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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

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Huge collection of ancient maps at UWM

Click to enlarge
  • Curator Marcy Bidney.
  • 1452 Mapa Mundi.

It's the second largest collection of maps in North America, right behind the U.S. Library of Congress.  

And it's right here in Milwaukee

The American Geographical Society Library, on the third floor of the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, is a collection of more than 500,000 maps and another 600,000 historic photographs, some dating back to the mid 1400s.

The star of the collection is an original 1452 Mapa Mundi, one of only three remaining in the world.  Created by Italian cartographer Giovanni Leardo, the pre-Columbus map shows the world as it was known in the late middle ages, with Jerusalem at the center.  The colors are as beautiful as they were more than 500 years ago, and it is considered to be one of the best preserved world maps still in existence.

The American Geographical Society Library relocated to Milwaukee from New York City in 1978, when financial troubles prompted it to find a more sustainable location.  At the time, UWM had just added a new wing to its library, complete with temperature and humidity controlled storage.  After years of legal negociations, UWM was selected as the permanent site.

Much of the collection, including the Mapa Mundi, is available to view online in library's digital collection.  Follow this link to see it for yourself.

And click the podcast player to hear our interview with Marcy Bidney, curator of the American Geographical Society Library.