Map quest: Navigate Brooklyn’s past via old maps

Like the corners of our minds: Brooklyn Historical Society’s map cataloger Lisa Miller will recount the 20th-century history of Brooklyn as seen through her map collection.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Time travel might not be possible yet, but this could be the next best thing.

The Brooklyn Historical Society will showcase its collection of old maps of the borough in a presentation on July 10. And the look back through the cartographical catalogue will reveal far more than just forgotten street names, said the organization’s map maven.

“Maps can communicate spatial and temporal information in a way that is immediate and intuitive,” said Lisa Miller, Brooklyn Historical Society’s map cataloger. “Sometimes, what might take paragraphs of explanation can be grasped simply and instantly with one well-designed map.”

The presentation, titled “Boom, Bust, and Back: Maps of 20th Century Brooklyn,” will give a lens to explore the suburban growth of the 1950s, the Bushwick riots of the 1970s, and the rampant hip-ification of Brooklyn in the 1990s.

The event is a part of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Tales From the Vault series, which will run all summer and explores the history of our fine borough. Next month, the focus will be on antebellum firefighters.

The society’s library staff has been working hard to organize and catalog hundreds of maps that outline the growth, decay, and resurgence of the borough, said Miller.

“Like gardeners turning soil with our spades, we are unearthing these maps and documents in the course of our work,” she said.

Miller found so much information in the maps, she realized during her presentation preparation the that she has enough material to speak for several hours. She has since scaled the talk back to a more reasonable amount, she said, which will allow time for a question and answer portion — and perhaps leave the door open for more map-focused meditations in the future.

“I could tell this story in many different ways,” she said.

“Boom, Bust, and Back: Maps of 20th Century Brooklyn” at the Brooklyn Historical Society [128 Pierrepont St. at Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 222–4111, www.brooklynhistory.org]. July 10 at 6 pm. Free

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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