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Delisle globe, 1765

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Map Curator Pat Coleman gives us an introduction to ‘Minnesota on the Map:’ Four Centuries of Maps from the Minnesota Historical Society Collection: an exhibit he has curated that opens on February 28. The exhibit includes 100 maps from the MHS collection of over 22,000. Pat also shares his insights to a recently acquired globe from 1765.

View 3-D version of the Delisle globe

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Guillaume Delisle

Globe Terrestre: Revu et Corrige sur les Dernieres Observations et les Meilleurs Carties… Paris: Desnos.

As beautiful and as informational as maps can be, globes literally add a third dimension. They are fabulous artifacts that allow a user to interact with maps in a way that a two dimensional map cannot. Mid 18th -century French globes are considered to be among the finest examples of the art of globe making. This globe, based on the cartographic work of Guillaume Delisle, is interesting in the extreme.

To begin with, Delisle was a cartographic “rock star”. He was born in Paris in 1675, the son of Claude Delisle, a famous geographer and historian. Trained in mathematics and astronomy, Guillaume was perfectly suited to make scientific corrections on earlier Dutch cartography. Delisle made giant leaps forward in mapmaking. For his work he was appointed “Premier Geographe du Roi” in 1718.

This globe is not representative of Delisle’s most accurate cartography, however. There are many inaccuracies on the North American continent alone. Notice the two North West passages, which are clearly based on wishful thinking, and the Mer de l’Ouest, (Sea of the West), is shockingly incorrect. Since Delisle had been dead for 40 years when this globe was made, and since Delisle was know for excluding hearsay on his maps, it seems safe to conclude that his successors- his younger brother, Joseph-Nicholas Delisle and his nephew Philippe Buache – were responsible for the “Mer de l’Ouest,” based on the supposed voyage of an Admiral de Fonte who claimed to have found a river that flowed through North America. Ten years later Cook’s voyage would disprove the existence of both these inaccuracies. California is still attached to the mainland on this globe, but the shape of the Great Lakes are poorly rendered for the time period and the Missouri and Rio Grande (Rio del Norte) have nearly identical headwaters. The Mississippi River takes an exaggerated eastward bend but the location of the head of the river is a fairly accurate guess. All of these strange features add to the fascination of the globe.

There are two cartouches (think of a cartouche as the title page and copyright page of a book) and an advertisement printed on the globe. The main cartouche promises that the globe is “revised and corrected on the latest observations and the best maps” and, of course, is dedicated to the king of France. The other main cartouche mentions “Delisle, the astronomer…” as the cartographer behind this terrestrial globe that was “Monte par l’Auteur” or “mounted” by Desnos the publisher. The globe also shows the routes of the explorers via dotted lines suggesting the inclusion of information gathered from those excursions.

Globes dating from the 18th century are extremely rare, which might lead one to assume that they were not widely used in their day. This is not the case at all. Globes were common educational tools used in classrooms, libraries, and even as navigational instruments on ships. It is their inherent fragility that has led to their scarcity.

Help us preserve and display the Delisle Globe.

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An Arts Job is a Job!

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Strike me dead if I don’t stop beginning every conversation with the words “the economy” but we were just talking about the last time we were in such a pickle. It reminded me both of another of Minnesota’s greatest books and a successful model for government to support the arts and mitigate the recession.

Minnesota: A State Guide. Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration… New York: Viking Press, 1938.

When Mabel Ulrich became director of the newly established Minnesota Writers’ Project she believed that there weren’t any “mute inglorious authors” in the state but soon found out how wrong she was. She ended up hiring 120 promising writers from virtually every walk of life who were unemployed and in desperate need of the paycheck the feds were offering. Some of these writers were as well known as Meridel Le Sueur. The end result was a lovely publication which kept a lot of people off the dole and stimulated tourism which helped the local economy. Not to mention a book great enough to make our list 70 years later.

My experience with the WPA guide was probably typical. My family drove around the state quite a bit [a Vista Cruiser full of kids strikes me now as a silly form of recreation] and kept the Guide in the glove box. When we drove into Esko, for example, my father would hand the book back to me and I would begin reading aloud.

The Finns are a clannish people who cling to their Old World manners and customs, and to a stranger may sometimes seem unfriendly. At one time a suspicious farmer accused them of practicing magic and of worshiping pagan deities. Entire families, he claimed, wrapped themselves in white sheets and retreated to a small square building set apart from the dwellings and worshipped their gods calling upon them to bring rain and good harvest to the Finns, and wrath upon their neighbors. On investigation, however, it was discovered that although they did wrap themselves in sheets and visit these “shrines” almost daily, it was not in the zeal of religion but for the purpose of taking baths. The Finns here are almost fanatical advocates of cleanliness, and each has his own “sauna” or steam bathhouse.

Because of the WPA Writers project a whole lot of writers owed their livelihoods to the Federal government. I owe them my love of Minnesota and its history!

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Lincolnalia on view

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Currently on view at the Library Lobby until mid-April is an exhibit of items from the Minnesota Historical Society collection relating to Abraham Lincoln and his connections to Minnesota. The Library is free and open to the public – come and see!

Learn more:

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Electoral Ballot from 1860

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

One of my favorite things in the Collection is this simple electoral ballot for Abraham Lincoln, from the 1860 election. It is the first presidential election Minnesota as a state was able to participate in, and one that turned out to be tremendously important for both our state and the country. From the Civil War to the Homestead Act to building railroads, Lincoln was important to the future of Minnesota although he never set foot here.

Learn More:

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Catch the News!

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Catch the news!  View news clips from one of the country’s premiere television news film collections, KSTP-TV Archive.  Completed in 2008 to celebrate the State’s sesquicentennial and KSTP’s sixtieth anniversary, a new web page highlights the KSTP-TV Archive.  http://www.mnhs.org/collections/kstp/

The complete archive holds over 3 million feet of news film (1948-1976) and 2,500 videotapes (1976-1993).  KSTP Channel 5 was one of the first full-color stations, and the first station in the Midwest to air a daily newscast. The currently posted segments are part of 150 news clips being digitized for web delivery.  The selection provides a glimpse of the people, events, tragedies and triumphs captured by KSTP Channel 5 in Minnesota, for the second half of the twentieth century.  See 1949 footage of a U.S. Navy blimp, the Como Lake ice skating races in 1964, and the 1979 gas lines, among many others.

Copies of these clips are also available for purchase. The full 1960s decade featured here will also be available for purchase on DVD in mid 2009. Submit the KSTP Request Form to the Minnesota Historical Society for research, purchase, or use. Watch as more segments are added to bring our total to 150 clips in 2009!

Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc. gave the KSTP-TV Archive to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1994. Since then, the 16 mm news film has been cleaned, spliced, cataloged, and rehoused in a secure and climate-controlled storage area.  The news film is cataloged in the Society’s Collection Management System, for which a search interface is currently being developed. This will allow for online research of the full database.

The Minnesota Historical Society continues to promote long-term care, create further information, and provide access to this important news archive.  Welcome to the KSTP-TV Archive!

Diane Adams-Graf, Sound and Visual Curator

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs