Ukrainian Map Collection Arrives at Harvard

"Ukrainae Pars quae Podolia Palatinatus Vulgo Dicitur," by cartographer Beauplan, ca. 1660

December 6, 2006 - The late Bohdan Krawciw (1904-1975) was a Ukrainian-born poet, journalist, literary critic, translator, nationalist, and an avid collector of maps depicting his homeland. As a map collector, Krawciw acquired items that included the region in even the smallest way, so that he eventually built a collection containing over 900 maps, books, research files, and notebooks covering the wide range from France to Siberia.

Krawciw's thoroughness in acquiring maps showing Ukraine led to a unique and geographically broad collection that spans four centuries, from the 1550s to the 1940s. It includes numerous early maps of Europe, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, the Crimea, and the Black Sea, and represents the major European mapmakers: Mercator, Hondius, Blaeu, Jansson, Pitt, DeWit, Sanson, L'Isle, and Seutter. In November 2005, his daughter Maria Dzwenyslawa and Lubomir Jawny presented Krawciw's collection to Harvard University, its Ukrainian Research Institute, and the Harvard Map Collection.

This particular set of maps will have a diverse set of users, says David Cobb, Curator of the Harvard Map Collection. They cover a wide geographical area and many display culturally significant artistry. In fact, according to Cobb, there are some researchers who are not interested in the map at all—they're interested in the artistic concepts that are being illustrated in the map. "In a sense," says Cobb, "the map is a cultural reflection of the people that made it, as well as an aggregate of geographical knowledge."

"Parte Orientale dell' Europa," by Coronelli, ca. 1695

This also made the maps important to Krawciw. "He was part of the nationalist movement," says Cobb. Educated at the Academic Gymnasium in Lviv and the Lviv (Underground) Ukrainian University in interwar Poland, he took part in the country's nationalist movement, spending time in jail for his efforts. His literary career included editing the Plast monthly Molode zhyttia and a number of other Ukrainian journals and newspapers. Later, in 1949, he moved his family from West Germany—because they were wartime refugees—to the United States, where he continued writing and working with Ukrainian publications.

The maps that Krawciw assembled reveal a great deal about Ukraine's history and development. An item of particular interest is Guillaume Le Vasseur Beauplan's rare Description d'Vkraine, an atlas published in 1660 that includes the first accurate map of Ukraine. Beauplan was a French geographer and military engineer who went to Poland at the invitation of King Sigismund III and, assigned to Ukraine, stayed 17 years building fortresses and castles and surveying its lands. European cartographers used his detailed maps into the 18th century; the Krawciw collection holds several of these editions as well.

"Beauplan is indicative of the beginning of the modern scientific mapping of Ukraine," says Cobb. "Prior to this gift, we had in our collection numerous other European versions of the Beauplan, but they were copies. This takes us to the original."

Beauplan's work is more than just a map—it also has historical and ethnographic interest for its illustrations of wagons, boats, and the Crimean Tatars and Cossacks. "By looking at a couple of hundred years of maps, you see the different kinds of construction of ships, the different kinds of sails that were used," says Cobb. "You really see things from in one sense an engineering perspective and in another an artistic perspective."

"Ukrainia quae et Terra Cosaccorum," by cartographer Homann, ca. 1700

The maps also speak to political tensions in East Central Europe, Austria, Russia, and Poland. Cities might, for instance, be labeled with different names, depending on the map's owner. "The collection will provide researchers with an intriguing variety of perspectives on how the territory of Ukraine and adjacent areas was viewed and interpreted from without and within its changing boundaries over long stretches of time," says Michael Flier, Oleksandr Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian Philology and Director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.
Prior to this gift, Krawciw had already developed a relationship with the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and had given a book collection of 12,000 volumes, which were transferred to Widener Library. He also served as a research associate of the Ukrainian Research Institute from 1973 to his death in 1975.

The Harvard Map Collection, working with the Weissman Preservation Center, has completed a preservation assessment of the Bohdan and Neonila Krawciw Ucrainica Antique Map Collection and, after addressing conservation needs, plans an exhibition of Ukrainian treasures for spring 2007.

Page Last Reviewed: April 20, 2010