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Maps show what world looked like in 1500s

For most of his 74 years, William McCullough Darlington practiced law, but his true love was American history. At his O’Hara estate, Guyasuta, he spent evenings in his study researching and writing. He died in 1889, and his 14,000-volume library is owned by the University of Pittsburgh.   

Mr. Darlington’s fascination with discovery and exploration led him to collect atlases and rare maps that document voyages to the New World starting in the 1500s. Many of those maps will be on display Friday during a free open house that starts at 9 a.m. in Hillman Library’s Special Collections Department, Room 363. This exhibition, focused on discovery and exploration, runs through June 12.

On exhibit are works by Gerhard Mercator, the German mapmaker who coined the word atlas and whose map of the Americas in 1569 was a significant achievement. Also on display is a bird's-eye view of the Arctic Polar Circle that includes America, Asia, Russia, Scandinavia, Greenland and Iceland. It was engraved in wood by Mr. Mercator, who also was a mathematician and philosopher.

The exhibition shows maps made in the 1700s and 1800s of the Ohio Country, which consisted of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. Two maps by Capt. John Smith will be on view, too, including a 1612 version of the New World. 

Also on view will be work by Abraham Ortelius, who published in English, French, Latin, German and Italian. In 1570, he published “Theatre of the World,” a New World map that was so significant that Holland supplanted Germany as the center of mapmaking in Europe.

Friday’s open house runs from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. in Hillman Library, Room 363. From 2 to 3 p.m., Madalina Valeria Veres, a doctoral candidate in history, will discuss the Habsburg monarchy’s contributions to the age of discovery and exploration. She will speak in the Amy Knapp Room. The exhibition runs through June 12 and is on view to the public from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.