 2012 - April 23, 2013

The Gilded Age–the era from the late 1860s to the late 1890s–was a period of significant growth and transformation in Boston. Ingenious engineering projects allowed the city to expand, and a devastating fire led to swift and progressive redevelopment of the commercial district. Designed to document Boston’s radically changing geography, this exhibition focuses on the evolving street pattern and emerging park system, developed for the City’s growing population.

This story begins with the Boston Common and Public Garden. Moving west, the exhibition examines the growth of open spaces in Back Bay, then south to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, finishing with the development of Copley Square – the permanent home of the Boston Public Library.

America Votes: Mapping the Political Landscape

March 26, 2012 - November 10, 2012

This timely, election-year exhibition features approximately 30 maps, political cartoons, photographs, and other graphic images that date from the 1780s to the present. The display begins with an exploration of gerrymandering—two hundred years of manipulating political districts for partisan objectives—and includes maps illustrating the extension of the vote to non-property owners, blacks, and women. America Votes also features multiple election results maps, with examples ranging from several early efforts to the most recent campaigns.

Unconventional Maps

October 22, 2011 - April 9, 2012

When reading maps, we expect map makers to use standard conventions, especially in regard to map projection or composition, orientation, scale, and symbols. When a map maker does not use generally-accepted practices, we ask why? What is the story the map maker is trying to tell?

The maps displayed here highlight a variety of unconventional maps spanning the history of the printed map. For each, we demonstrate how it defies convention, and how that particular cartographic design heightens its story.

Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

May 12, 2011 - December 31, 2011

The Civil War from 1861 to 1865 is the centerpiece of our nation’s story. It looms large, not merely because of its carnage, brutality and scope but because of its place in the trajectory of America’s history. The seeds of war were planted long before 1861 and the conflict remains part of our national and individual memory.

Maps enable us to present the complex strands that when woven together, provide a detailed account of the causes and conduct of the war. These visual images remain a salient aspect of our memory. The photographs, prints, diaries, songs and letters from the richness of the Library’s many holdings enhance our ability to tell this story.

Boston and Beyond

January, 2008 - June, 2008

In designing Boston & Beyond, we selected a group of 48 bird's eye views of New England towns showing the region's expansion and evolution during the last half of the 19th century. Each map is a unique blend of geographic representation along with the biases — both real and imagined — of the artists and those who commissioned them to create these exceptional works.

Drawn from carefully chosen vantage points — and unique (non-north) orientations — these maps present their subjects through the eyes of their creators (and the priorities of those who commissioned the works). They are distinctive hybrids of cartography and artistry, of historical representation and cultural ambition, of detailed accuracy and fanciful imagination.

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Journeys of the Imagination

March 21, 2006 - August 18, 2006

Journeys of the Imagination is an exhibition designed to explore the various ways that mapmakers from the 15th century until today, have created and translated their real and imagined world views.

The maps in this exhibition depict the excitement of discovery and scientific investigation, the artwork, and the social, historical and cultural influences that informed the creation of these documents. We will examine these maps, not just as geographic records of the world at a particular time, but as a document that has a story to tell, both about how and why the map was created, and what the map has to say about a particular culture's world view.

As an endlessly fascinating record of civilization in the context of its history, geography, politics, and religion, we hope that you too are captivated by the cartographic expressions displayed in this exhibition.

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Faces and Places Exhibition

Spring, 2003 - Summer, 2003

One of the goals of Faces & Places is to create an environment that will inspire dialogue, encouraging us to understand each other's cultural heritage, learn how we are different, but still realize how much we have in common. In creating this exhibition, we selected a number of historical maps that portray the countries from which the greatest number of Bostonians originate. These maps depict the countries at various stages in their historical, geographical, political, and economic development.

According to the 2000 census, the eight countries whose immigrant population informs the cultural diversity of the city of Boston are Cape Verde, China, Dominican Republic, England, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, and Jamaica. Immigrants from each of the countries represented in this exhibition celebrate the culture that is their heritage in different ways in their new home.

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Norman B. Leventhal Map Center (