June 24, 2018
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Maine historical atlas a prime example of the importance of humanities to the state

By Aimee Thibodeau, BDN Staff

What began as a desire to showcase the University of Maine’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a model of its faculty and students working together has grown into a statewide initiative to highlight the importance of the state’s economic, cultural and political strengths.

The first project in the initiative is a historical atlas, an ambitious effort to display the history of Maine in a new way.

Started by English professor Burt Hatlen, who died in 2008, the “Historical Atlas of Maine” is one of the first tangible examples of collaboration that organizers of the Maine Humanities Initiative hope to see more of in years to come.

The initiative began in 2010 with the goal of advancing teaching, research and community outreach in the humanities, which its founders see as playing a key role in the economic, cultural and political health of Maine.

The four-part atlas colorfully displays the historical geography of Maine from the end of the last ice age to the recent millennium, largely in map form, using photos, art and storytelling.

The book combines historical maps with computer-age technology to weave together information about Maine’s population, economics, environment, resources and people.

It shows how the literal, political and cultural landscape of the state has changed from when the first explorers arrived to the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement of 1980. It also highlights the exploitation of the state’s natural resources and the rise of environmental awareness through literature, including Henry David Thoreau, and the creation of Acadia National Park.

“If the Maine Humanities Initiative gets funding and gets going, it’s what we could look forward to,” said Stephen Hornsby, director of UMaine’s Canadian-American Center and professor of geography and Canadian studies. Hornsby and UMaine history professor Richard W. Judd are the editors of the book, with cartographic design done by Michael J. Hermann, also of the university’s Canadian-American Center.

In an effort to educate the public about its mission, organizers are hosting a weeklong seminar May 13-17, featuring 37 participants from UMaine and the initiative’s community partners, at events in Bangor and Augusta.

Hornsby is slated to present on the “Historical Atlas of Maine” as part of the Friday, May 17, Maine Humanities Summit Program at Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta.

“One could say this is one of the first products of the Maine Humanities Initiative, showcasing what is being done by faculty in the humanities,” Hornsby said. “It’s an illustration of, dare I say, the talent of the university.”

The atlas, which Hornsby hopes will be published by the end of the year, has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Maine Legislature, the University of Maine System, UMaine and the Bernard Osher Foundation.

The project carries on a generational tradition at UMaine, from faculty that Hornsby looked to as mentors, such as Hatlen, to his colleagues, to up-and-coming graduate and undergraduate students.

“We are the major research institution in the state, and we should be doing this,” Hornsby said. “On a national scale, it shows that we can do this here at [UMaine]. You don’t have to be at Harvard or Berkeley.”

For more information about the Maine Humanities Initiative and its weeklong seminar, visit umaine.edu/umhi.

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