Charting an Empire: The Atlantic Neptune

May 1, 2013 – November 3, 2013

Central Library, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center

Charting an Empire: The Atlantic Neptune
The period following the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was a time of change and discovery in North America. In this display of charts, views, and maritime objects, we look at the decade following the war, when Britain set out to accurately chart the coast and survey the inland areas of their new resource-rich empire in Atlantic Canada, as well as the eastern seaboard extending from New England to the West Indies. The resulting charts were published collectively by Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres in The Atlantic Neptune, a maritime atlas which set the standard for nautical charting for nearly half a century.

Using nearly 30 items, including nautical charts, navigational instruments and ship models, dating from the 18th century to the present, this exhibition examines the importance of accurate charting of the new empire, defines how Britain put her mark on the land, and explores the complex processes of marine surveying and nautical chart production.

Part one of the exhibition, showing May 1st through July 27, will focus geographically on Atlantic Canada. In this section we examine the surveys of engineers Samuel Holland and J.F.W. Des Barres, which were then published as charts in The Atlantic Neptune. Canada’s economic importance to Britain is explained, as is the need for accurate charts of the region. Charts of the eastern seaboard from New England to the West Indies are the focus of part two, showing from August 1 through November 3. Maps and views of major port cities along the coast will be included, as well as inland areas. These charts were produced just in time for use by the British Navy, as the American Revolutionary War was beginning.

The development of nautical chart making is described throughout the exhibition, and is illustrated in a number of examples. We will also consider the artistic marvel that is The Atlantic Neptune, and discuss the processes involved in the production of such an atlas, from surveying to engraving.

gallery_3 View the Exhibition – Part One: Atlantic Canada
(May 1, 2013 – July 28, 2013)

View the Exhibition – Part Two: New England to the West Indies
(August 1, 2013 – November 3, 2013)

View the Map Collection

Suggested Reading Lists


Exhibition Credits