Scholar of Cartography Uses Newberry Collection to Chart a Distinct Course | Newberry

Scholar of Cartography Uses Newberry Collection to Chart a Distinct Course

Jorge Macle, curator of maps for the National Archives of Cuba, becomes first scholar from Cuba ever to participate in the Newberry’s fellowship program.

Scholar of Cuban cartography Jorge Macle in the Newberry’s Special Collections Reading Room.

December 2015

As curator of maps for the National Archives of Cuba, Jorge Macle has access to a wealth of material documenting the exploration and cartographic representation of the island, from its time as a colony of the Spanish Empire to the present. However, to place his research in a larger context of Western European and American mapmaking, he must occasionally travel to archives located in those parts of the world.

Visiting map collections in the United States as a Cuban scholar, while difficult due to the historically strained relations between the U.S. and Cuba, is not unheard of. Macle has done research in the U.S. before, although November marked his first visit to the Newberry. He was here as a short-term fellow, the first scholar from Cuba ever to participate in the Newberry's fellowship program. Macle held the Arthur and Janet Holzheimer Fellowship in the History of Cartography.

Macle's research focuses on cartographic trends in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when Western nations were undertaking comprehensive surveying and mapmaking projects to help form emerging national identities and to exert greater administrative control over colonial possessions.

"The Enlightenment in Europe marked the rise of national maps based on precise scientific measurements," says Macle. "The Spanish government, like other colonial powers of the era, produced such maps along with other sophisticated tools for organizing space and controlling populations: the census and the grid system for planning towns, for example."

The first national map of Cuba, completed in 1831 and published in 1835, represented a point of culmination in the relationship between European and Cuban cartography. It is this relationship that the Newberry collection is helping Macle to study in detail.

"I've consulted a number of different items in the Newberry collection, including maps and manuals demonstrating European and American methods for taking measurements and surveying land. It's been very rewarding to make connections between Cuba's cartographic tradition and other traditions."

It has been a rewarding experience for the Newberry as well. "From a Newberry perspective, one of the wonderful by-products of our fellowship program is that scholars from around the world bring their perspectives to bear on our collection and help library staff approach certain items from new angles," says Jim Akerman, curator of maps at the Newberry and director of the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography. "Jorge's work promises to be an important counterpoint to how Americans think of their own mapmaking enterprise. We're very excited to see the Newberry collection featured in his book."

When he returns to Cuba, Macle plans to complete a comprehensive study focused exclusively on Cuban cartography. It will be the first book of its kind ever published.