Mapping 300 years of American history with the Seymour I. Schwartz Collection

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2021. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more! This week we’re looking at mapping the physical world. Several maps, and globes of various sizes, are laid out on a table.

In October of 2020, a delivery truck pulled into McCormick Road and parked across from Poe Alley, and staff from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library began to unload dozens of boxes and carefully wrapped parcels. These packages were the final delivery of an extraordinary multi-year gift of rare and historic maps and other cartographic materials made by Dr. Seymour Schwartz to the UVA Library.

Seymour Schwartz, who died on August 28, 2020, was a renowned surgeon who literally wrote the book on the subject — his “Principles of Surgery,” known as “The Surgeon’s Bible,” was first published in 1969 and at the time of his death was in its 11th printing. Schwartz’s accolades as a surgeon and teacher were numerous and significant, and the range of his impact in the medical field cannot be overestimated. He was also an acclaimed cartographic historian who wrote five books on the subject and assembled a renowned collection of pre-1800 North American maps over a span of five decades. In 2007 he began to donate that collection to the Library. The collection was the subject of a major 2008 exhibition, “On the Map,” and the Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz Map Room in the Small Special Collections Library was dedicated in his honor.

Two people work to gently remove bubble wrap from a table-top globe

Accessioning Archivist Rose Oliveira and Curator David Whitesell unpack items from the collection.

The Seymour I. Schwartz Collection of North American Maps documents 300 years of mapping American history and includes one of the oldest maps to show the western hemisphere (1508), the first New World city plan (Hernando Cortés’s 1524 map of Mexico City), a map of the Ohio River Valley drawn by George Washington in 1754 when he was a young surveyor, and important Revolutionary War battle plans. As Dr. Schwartz noted at the time of the bequest, the Library is “well-known for its collection of American history and its dedication to sharing those treasures with the world,” and the Schwartz Collection has proven both an inspiration and an invaluable resource for students, researchers, and scholars. “Dr. Schwartz’s magnificent gift elevates the UVA Library’s holdings of early American maps, already notable thanks to the Tracy W. McGregor Library, to world-class rank,” notes curator David Whitesell.

Dr. Schwartz returned to UVA several times since initiating his gift, most recently in 2017, when he joined UVA historian Max Edelson for a conversation on “The Mapping of America,” in which his deep knowledge of the subject as well as his enthusiasm were apparent to all. Library staff who worked with Dr. Schwartz remember him for his vibrancy, vitality, and passion, and he will be equally remembered for the enormous legacy he left behind in his chosen fields.

A delicate brown-and-tan map covers two pages of an old-looking book.

Samuel Lewis’ 1794 map, “The State of Virginia from the best Authorities,” engraved for Mathew Carey’s 1795 “Carey’s American Atlas.”

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