A new book on Thomas Jefferson’s interest in maps and geography by Crozet author Joel Kovarsky, The True Geography of Our Country; Jefferson’s Cartographic Vision, was published by the University of Virginia Press in May.
Kovarsky, a rheumatologist, had a career in medicine, mainly at the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Before he retired, he earned a master’s degree in information science and interned at the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library, where he was involved in cataloging maps.
He became interested in antique maps and eventually formed his own company, The Prime Meridian: Antique Maps and Books, which trades in pre-20th-century maps, atlases and related books and operates out of his home in Wayland’s Grant. For seven years he contributed the “recent publications” column of the Washington Map Society’s bulletin.
“I had talked about running a bookstore, ” said Kovarsky, “but I had been tied to a beeper too long and I didn’t want to be behind a counter. I got into maps as a business and drifted into expertise. I perceived maps as historical documents. I like the artwork involved and the history of printing and paper. It just happened it began at Monticello, linking Jefferson to Manifest Destiny. That was first major portion of the book. There was no epiphany in this for me. It was the culmination of interest in history and science. I just sort of kept going.
“It took six years to write. I went through all his letters and writings. I could search with my own keywords. There’s not a better place to write this, with U.Va. and Monticello here.” Kovarsky pitched the book idea to the Press and, “They ruled yes. It fits with an academic press. I wouldn’t mind writing on maps, but it’s more their tie to the wider history—the why they were used.”
The 200-page book contains 28 plates, which are mostly maps. “It’s not a coffee table book, ” warned Kovarsky. “It’s aimed at an educated audience. I do go to a lot of work to avoid jargon.”
Kovarsky has a 700-volume reference library on maps and geography, including The American Atlas of 1776.
“Only two other atlases [of America] existed at the time, one was mainly a coastal atlas, both from British publishers, ” said Kovarsky. “When you started west you had no idea where you were going. There were problems in knowing the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. “The best map makers in the 18th century were the French. But they were superseded by the British. The maps were engravings on copper plates.”
I loves me some maps, Taz
... thanks for the post.
I've seen some of these before. Some are nice, others, meh, and some I'm going to need to research more because the sources seem a little sketchy.
I'm currently reading a book about maps called "On The Map." So far it's mostly been about early history of cartography. As far as readability, it's kind of like reading a newspaper (which makes sense as the author is a NY Times columnist), and it is informative, but a bit dry.