VHS announces new exhibit: A New American Globe by James Wilson of Vermont

-A A +A

VHS announces new exhibit: A New American Globe by James Wilson of Vermont

Sun, 05/22/2022 - 4:51pm -- katie
Geography, Identity, and Craft in Early Vermont

Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Historical Society is pleased to announce that it will open a new exhibit about Vermont cartographer James Wilson, A New American Globe: James Wilson of Vermont, on Sunday, July 3rd.

The exhibit will run for a year in the Vermont Historical Society’s Vermont History Museum in Montpelier and will provide a new look at Wilson and his impact on the field of cartography in the United States. The event opening will coincide with Montpelier’s July 4th celebration, and admission to the museum will be free for the day.

About James Wilson

Wilson was born on March 15th, 1763 in Londonderry, New Hampshire, and moved to Vermont in 1796, where he became interested in map making. Around that time, he encountered a display of terrestrial and celestial globes during a visit to Dartmouth, which led him to begin making globes of his own. By 1810, he became the first in the country to begin manufacturing globes, which he eventually sold in the region’s major cities, Boston and New York. He eventually relocated his manufacturing operation to Albany, New York, sold his company in 1833 and moved back to Vermont. He died in 1855 and is buried in Bradford.

Director of Collections and Access Amanda Gustin explains that “James Wilson is a remarkable figure in Vermont history, and after spending over a year studying his life and work, we are thrilled to bring these examples of his craft out on exhibit for the first time in decades. Studying them invites questions about our place in the world in the past, present, and future.”

Vermont Historical Society Executive Director Stephen Perkins says: “Perhaps because of our small size and desire for historical validation, stories of Vermont ‘firsts’ and Vermont exceptionalism crowd our history books, old exhibits, and past celebrations. Often these stories feel a bit manufactured, hyperbolic, or even questionable in origin. However, many of these stories contain truths and historical insights that can be teased out for better understanding of our past. The story of James Bradford and his first American Globe has been told by generations of Vermonters with little formal study. Our research into this amazing craftsman and entrepreneur lays a scholarly foundation for understanding how early Vermonters understood their place in the world.”

About the exhibit

Wilson's path to globemaking was far from obvious, and he has been celebrated as a unique Vermont genius. This exhibit reexamines Wilson’s life and career, with new scholarship led by the Vermont Historical Society to better understand his place in history. Along the way, the exhibit will put a particular focus on the role that maps provide in our lives, and how names hold a particular power over the locations that they signify.

The exhibit will feature three of Wilson’s globes: his first 13 inch terrestrial globe manufactured in 1810 in Bradford, and two 13-inch globes from 1831 manufactured in Albany, New York. Also on display will be an orrery, or model of the solar system, that Wilson constructed late in his life. Gustin notes that this is a particularly special occasion for the general public: Wilson’s globes haven’t been on display for years. “They are true treasures, and invite visitors to think about so many things – the skill needed to make them, what they tell us about James Wilson’s world, and how they can prompt us to think about our world today.

But beyond Wilson’s life and work, this exhibit will provide ways for visitors to learn more about maps and how they impact history, with interactive pieces for all ages. “Maps and globes are crucially important to the study of history,” Gustin says. “They are endlessly fascinating and beautiful, and we are thrilled to bring these globes out on exhibit for the first time in decades.”

Beyond the exhibit

The exhibit will be accompanied by a year’s worth of programming. Later this summer, VHS will release a new scholarly article that reexamines Wilson and his life, based on new scholarship and research. This fall will see the release of a six-episode, short-run podcast that will cover the history of Vermont as told through maps, in partnership with UVM Geography department. And over the course of this winter, VHS will host a full schedule of programming about Wilson and cartography, which will include lectures and other items to be announced later this year.