Frequently Asked Questions about membership in the Washington Map Society

What is the Washington Map Society?
The Washington Map Society, located in Washington, DC, is one of the premier map societies in the world. It began in 1979 as a small, informal group interested in cartography, cartographic history, and collecting maps. Since then it has expanded its interests to include modern cartographic concerns. Its membership is now approaching 400, but it has retained the feel of a small informal group.

Who can join the Washington Map Society?
Membership is open to anyone interested in maps, and our members come from all walks of life. Maps have an appeal which extends well beyond those who work with them, and many members have no professional connection to cartography. For others, maps have played a central role. Some are/were academics, archivists, librarians, or cartographers, or served in a diplomatic, military, or intelligence capacity. Whatever your background, you'll find a place in the WMS.

What are the benefits of membership in the Washington Map Society?
You can attend interesting lectures; learn about and from map collectors, dealers, and professionals; take behind-the-scene tours of public and private collections and exhibits; learn about resources at the Library of Congress and elsewhere; receive our journal and membership directory; and support worthwhile cartographic projects, such as the Ristow Prize.

How is the Washington Map Society run?
The WMS is an all-volunteer society and has no paid employees. A board of officers and directors are nominated by a committee composed of non-board members. WMS members interested in serving on the board should make this known to the nominations committee. Elections are held at the annual business meeting each spring. A president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer are elected by name. By custom, the vice-president acts as Program Chairman. The previous year's president is automatically a board member. Appointed by the board are the journal editor, membership chair, Ristow Prize chair, and other portfolios as needed.

What kind of journal does the Society have?
We are very proud of our journal, The Portolan. It is published three times a year, and recent editions have run approximately 80 pages. Each issue features research articles. It also includes an account of speakers' presentations, book reviews, and a list of recent cartographic works. It contains WMS news, a schedule of events, openings of events and exhibits, useful web sites, etc. The Portolan is purchased by 30 institutions, including six national libraries, (e.g., the British Library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France) and the libraries of Yale, Harvard, Brown, and other fine US schools.

What is the Ristow Prize?
Since 1994 the Society has offered the Ristow Prize to an outstanding academic research paper in the fields of cartographic history. It honors Walter W. Ristow, one of America's preeminent cartographic historians, former Chief of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, and the Society's founding president. The winner, and sometimes other outstanding entries, are published in The Portolan. We have been delighted with the quality of entries submitted each year.

When and where does the Society meet?
The Society has eight or nine meetings each year between September and May. Most meetings are held in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress in the Madison Building on Capitol Hill. Meetings are scheduled to meet the speaker's availability. They begin at 7 PM, usually on Thursday. Members often arrive early to socialize or to look at maps related to the night's presentation, laid out by the Library staff. The speaker is the centerpiece of the meeting. There may be some brief announcements but no business meeting as such. The speaker's portion usually lasts about an hour, plus questions. We are done by 8:30 or soon after. Our annual dinner is held in May each year at a restaurant or club in the DC area. It features a social hour, dinner, election of next year's officers, and after-dinner address. The address is usually given by the out-going President.

Who speaks at meetings and what do they talk about?
Our speakers are drawn from many sources. Some are international figures in cartography, such as Norman J.W. Thrower, the late David Woodward, Alice Hudson, Ralph Ehrenberg, and Dennis Reinhartz. Another category is recently published authors who discuss their work. Other speakers are drawn from the many academics who come to the Library of Congress to do research. Another rich source is the Washington Map Society itself, as many members are respected authorities in their fields. Indeed, several of the five "international figures" cited above are Society members.

It's hard to summarize the topics because the variety is so great. Talks on regions and periods are very popular, such as the critical first decades of African cartography, or the early cartography of Canada. Others focus on mapmakers, such as Herman Moll, Civil War battlefield mapmakers, or early women in cartography. Some talks explore specific maps, such as a controversial early map of the Hudson's Bay area. Some discuss types of cartography, e.g., early aviation maps. Commercial topics are addressed, such as changes in the world of commercial cartography, or an insider's look at running a gallery selling antique maps. Still others address technical subjects, such as land use mapping, satellite surveys, etc. These examples hardly cover the diversity of topics but give an idea of their breadth and depth.

