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American Women: Resources from the Geography and Map Collections


Many Library materials gain deeper meaning when used in conjunction with maps. Travel literature, discussed in chapter 1, is an excellent example of textual material that is greatly enhanced by referring to maps and nautical charts. Foreign language materials (see Area Studies Collections) are supplemented and enhanced by cartographic information, which is sometimes stored as part of foreign-language collections but more frequently found in the Geography and Map Division. Set maps provide a backdrop for studies of women ethnographers, botanists, and zoologists, photographers, or news reporters. Projects related to women in the military serving overseas are supported by detailed topographic maps, including the series maps of Indochina and Thailand that are frequently requested by Vietnam War veterans (U.S. Army Map Service, 196-; G8020.S50 U5 and U51). A good biography is incomplete without an understanding of the subject's physical and cultural environment that can be provided only by using cartographic resources.

Mining the collections of the Geography and Map Division in search of information for historical studies related to American women requires creativity, persistence, and patience. For the researcher who is able and willing to invest the necessary time and energy to find and interpret the rich variety of geographical data available, the rewards are considerable. But the Geography and Map Division is only the first place to look for cartographic resources in the Library of Congress. Besides the maps and atlases housed in the Geography and Map Division, cartographic material can also be found in other parts of the Library. Some of the panoramic maps are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division. Rare books containing maps, atlases that are part of special collections, or ephemeral maps are held in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Maps from manuscript collections may be stored as integral parts of personal papers or organizational records in the Manuscript Division, if they have not been separated from the manuscript material and transferred to the Geography and Map Division. Many if not most of the Library's thematic maps, containing extremely useful and very specific material for researchers of American women's history, are bound into books, serials, and government documents found in the General Collections or in the Serial and Government Publications Division. Doctoral dissertations available in the Microform Reading Room are another excellent source for cartographic information.

Because bits of relevant data can be so widely distributed not only throughout the collections of the Geography and Map Division but throughout the Library of Congress as a whole, it is important to be properly prepared before coming to the Library. Specific information about place-names, dates, and property owners will enable you to focus on the portions of the cartographic collections that are most likely to yield significant material.

Despite the many challenges involved, scholars of American women's history and all other researchers are warmly welcomed and are encouraged to use the Library's cartographic collections, especially those of the Geography and Map Division. Because cartographic resources have long been underused in historical research as primary source material, the odds are excellent that new information will be discovered that will lead to a more complete understanding of the women in America's past.