- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2005

Maps help grateful tourists the world over find the best way to navigate the streets of faraway places. But — as illustrated in National Geographic’s latest exhibit — maps are so much more than tools to help people get from point A to point B.

“A map can show migration patterns, population density, concentrations of terrorist cells,” says Susan Norton, director of the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall in Northwest. “You can layer it indefinitely.”

The current exhibit, “Mapping with Paper and Pixel,” marks the publication of the eighth edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World, which came out last year.

Ms. Norton says about 15,000 changes had to be made to the seventh edition, published in 1999, to create the eighth edition.

“It includes everything from a town in Virginia being incorporated to the unification of Germany,” she says.

The exhibit also celebrates the 90th anniversary of mapmaking at National Geographic.

Aside from photography, National Geographic probably is best know for its maps, Ms. Norton says.

“In this exhibit, the point was to show the breadth of maps we make,” she says.

The exhibit themes include “Conflicts and Current Events,” “Exploring a City: Washington, D.C.,” “Monitoring Changes in Our World,” and “Maps as Art.” Artifacts include a 10-foot globe with the latest satellite imagery of the world; two 1831 globes made by James Wilson, the first commercial globe maker in the Unites States; and a map of Mount Everest signed by Sir Edmund Hillary.

The “Conflicts and Current Events” section shows a map of the world with different colors for areas where terrorist cells are operating or thought to be operating. Brown represents areas where al Qaeda cells are known to be operating, for example in the United States and Russia. Beige represents areas where they might be operating, and red covers areas with groups affiliated with al Qaeda. These groups include the Salafist Group for Call and Combat in Algeria and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines.

“Exploring a City: Washington, D.C.” gives visitors a chance to look at a map of the city on a computer screen and zoom in and out of neighborhoods with the help of the keyboard. The exhibit also shows how a 1948 map looks different from a 2004 map of the city. In the mid-century map, there was no National Museum of the American Indian or even a National Air and Space Museum. And instead of Congress’ Longworth House Office Building, the map says, “New House Office Building.”

“Monitoring Changes in Our World,” shows maps before and after the fall of Soviet Union. The “after” map shows Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan as three of 15 nations that became independent. Changes also occurred in maps of Balkan states. The exhibit shows maps of the area from 1914, 1951 and 2000. The 1951 map shows a half-dozen current nations as included in Yugoslavia.

This section of the exhibit also has maps illustrating water shortages in Africa. It shows that about 25 percent of Africans have access to safe drinking water. The corresponding number in Europe and the United States is 90 percent.

The “Maps as Art” portion features a paper kimono created using strips of National Geographic maps. According to the exhibit, the artist Gale Jamieson says her work is the “merging of our world into a global community, both politically and culturally.”

The exhibit also shows visitors old-fashioned vs. high-tech mapmaking.

Ms. Norton says that she thinks the exhibit is appropriate for children 7 and older and that it takes at least 20 minutes to explore.

“It’s interesting to see what appeals to kids and what appeals to parents,” Ms. Norton says. “The parents are impressed with all the latest technology; the kids think all the old stuff is cool.”

She hopes children and adults alike will walk out of the exhibit saying, “I had no idea maps could tell me so much,” she says. “They can really tell a story.”

When you go:

What: “Mapping with Paper and Pixel” exhibit at the National Geographic Museum

Where: Explorers Hall, 1600 M St. NW, Washington

Directions: The National Geographic building is downtown, a few blocks north of the White House.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit runs through Feb. 13.

Parking: Street parking is available but can be scarce, particularly during rush hour. The closest Metro stops, however, are just a couple of blocks away. They are Farragut North on the Red Line and Farragut West on the Orange and Blue lines.

Admission: Free

Information: Phone 202/857-7588, or visit www.nationalgeographic.com/museum.

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