Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pinpointing New Jersey - Exploring the NJ State Museum's Map Exhibit

Pinpointing New Jersey - Exploring the NJ State Museum's Map Exhibit
Written by NJ Historian

If you don't have a roadmap or GPS, it can be difficult to get across New Jersey. Cartography, the art of mapmaking, has origins tracing back to wall paintings circa 1600 BCE. As early as 1666, New Jersey in its present state appeared on a sea-chart, although various maps before it, the earliest being 1635, depicted the Jersey coastline as part of a larger area. The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, New Jersey is offering a ground-breaking exhibit entitled, “Where in the World is New Jersey? Historical Maps of the Garden State”. Currently running through February 23, 2014, the exhibit, comprised of nearly one hundred maps depicting depicting the colony and state of New Jersey from 1635 through 1950, shows how these pieces of paper are significant to geographers, artists, publishers, and historians.

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York with the Regions around the Delaware River in America, Published by George Matthias Seutter, 1751. Collection of the NJ State Museum.
Divided into three distinct sections, the exhibit's maps were chosen because they tell a story about New Jersey and provide a visual interest to the visitor. The first section, “Surveying the Shore: Maps of Exploration and Colonization,” chronicles the geographical examination of the New Jersey coast by Dutch cartographers and includes amazing examples of highly-decorative maps from the Dutch “Golden Age” of mapmaking. Highly ornate and colored by hand, many Dutch maps feature Native American forms and images of the state’s flora and fauna. These early maps were not accurate. For example, in George Matthias Suetter's 1735 copperplate engraving of the New Netherlands in North America, the City of Burlington appeared farther north than its actual location.

The second section, “From Divided to United: Maps of New Jersey,” includes maps showing the natural and political forces that gave New Jersey its recognizable geographic outline and maps showing the partition lines that once divided the state into the distinct colonies of East and West Jersey. John Seller's 1677 "Mapp of New Jersey" is the first English printed map of the colony, the first to use the name "New Jersey", and the first to show the distinction between East and West Jersey.

The final section, “New Jersey on the Move,” highlights maps that showcase the history of transportation systems in the state including harbors, canals, railroads, trolley lines, and auto roads. Maps of early turnpikes, the Camden & Amboy Railroad, and the Delaware & Raritan Canal are of special note. The exhibit ends in the 1950s with a promotional map of our state’s most famous road – the New Jersey Turnpike.

New Jersey Turnpike Map, 1952.
Collection of Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.
Most of the maps in the exhibit are original hand-colored copperplate engravings or chromolithographs. The maps come from the collections of four public institutions – the New Jersey State Museum, State Archives, State Library, and Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. They were selected for their rarity, their ability to convey aspects of New Jersey history, and their artistic merit – underscoring the dual role of maps as both works of art and utilitarian tools essential to the human experience.

Throughout the exhibit are a number of cases showing tools, such as a circa 1800 surveyor's compass and a circa 1880 alidade, vital tools for a mapmaker or surveyor. The exhibit also relates to the human side of mapmaking and tells stories about six individuals from New Jersey and their tie to the cartography industry. For the younger museum visitor, a children's area in the center of the exhibit contains a large jigsaw puzzle map of the United States, colorful books about maps, and other coloring activities.

I recently had the opportunity to tour and discuss the exhibit with Nicholas P. Ciotola, Curator of Cultural History at the New Jersey State Museum. Ciotola offered valuable insight into the exhibit and its design.

The History Girl: How long it take to research and develop the exhibit?
Nicholas Ciotola: We started the process about a year ago. The first step was to go and look at all the maps. Rutgers. the State Archives, and the State Library have hundreds of maps. I tried to get a sense of what was there. Then I came up with a couple of themes and things that I was looking for. Then I went back and made a selection that I would borrow from each institution and then the process of bringing them in and writing the text. Getting to the end was pretty much a year-long process.

THG: Where were these maps, especially those from the 1600s - stored and found - and how did they make their way here after all these years?
NC: There started to be a renewed interest in maps in the mid-1800s and they were found in family collections as well as in small museums around Europe. Around the turn of the twentieth century, New Jersey institutions like ours started to become interested in collecting maps and were purchased at different points in time from map dealers. Many of these maps were printed as part of atlases and over the years were separated and separated exclusively because people saw the beauty in them and wanted to sell them as wall decorations. These are works of art as well as wayfinding.

THG: What is the oldest map in the exhibit and how were some of the earliest maps printed?
NC: The earliest map in the exhibit was printed in 1635. All of the maps in the exhibit are originals. They are not facsimiles or printed later. They were actually made at the time. And they are made through a process called copperplate engraving. They would have to engrave these on a block of copper and then press the paper onto the copper. It usually took two years to create the printing block or the copper plate from which these maps were made. It was a time consuming, labor intensive process. It was not a color process either, so all of the coloring had to be done afterwards by a team of watercolor artists.

THG: Do you have a favorite category of maps?
NC: Transportation maps because when people think about maps, that is the first thing that comes to mind. I'm still a person that tries not to use a GPS. I like to have a tangible map in the car and I like to know where I am when I'm going anywhere. I believe that in this digital age people are starting to lose their sense of direction.

Surveyor's compass and case, circa 1800.
THG: What is one focal point of the exhibit?
NC: We wanted to have a moment in the exhibit where we would pull you in and showcase a really big map of New Jersey. It's one of those interesting types of maps that were developed in the mid-1800s. Wall maps were published for municipal buildings, poor houses, and schools.

THG: What kind of interactivity can be found in the exhibit?
NC: At the end of the exhibit, we give people the opportunity to put themselves on the map. Using a modern map of New Jersey, you can find your municipality, take a post-it note, and put your name on it and tell us where you're from.

THG: What do you consider to be the most significant map in the exhibit?
NC: There are a couple that are significant. This map (A Mapp of New Jersey, John Seller, London, 1677) is one of the most important. It is the first printed map to show the division between East Jersey and West Jersey.

A Mapp of New Jersey, published by John Seller, London, 1677. Collection of the NJ State Archives
Another important map is Lewis Evan's 1749 map of New Jersey. This is the only one that we had to get from out of state. It was so important that we had to go to Brown University to get it. The reason it is important is because it is the first map of New Jersey that we can call a reasonably accurate map of the state. They (cartographers) are starting to get things right about the shape of New Jersey. Other maps did not have accurate measurements. You can see the shape of New Jersey as we know it - the bend in the Delaware River, the curve back toward the upper part of the state. We start to see the counties appear on the map. We are seeing details on this map and it is becoming a scientific measurement of New Jersey.

THG: Has the exhibit been well-received since opening?
NC: It's been very popular. A lot of people have come in. There's a large audience for maps. There are map collectors out there or people like you who are just interested. But it's also because of the kid's activities.

If you go:
The New Jersey State Museum, located at 205 West State Street. Trenton, New Jersey is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 am - 4:45 pm. The Museum is closed Mondays and all state holidays. The NJ State Museum has a “suggested” admission fee. Admission fee revenue supports the Museum’s collections, exhibitions, and programs. For more information, please visit or call the recorded information line at 609-292-6464.

Additional photos of my trip to New Jersey State Museum on Pinterest

For More Information
NJ State Museum

Maps have evolved with time and in the digital age, many are interactive, such as this map from Levow DWI Law. It is an interactive map of historical DWI checkpoints throughout the state of New Jersey. Opponents of these roadblocks argue that they are a waste of taxpayer money and that law enforcement efforts could be spent in more effective ways. On average, for every 1,000 cars stopped in a roadblock, less than 1/2 of 1% are arrested for DWI. This map is updated every two weeks as new information is received.


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