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“Where Will We Go From Here? Travel in the Age of COVID-19,” was conceptualized by Libby Bischof, Executive Director of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, as a way to utilize our historic cartographic collections to engage with contemporary events and issues, and to provide a space to reflect upon and begin to process all that we have collectively lost during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition was co-curated by Louis Miller, Cartographic Reference and Teaching Librarian, and University of Southern Maine students Morgan Day (Art History and Archeology, Class of ‘21) and Teri L. Honeycutt (History, Class of ‘21).
This exhibition marks the map library’s first foray into crowd-sourced exhibitions, and we are deeply grateful to the more than 140 people from the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine system, and the general public (in Maine and beyond), who participated in our online survey where we asked participants to tell us where they didn’t go during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are indebted to all those who shared with us how cancelled travel plans and the myriad losses and challenges of the global pandemic have impacted their lives.
The exhibition is divided into five sections, beginning with an introduction to the mapping of pandemics and diseases, and continuing into four themes that emerged from the types of cancelled or postponed trips our respondents wrote about most frequently: Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Family Milestones; Weddings; Work-Related Travel; and Lost Study-Abroad Experiences. The curators selected stories from the survey and matched personal narratives and reflections about trips not taken to historic maps from our collections. We hope that as you walk through the gallery you will take time to read these personal narratives, and that they provide you with an opportunity to engage in quiet reflection about the challenges you and your loved ones have faced this year, and that you will join us in pondering the question: “Where will we go from here?”
At the end of our questionnaire, we asked participants: “Beyond your canceled travel plans, is there anything else you would like to tell us about how the pandemic has impacted your living and working situations?” We were particularly moved by the honest and thoughtful responses to this question; all responses can be read in a scrolling feed on the monitor at the end of the exhibit.
The co-curators (Libby Bischof, Louis Miller, Morgan Day, and Teri Honeycutt) would like to offer our sincere thanks to the staff of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, especially Adinah Barnett and David Neikirk, for digitizing the maps in the exhibition; Robert Spencer, our vault manager, who greatly assisted with the preparation and procurement of materials; and Roberta Ransley-Matteau, who catalogued the materials for the exhibition; and Renee Keul for her assistance in promoting the exhibition. Thank you to our student gallery and reference room assistants who welcome and orient our guests to “Where Will We Go From Here? Travel in the Age of COVID-19.”
We would also like to thank our exhibit preparators, Kevin and Mary Kimball, of Kimball Street Studios in Lewiston, Maine. Morgan and Teri offer a special thanks to Kevin for assisting them with the layout and design of the gallery. Thank you also to Dr. Matthew Edney, the Osher Map Library Faculty Scholar, for research assistance on the history of mapping diseases and pandemics. Additional thanks to USM’s Marketing and Public Affairs team for their work on the exhibit logo design and for promoting the exhibition. Thank you to the team at Cybercopy Maine for the beautiful reproductions found in section one of the exhibition. Thank you to our USM Libraries colleagues for their constant support and encouragement, especially in pandemic times.
We also want to thank and acknowledge all of YOU, the people who will come to see this exhibition. We know that in an age of COVID-19 restrictions and timed gallery appointments, visits that could once be spur of the moment now require more planning and intention. We are grateful for your continued support. Thank you for coming; we hope you enjoy the exhibition.
About this Exhibit
This exhibition was first conceptualized while both the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education (OML) and the University of Southern Maine (USM) were physically closed to USM community members (between March 2020 and August 2020) as a way to utilize our collections of historic cartographic materials, including public health and disease maps, to reflect on a pressing contemporary issue, in this case the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions on travel. During a period of greatly restricted movement, we continually wondered “where will we go from here?”
When we realized we would be able to open to the USM community and to the public (by appointment) beginning in September of 2020, we knew we wanted to create an in-person exhibit experience that would grow and develop and take shape in real time during various stages of the pandemic, from shut-downs, lock-downs, quarantines and border closures and restrictions on travel and transportation to increased access to testing, the development and deployment of vaccines, and the subsequent lifting of many restrictions. While exhibitions are normally planned, researched, and developed over the course of multiple years, this exhibition, from conception through opening, was completed in six months.
The title of the exhibition preceded the development of the physical exhibit, and so to answer the question “where will we go from here” we ultimately decided to embark upon our first crowd-sourced exhibition, collecting experiences of community members about where they did not travel in 2020-2021, and asking them to reflect upon the personal and professional impact of not traveling. We advertised the online survey through list-servs, social media, e-newsletters, and email campaigns, and participation grew by word of mouth; we ultimately collected more than 140 submissions. We also knew that we wanted to involve our new Cartographic Reference and Teaching Librarian, as well as students, in the conceptualization and design of this exhibition. As such, work on the exhibition truly began when Louis Miller joined our staff in January of 2021, and when USM students Morgan Day and Teri Honeycutt began interning with the OML at the start of the spring 2021 semester. We collected data from the survey questionnaire until March of 2021, and then began analyzing the data for common themes and poignant stories and narratives. We then matched selected narratives to maps and other cartographic items in our collections (e.g. atlases, guidebooks, and travel ephemera), and began to lay out the show.
We are so grateful to all of the people who made this exhibition possible, especially our dedicated student interns and co-curators, Morgan and Teri, and all of those who shared their stories with us, and encouraged others to do the same. Although we could not share all the narratives we collected, we felt compelled to share all of the responses to the survey question: “Beyond your canceled travel plans, is there anything else you would like to tell us about how the pandemic has impacted your living/working situations?” which can be found at the end of the gallery.