Cartography expert discusses historic maps of Great Lakes region
Over 120 Ann Arbor residents gathered in the University of Michigan’s Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library on Tuesday night to listen to Jean-Francois Palomino, an author and cartography expert from the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. He discussed how French cartographers were the first to map much of French-controlled North America in the 17th century in addition to the exchange of unique maps between the French and the British during power turnovers in the late 1600s.
Throughout his slideshow presentation, Palomino featured maps of North America, including some of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, as examples of the changing political dynamic in the colonial New World.
The event was hosted as a collaborative effort with the William Clements Library and the Stephen Clark Library — a unit of Hatcher Graduate Library — and is part of a year-long lecture series. Karl Longstreth, a curator for the map collection at the Clark Library, spoke about the importance of the Clark and Clements libraries for the preservation of historic maps and efforts to attract speakers like Palomino.
“(The lecture) is a collaboration between the Clements Library and the Clark Library,” Longstreth said. “These libraries are the two principal map collections at the University.”
Palomino began his lecture by expressing his excitement at being in Michigan for the first time, claiming he had “seen (the state) only in maps,” and “was so happy to be here.”
Along with discussing the cartographic creations of Samuel de Champlain and Jean Baptiste Franquelin, Palomino touched upon the differences in the maps that had been produced at both the beginning and the end of the 17th century. He explained the difference in the quality of the maps was a product of technical advances made in printmaking in Europe, which allowed for greater detail.
“Between the making of these two maps, two centuries lapsed, a new colony was born and people, rivers, lakes and mountains appeared on paper,” he said. “In Europe, technical advancements in engraving and printmaking allowed mapmakers to describe the land in greater detail.”
Palomino also gave a brief history of the French-controlled North American territories, saying they were originally called Nova Gallia-- Latin for “New France.” The name was coined by the Italian cartographer Giovanni da Verrazzano.
Michigan's great lakes also made an appearance in the lecture. In 1603, according to Palomino, Champlain made his first voyage to the West Indies to map the St. Lawrence River. His guides mentioned there were “great lakes” in the region, which spiked Champlain’s curiosity.
“His guides mentioned the existence of a great lake with bad water, which might be evidence of its proximity to the Western sea, the ocean,” Palomino said. “Champlain wanted to know in what direction the water flowed, he was looking for a river flowing west towards the Pacific Ocean.”
Palomino concluded the event by taking questions from the audience, some of which included questions about the accuracy of longitude and latitude and the rarity of the maps that Palomino had examined.
One audience member was Mary Pedley, the assistant curator of maps at the Clements Library and a past member of the Michigan Maps Society — a once-defunct cartography enthusiasts club that is now making a resurgence in Ann Arbor. According to Pedley, the club’s mission is to provide funding for institutions that have map collections.
“I have known Palomino over the past 15 years, and thought that he would give a wonderful lecture for people who live in Michigan and are interested in the Great Lakes,” Pedley said.
After Palomino concluded his talk, Joan Knoetzer, University alum from the class of 1960 and board member at the Clements Library, commented, “He’s brilliant, isn’t he? Just wonderful.”
Correction appended: Palomino is a cartography expert from the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, not the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.