When the poet John Donne called his mistress, "O my America! my new-found-land," he was employing a metaphor easily recognizable by English readers in the early seventeenth century. America itself had been "discovered" more than a century earlier and was often personified as "female" to a European audience. Many other far-flung parts of the world were appearing on ever-more-accurate maps and sea charts, and those maps themselves were now available as handy pocket atlases. But how did Western Europe reach this stage of conversant familiarity with mapping, both as a science and a metaphor? That question is at the heart of this exhibition, which draws on riches from the Folger collections to trace developments in cartography and to illustrate how the idea of "mapping" was used to make sense of explorations into other outer and inner worlds.
Much more than a century of travels and scientific observation made the whole concept of mapping so commonplace that Donne’s readers knew exactly what he meant when he also wrote to his mistress:
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears. . .
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp North, without declining West?