Campus & Community

Ukrainian map collection arrives at Harvard

4 min read

The late Bohdan Krawciw (1904-1975) was a Ukrainian-born poet, journalist, literary critic, translator, and 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 more than 900 maps, books, research files, and notebooks from France to Siberia and from the 1550s to the 1940s.

The collection 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, Krawciw’s daughter, Maria Dzwenyslawa, and Lubomir Jawny presented Krawciw’s collection to Harvard University, its Ukrainian Research Institute, and the Harvard Map Collection.

The maps will have a diverse set of users, says David Cobb, curator of the Harvard Map Collection, because they cover a wide geographical area and many display significant local artistry. There are some researchers, adds Cobb, who are less interested in the maps themselves than the artistic concepts illustrated in some of them. “In a sense,” he says, “a map is a cultural reflection of the people that made it, as well as an aggregate of geographical knowledge.”

This potent combination made the maps important to Krawciw as well. “He was very nationalistic,” says Cobb. Educated at the Academic Gymnasium in Lviv and the Lviv (Underground) Ukrainian University, 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 (Plast is the largest scouting organization in the Ukraine). Later, in 1949, he moved his family 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. “One thing that the collection reflects is Russian and Slavic influence on the region through history,” says Cobb.

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 the Ukraine. Beauplan was a French geographer and military engineer who went to Poland at the invitation of King Sigismund III and, assigned to the 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 the 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 draws others besides cartographers – it 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.”

The illustrations of the Cossacks, the original people of the Ukraine, speak to cultural tensions. “You’re looking at an ethnic group, and there were definitely tensions between those people and native Russians as well as the Europeans, and so they’re depicted in certain ways. On the maps they’re illustrated with their fur hats, big curved swords, and their native dress, which was different from people of the bordering regions.”

“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.