Are there other Society activities?
We usually have one or two field trips per year. Some feature a conference or exhibit, such as a symposium at the Library of Virginia on the cartographic history of the state. Other trips feature more permanent topics, such as old atlases at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, or a trip to visit the collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Members are also invited to occasional events of cartographic interest in the DC area. These have included receptions and/or exhibit openings at the Library of Congress, various national embassies, and George Washington University. We participated in many events for the centennial celebration of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, including a gala reception, panel discussions, and tour of Washington, DC, from a cartographic perspective.

What is the Society's relationship to the Library of Congress?
There is no formal link between the Library of Congress and the Washington Map Society, but there has always been a close informal relationship between the Society and the Library's Geography and Map Division. This is a great benefit because the Division is the largest and finest map library in the world. Division employees were instrumental in the formation of our Society. We are fortunate to meet in their Reading Room at the Madison Building, where staffers often lay out maps related to the presentation from the Library's collections.

I don't live in the DC area. Is it still worthwhile to belong to the Washington Map Society?
We have a remarkable number of members - nearly half - who live outside greater Washington area. A few live in distant parts of Maryland or Virginia, but most are in about 35 other states. Over two dozen are outside the United States. Thus a substantial portion of our members find it worthwhile to belong despite their distance from DC. The quality and scope of The Portolan is undoubtedly instrumental to this.

There are, however, more intangible but compelling reasons to belong. There is the sense of membership in an extended cartographic family, invaluable for the map aficionado with no local contacts. Another reason is that you may someday visit Washington and the Library of Congress, either for research or as a tourist. If you time your visit to coincide with a meeting, you can attend an event at which you can meet interesting people and make useful contacts. Even if the timing does not work out, if you will let the Membership Chair know in advance, it may be possible to connect you with a local member who shares your interests.

Will I still find the Washington Map Society useful and interesting if I don't have an extensive background involving maps or cartography?
Many of our members start out exactly that way. They join simply because they have an interest in maps, for whatever reason. It may be through an interest in history, whether general, local, or family history. Still other members find old maps to be works of art and beauty. Many begin as collectors.

Many members who began without formal cartographic backgrounds are now among our most knowledgeable members. A few current examples include physicians, art historians, engineers, physicists, attorneys, military officers, a CEO, and so on. If you have even a mild specific interest, e.g., maps of Iowa, you may already be the person in the Society who knows more about that subject than anyone else. That interest will lead to related areas, e.g., to maps of the Midwest, then to how the US was mapped, then to US cartographic history in general. Each of us in the Society has grown along a different path, and you are certain to find your own.

Are there any other reasons to join?
People who become part of the map community often remark that their peers in that community are some of the most interesting people they have ever met. Whatever it is that has led them to their interest in maps has often also led them to go places and do things which are very much out of the ordinary and we feel our members have found this to be true as well.

How much are the dues and what do they cover?
Annual dues are currently set at $45 (postage is extra outside the United States). This covers three issues of The Portolan plus all regular meetings. There is no charge for guests. The cost of the annual dinner is extra, as are costs connected with field trips, such as transportation, admission, etc. The membership application form also contains a space for voluntary donations.

What are donations used for?
Donations are important to us for two reasons. The first is to supplement our dues. The Society strives to keep its dues as low as possible. The growth of The Portolan and the increase in layout and printing prices over the past several years have necessitated dues increases, but we want to insure that Society membership dues stays within reach of all those who want it. Donations help make that possible. Second, our non-profit designation from the Internal Revenue Service requires that we raise a portion of our income from contributions rather than dues. Even a small donation can be useful in helping us meet this need.

For more information, visit the Washington Map Society web site at http://www.washmap.org,