The Dr. Walter W. Ristow Prize, offered annually by the Washington Map Society since 1994, recognizes academic achievement in the History of Cartography. It honors the legacy of the late Dr. Walter W. Ristow, former chief of the Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress, and co-founder and first president of the Washington Map Society.


The winner of the Ristow Prize Competition shall receive the following:
      • $1000 cash award
      • a one-year membership in the Washington Map Society
      • publication of the paper in The Portolan - Journal of the Washington Map Society
      • six copies of The Portolan in which the winning paper appears

Publication of the winning paper is a requisite for receipt of the Ristow Prize. It is the responsibility of the winning scholar to work with the editor of The Portolan to prepare the paper for publication. The cash award is paid on verification by the editor that the author has provided the necessary assistance to make publication possible.

A designation of Honorable Mention may be awarded at the judges' discretion. The recipient of this designation shall receive the following:
      • a one-year membership in the Washington Map Society
      • possible publication of the paper in The Portolan - Journal of the Washington Map Society
      • if published, six copies of The Portolan in which the paper appears

Publication of a paper designated for Honorable Mention is at the discretion of the editor of The Portolan, and only with the consent of the author. Publication is not a requisite for receipt of that designation.


This competition is open to all full or part-time undergraduate, graduate, and first year post-doctoral students attending accredited colleges and universities anywhere in the world. A number of Ristow Prize winners and Honorable Mentions have come from outside the United States.


Research papers must be related to the history of cartography. Merely using maps to relate an episode in history is not sufficient, unless the maps date from the period of the event, and/or disclose new information about that event, and/or the study of those maps constitutes a major focus of the paper. It may be helpful to review the List of Ristow Prize Winners on this web site to help grasp the variety of papers that have won in past years' competitions.

The papers must be completed to fulfill academic requirements. For example, they may be research papers submitted to fulfill course work, or they may be a portion or adaptation of a portion of a thesis or dissertation. The entrant must be prepared to provide the name and contact information of the professor, instructor, or reader for which the paper was done, and the title of the course. This need not accompany the paper.

The paper must be in English and must be documented in a style selected by the author. Papers must not exceed 7500 words. Bibliography and reference footnotes are not counted in the 7500 word limit. Textual or explanatory footnotes or asterisked remarks are counted in the 7500 word limit and cannot be used to circumvent that limit.

The entrant must submit four unbound copies of the paper. Each copy must have a cover sheet that states the entrant's name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, school and academic status, and title of paper. Each paper must also have a title page containing only the title that appeared on the cover page. This facilitates blind judging of the papers.

Papers which have been previously presented at academic symposia or entered in other competitions remain eligible for the Ristow Prize.

Papers must not, however, have been published, selected for publication, or in contention for publication at the time of entry into the Ristow Prize competition. Serious copyright implications make this necessary. This criterion is not circumvented by a change of title and/or wording to what is essentially the same article that has appeared in another publication. Any circumstance which renders publication of the winning paper in The Portolan impossible will void the selection of that paper as the winning entry.


Judging is performed by three persons with suitable background in the history of cartography. They are often drawn from the membership of the Washington Map Society, and they have included some of the most learned academics, archivists, and collectors of our time. The identity of the judges is not made public.

There are three broad criteria used to judge Ristow Prize entries:
      • importance of research (e.g., originality, sources used)
      • quality of research (e.g., accuracy, source reliability)
      • writing quality (e.g., clarity, organization, and command of cartographic terms)

Each judge works independently to evaluate each paper. It is not a consultative process. Their results are reported to the Ristow Prize chair, who collates them. This collation, and not the opinion of the Ristow Prize Chair, determines the recipient of the Ristow Prize and the designation(s) of Honorable Mention, if any.

Judging is done as quickly as is practical. Papers cannot be sent to the judges sooner than a month after the postmark deadline to ensure that all overseas entries have been received. One or more judges may be traveling or performing research of their own during the summer months. For that reason, results are seldom forthcoming until the middle of the fall semester.


Papers must be postmarked not later than 1 June of each year and mailed to Dr. Evelyn Edson, Ristow Prize Chair, 268 Springtree Lane, Scottsville VA 24590-9511, USA.


When a paper is published, The Portolan may carry a brief (half page) profile of the author, for which biographic information and a recent photo will be requested.

Publication in The Portolan places the winning paper in some of the top academic and intellectual institutions in the world. The Portolan is available at the Library of Congress, British Library, Bibliothèque nationale, and several other national libraries. It is on the shelves of libraries at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Oxford, Trinity Dublin, and other outstanding universities. It appears at prestigious private institutions such as the Huntington Library, Newberry Library, and New York Public Library. A complete list of institutional recipients can be found elsewhere on this web site.


Questions may be directed to the chair at or the above address.