Sunday, December 2, 2007

Our History is Within Us All

Darwin and The Origin of Species; An exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum.
Click here for link

In Chicago when recently visiting the Field Museum for an exhibit on maps, I had the opportunity visit a concurrent exhibit simply titled "Darwin." While it did use historical documents and artifacts to explain the sources of his seminal work, The Origin of Species, it just as importantly provided a glimpse into the personal life of this most remarkable individual. Trained as a theologian as well as a biologist, Darwin delayed publishing Origin for 20 years over well-founded concerns that he would draw a reaction "like confessing a murder."

Darwin told us what evolution was. One hundred years later, Watson and Crick told us how it happens. I hold these as the two greatest discoveries in biology.

My Own Biologic History?

Recent reading of a number of popular books about genetics and DNA (The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins, and The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes), and discussions with Barbara about her new genealogy discoveries, sparked an interest in what might be our own ancient genealogic history. I was watching a National Geographic program and at the end there was a blurb about their "Genographic Project" that piqued my interest.

Ultimately, we have joined the Genographic project with buccal swabs from both of us, and we have also purchased kits from the Family Tree DNA company for Barbara, myself, and Barbara's father. (as it turns out, the University of AZ does the DNA analysis, y-DNA and mtDNA, both for National Geographic as well as for

We are trying not only to discover something about our distant roots, but also to establish the start of a DNA-based information file that I am certain will be a critical part of any geneaologic searching in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Maps as History

Map of Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

Barbara always includes a day at the Newberry Library for geneaology research when I attend the big radiology meeting in Chicago every fall. This year it happens that the Newberry had partnered with the Chicago Field Museum for an exceptional joint exposition from early Nov until Jan 27, so for the first time I joined her on a visit, first to the Newberry and then on to the Field Museum.

"In creating Maps: Finding Our Place in the World " the Field Museum has partnered with The Newberry Library, a world-renowned independent research library. The Newberry's extensive holdings include rare books, manuscripts, and 500,000 historic maps, making it a foremost authority on the history of cartography." (From the museum website.) For a 3-D oversight of the Field Museum exhibit click here.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we could not miss. We were allowed to inspect closely some of the most significant maps in the world, as well as some that were just interesting and beautiful.

The collection ranged from 3+ thousand year-old clay maps, to Garmin GPS devices and Google Earth displays. There was the first "map" of the internet (ARPANET - 1982), maps of currents and islands with sticks from the south Pacific, cosmological maps from religious traditions, and of course, many historically significant traditional maps.

The items ranged in size from a few inches to perhaps 20 feet. All were displayed in subdued light, but most still could be viewed from only inches away. (in the Newberry, they actually provided magnifying glasses.)

There were original maps by Leonardo da Vinci (of a town), George Washington (French military outpost on the frontier), Ab Lincoln (survey of a township), Thomas Jefferson (proposed map of new states (with names) between the colonies and the Mississippi), Ben Franklin, JRR Tolkien, Wm Clark (of Lewis and Clark), M Servetus (link), and Charles Lindbergh (the map/chart used in his transatlantic flight).
The "Great Map"

One map was particularly impressive. A year or two ago I read "The Map That Changed The World," a popular historical book by Simon Winchester. It is an account of William Smith’s life and his "great map." In short, Smith was the first real geologist, and his geological map of England set a totally new paradigm for understanding everything from topical geology to plate tectonics.
His map was right there, taller than me, and close enough to touch!

Few geologists or historians of science have ever seen a copy. Because of its rarity and its size, it is difficult to display and even more difficult to study. One is displayed on the wall of the private meeting rooms of the Geological Society of London (behind a shade) but I do not know anywhere that it is open to public view. Because watercolors fade rapidly under ordinary light, libraries and museums can only expose it only under exceptional circumstances and for short durations.
There were a few other related artifacts such as the chronometer Capt Cook used on his round-the-world voyage that were used to compliment the maps, but it was essentially just the maps, maps, and more wonderful maps.
There are actually entire websites and blogs dedicated to Cartography. You might want to visit The Map Room as an example.