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August 17, 2022

Prof. examines history of Chesapeake Bay maps

By SABRINA ABRAMS | February 28, 2019

Christian J. Koot, chair of the history department at Towson University, gave a presentation on his newly released book, A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake on February 27. He spoke at the George Peabody Library, where August Herrman’s map is on display as part of an exhibition titled “Maryland, from the Willard Hackerman Map Collection.”

Koot’s book describes the political and personal motivations behind the construction of Herrman’s map of Virginia, Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. 

Herrman was a Bohemian cartographer and explorer who was commissioned by Cecil Calvert, the second Baron of Baltimore, to produce a map of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding areas. Herrman was born in 1621 and died in 1686, in Cecil County, Md. where he was allowed to establish a manor in exchange for the creation of the map. 

Koot explained that Calvert likely funded the map in order to connect England to its American colonies, rather than to create a tool for actual use by Baltimorean residents. After its production, the map was most popular with the elite class in London. In this way, Herrman’s map became a tool of the colonial empire to admire their colonies.

In return for his work on the map, which he completed in 1673, Herman was awarded 6,000 acres of land. Baltimore resident Tony Nguyen highlighted this exchange of land for map work and the political considerations that went into the production of the map as some of the most interesting aspects of the lecture. 

“There were all of these political themes related to the creation of maps in the early colonial phase. So I thought it was kind of interesting how map-makers were using the political development of maps to win political favor,” Nguyen said. 

Koot described how his research led him from studying Dutch traders and interactions between different colonies toward studying the creation of the map.

“Though European states were at war... colonists from all kinds of empires collaborated with each other,“ Koot said.

Through his research on the merchants of the Chesapeake Bay, Koot stumbled upon Augustine Herrman, a New Netherland merchant. From there he discovered that Herrman had constructed a map of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Then I discovered nothing had seriously been written about the map at all,” Koot said, 

Although little attention had been previously paid to the map, Koot noted that Herrman was actually a celebrity among members of the American Bohemian community in the late 19th century. Bohemian refers to a native or inhabitant of Bohemia which is now the western part of the Czech Republic.

Koot noted that there were efforts to build a 100-foot statue of Herrman, and the National Bohemian Association often held its annual conference in Baltimore, which included an oration of Herrman’s life. He went on to explaine why the Bohemian population celebrated Herrman. 

“It’s a way for [the Bohemians] to claim first arrival here in Maryland,” Koot said

Despite this apparent fame, the map was usually not talked about, even by the Bohemian community that admired Herrman so greatly.  

Herrman was also tightly connected with his Bohemian heritage, and named the Bohemia River in the Chesapeake Bay after his culture. He also added “Bohemiensis” as a third name to his signature frequently, and added it to his inscription of the map. 

The map is notable for being incredibly accurate, Koot explained. This has been proven by modern technological processes.

Thomas Chalkley, an instructor of cartooning at the Homewood campus, was especially impressed with the accuracy of the map. 

“One thing that’s confounding about this and makes you respect what they did so much is there was no way to go up in the air and look down, no aerial photographs, they had to just go along the coastline and chart every step of the way. You would have to be right on the coastline and measuring from visible points,” Chalkley said. 

Chalkley also delved into his fascination with maps more generally, explaining their power in conveying a wealth of information in a relatively small space. He noted how much the construction of maps has changed from Herrman’s time to the present day.

“Nowadays, any informational map, you’d never see them drawing individual trees. To me, the age of exploration is so interesting. The technology was so limited then and yet they painstakingly went yard by yard.”

According to Chalkley, maps held power because of their ability to display an immense amount of information at once.

“With a minimum of words and a lot of graphics, you communicate and you can combine so much information in a single image,” he said. “You can comprehend a huge amount of space and a huge amount of data.”

The original maps are currently preserved at a variety of libraries, including the Library of Congress and the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

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