Remarks at the Osher Map Library Ceremony
June 22, 2018
Libby Bischof, Associate Professor of History and Director, Center for Collaboration and Development,
University of Southern Maine
Thank you, President Cummings. It is a distinct pleasure to be here this morning, honoring this historic gift to USM and to the people of Maine, and celebrating the tremendous philanthropic legacy of Dr. and Mrs. Osher and their family. As a public historian, a visual historian, a Maine historian, and, most importantly, a teacher, I cannot fully express how important this collection has been to my own professional growth and development as a historian and educator, but more importantly, the significant role it has played, and now will continue to play, in informing new generations of students, teachers, scholars, and Maine residents. From its inception, the distinct Kindergarten through High School, University, and lifelong learning educational mission of the library and its collections, including access to materials usually reserved for scholars for students at any level as well (as the general public), has set the Osher Map Library apart, and really promoted a vision of education that is inclusive, hands-on, active, high impact, and transformative. The Osher Map Library is simultaneously local and global in its reach and accessibility--thanks to expanded reading room and K-12 field trip access (over 3000 local K-12 students visited the library this year alone!), public lectures and exhibitions, as well as massive, cutting-edge collection digitization efforts.
During the academic year, this reading room and the adjacent Cohen Center classroom are hubs of activity. Imagine, if you will, groups of students, from 3rd and 4th graders learning about the history of Portland, to college history students attempting to understand the vast changes that occurred in the United States between 1800-1900, milling about the room, talking to one another excitedly about a discovery they made, pulling over a teacher or professor to ask a question, or asking our vault manager, Bob Spencer, to help find another map that will give further context to a course reading. I want you to see the look on their faces when a map helps them to grasp a difficult concept for the first time. Imagine students gathering around maps of the world, excitedly pointing out to their classmates where they are from, where they have been, recognizing their own stories, their own histories, in these ancient and modern maps. Imagine a group of faculty in a teaching seminar marveling over resources laid out before them—law professors and social workers, creative writers and engineers all brainstorming about how they will incorporate maps into their own research, scholarship and curricula next year. Visualize Printmaking students here learning about historic printing techniques and processes; and tourism and hospitality students learning about the ways in which the promotion of the state of Maine has changed over time; geography students together in the seminar room to learn the history of Cartography; art history students studying cartouches and map art, astronomy students touring the current exhibit “Art of the Spheres,” and seeing the Cosmos as people have envisioned them as far back as the 17th century. I don’t have to imagine any of these things, because I’ve witnessed them all this year; I’ve felt the excitement of discovery and of finding one’s self in the past. Next year, USM students will learn math through maps—the curricular possibilities of the Osher Map library collections are tremendously interdisciplinary, and are truly endless. We look forward to expanding field trip access, holding pedagogy workshops and seminars for K-12 teachers and college faculty, and furthering and promoting cross-institutional collaboration around Maine’s upcoming bicentennial in 2020 as we move into the next academic year. In fact, on October 20th, OML will be hosting a public course on the Legacies of Maine Statehood for the Maine Masonic College, and the Maine Senior Colleges. We are also planning a major exhibition for the bicentennial—a key example of the public educational role this library will continue to play in the state, the country, and the world. In closing, I am a great believer in the power of these objects, these maps, these globes, this ephemera—to capture a student’s interest—to turn a passive consumer of facts about the past into an energetic, active, passionate explorer of the people and places that comprise our shared history. I see it happen here every semester. In an ever-fractious, increasingly partisan world, where borders are the leading subject of the daily news, maps can help us make sense of the present, can help us to understand what brought us to this time, and to this place, and figure out how we got here. They literally help us to see the world differently. I offer my heartfelt and sincere thanks to the Osher family this morning, for the maps, of course, but also for the educational vision of Dr. and Mrs. Osher, one that I am lucky to be a part of at USM.
To read more about the Osher gift, click here