A SCRC Volunteer's Exploration of Maps

Posted on
July 18, 2018
By Joe Catanzaro - SCRC Volunteer

I greeted my most recent assignment as a volunteer at the Special Collections Research Center enthusiastically. As a cartophile, cataloging and rehousing the many maps in the Colonel John Womack Wright (W&M, class of 1892) Collection was a task I took on with great interest.  Wright’s maps, mostly of Europe, were produced in the eighteenth century - a period when cartography became an exact science.  

One map in the collection became of particular interest.  It is a beautifully hand-colored, detailed engraved image, 59 centimeters long by 91 centimeters high, known as “Strasbourg 162.”  It is the 162nd panel of a mosaic of 182 maps of the same size and scale known as “Carte de France.”  The mapping of France began as Louis XIV commissioned noted Italian astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini to the task. The effort spanned many decades and completed by his grandson, César-François Cassini in 1750.                                                                        


Strasbourg 162
Strasbourg 162


This massive mosaic map, of which Strasbourg 162 is just a panel, is nearly 12 meters square and is the first scientifically motivated, large scale mapping endeavor. The whole of France was surveyed by the Cassini family using the most modern surveying instruments of the time to triangulate all of France and use the most accurate values of latitude and longitude to locate points and fill in the details. Interestingly Cassini solved the perplexing problem of determining the exact longitude of a point by observing the moons of Jupiter. NASA recognized Cassini’s Jovian studies by naming a Jupiter probe for him.   

Strasbourg 162 is only one of dozens of interesting maps donated by Colonel Wright.


Mosaic of Carte de France, David Rumsey.
Mosaic of Carte de France, David Rumsey