The idea for this exhibition originated in 2021 when the Albany Institute of History & Art received twenty historic maps from donor Rachel Lee. Lee's husband, Michael Insel (1947-2017), enjoyed collecting and displaying maps that showed the Hudson Valley, and particularly the village of Kinderhook, New York, the community where the couple maintained a weekend residence. Michael's collection of maps allowed the couple to locate their geographic place in the world across four centuries of cartographic history. Seventeen of those maps are included in this exhibition, along with maps, globes, books, and historic objects that were already part of the Institute's collection.
Maps are usually considered wayfinding tools—for showing how to get from Point A to Point B, or for locating a specific community, country, or natural features, like a lake or mountain range— but maps can tell us a great deal more. The specific information and images printed on maps offer insight into world events, cultural perceptions, technological developments, exploration, and diplomacy. They act as mirrors reflecting the views and aspirations of the mapmaker and the nation or community for which the map was made.
In this exhibition, there are maps that convey information about newley explored lands. Others were made to assist with military maneuvering during international conflicts, like the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Several maps shown here chart the changing inhabitation of land that resulted from European colonization. There are maps that illustrate travel narratives and others that guide tourists to picturesque sites. Whether a map was meant to entertain or to instruct, they all reveal information about our history and our place in the world.