By Michael Christensen, @folkloremike
From September 29 – October 1, the Utah Cultural Celebration Center hosts the Utah Division of State History’s annual conference. This year’s theme is “Rural Utah, Western Issues”, which conference organizers expect will highlight new, revised, or heretofore unknown histories of rural and western life for a twenty-first century public. Conference registration information can be found here.
Accompanying the 2016 Annual State History Conference is an exhibition of historic maps, owned by Salt Lake City businessman Stephen Boulay. Stephen’s fascination with maps and the stories they tell began three decades ago, and he has been collecting maps ever since. Stephen has accumulated one of the finest collections of maps dealing with the history of Utah. Some of Stephen’s most prized cartographical renditions show the territory from its sixteenth century imaginings, all the way to statehood in 1986.
In essence the maps act as storytellers, and include such themes as The 7 Cities of Gold, or Spanish Exploration and Hopes of and Easy Route to the Pacific. Another section dismisses one cartographer’s hopes for an easy passage to the Pacific, but does graphically solidify rumors of a Great Salt Lake (although no Great Western River to accompany it). Of course The State of Deseret is explored in the collection, as is Statehood and Commercial Center of the Interior West, and imaginings commenting on Utah’s railroads and the shrinking territory of Utah.
William K. Martin, PhD Candidate at the University of Utah’s History Department, provides a little background on the collection, and how it offers a “cartographical history” of Utah from the time when nothing, or hardly anything, was known about the territory.
To most of us, we think of maps as an important tool to get from one place or another – lines laid out on a two-dimensional space in a way that suits their real or imagined world. Importantly, the difference between what is “real” and what is “imagined” on a map is not always due to what is “known”. These maps show how lines on a piece of paper do more than show distances and the “lay of the land”.
As such, maps justify actions or ambitions and the control of population and territories. We’re all familiar with the statement, “buy land, they’re not making any more of it.” Getting land goes for countries and political states and of course America was no different. We fought one war with Mexico for southwest land, and at the same time narrowly averted another with Great Britain to get northwest land.
The Utah Cultural Celebration Center welcomes those attending the 2016 Annual State History Conference, and encourage anyone interested to register for the gathering. The collection will be on display to the general public through October 6. Exhibitions are open Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. and by arrangement.