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Highlights Archives

Parker Maps Document French Exploration


"Amerique Septantrionale," a 1650 map by Nicholas Sanson, widely regarded as the father of French cartography, was the first to depict all five Great Lakes and influence two generations of European cartographers.

Nine maps from the George S. Parker Map Collection are currently featured in an exhibit on the first floor of the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison. Parker (1929-2004) was the grandson of the founder of the Parker Pen Company in Janesville, Wisconsin, a firm to which he devoted his business life from 1952 to 1986. In the latter year, Parker decided to build a complete collection of the most important maps related to New France and French exploration of the Great Lakes. The 57 maps that he gathered illustrate French perceptions of their New World empire as well as the ways in which Europe's most important cartographers represented North America to the public.

Parker commented on his map collecting in an essay included in "Maps of Encounter: The French in Seventeenth-Century Wisconsin," a 24-page guide to his collection published by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters in 1995. He was also the author of "The Mapping of the Great Lakes," published in 1989 by the John Carter Brown Library.

Maps Faithfully Reproduced from the Originals

Due to the rarity and value of the originals, the exhibit contains meticulous reproductions. The maps were digitized at extremely high resolutions to create images that faithfully reflect the original colors and papers. The first-floor exhibit includes works by cartographers Francois Du Creux, Guillaume De Lisle, and Nicolas and Guillaume Sanson, among others, dating from 1650 through the 18th century. All 57 maps from this collection will be available for viewing online later this year as part of a forthcoming digital collection of important Wisconsin maps.

The George S. Parker Collection is on long-term loan to the Wisconsin Historical Society from the Caxambas Foundation of Milwaukee. Facsimiles of all maps in the collection are available for viewing in the Archives Research Room. Email inquiries may be directed to askarchives@wisconsinhistory.org.

:: Posted August 2, 2010

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