Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arnold Guyot: Putting it on the map

While searching the archive for images for a collage series called "The Grand Tour" I came across three books I had forgotten about. You'll read about two of them sometime later; the one that has me captivated now is "Physical Geography" by Arnold Guyot, published in 1872 by Charles Scribner's Sons as part of Guyot's Geographical Series. I'm unsure whether I knew the extent of the maps when I bought this - that seems unlikely given how wonderful they are. Six are double-pagers hinged in so that they can be removed intact.

For collages, I use materials in not-so-great shape. Even then, I feel guilty deconstructing, okay, ripping up, books (in my past: a masters degree in library science). But I took this apart, because damaged pages needed to be removed before they impacted others. It was hard labor; the volume was meant to stand up to classroom wear and tear. It was glued, stapled and had tapes running from the spine through the pages. I try to be careful, so I end up looking at each page closely, the upshot: it became obvious the maps were not headed for dissection. At least not by me. So, they were cleaned, scanned and tucked into archival sleeves.

I'm unsure what's next. Conservation and framing? A sale? Give away? Donation? But I do know that now that I've rediscovered them, I want to ogle them a bit longer. As Guyot wrote in the preface "the numerous maps constitute in themselves a work as laborious as it is indispensable. They have been prepared with great care, and are thought to embody the results obtained to the present day in this domain of scientific inquiry." They are colorful and handsome, especially the pulsating maps charting Temperature of the Air; the Course of the Annual Isothermal Lines (detail, below); Rain Over the Globe; and The Course of The Tidal Wave In the Three Great Oceans and the Great River Basins (at top).

I try to step back in time and imagine the thrill of looking over the maps, and the beautifully engraved illustrations of natural phenomena, exotic animals and foreign lands. It must've been something to have one of these in a classroom.

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