Material Maps is co-directed by Dr. James Akerman (Curator of Maps and Director of the Smith Center for the History of Cartography, The Newberry Library) and Dr. Peter Nekola (Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Luther College).

Dr. James Akerman is Director of the Newberry’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography and Curator of Maps at the Newberry Library. Akerman is the author of many studies of the social and political aspects of mapping, transportation and travel cartography, and the history of atlases. He has edited five peer-reviewed collections of essays, the most recent of which, Decolonizing the Map (University of Chicago Press), was published in 2017. He has directed thirteen summer seminars and institutes on a variety of map-centered topics for faculty and schoolteachers between 1995 and 2016. He has curated or co-curated several exhibitions, most recently, Maps: Finding Our Place in the World (with Robert W. Karrow, Jr.), mounted at The Field Museum (Chicago) and the Walters Art Museum (Baltimore), in 2007-08. Since 1998, he has led numerous workshops and seminars on mapping and the humanities for local schoolteachers at the Newberry. He has directed or co-directed three major digital humanities projects, all of them supported in part by the NEH: Historic Maps in K-12 Classrooms; Make Big Plans: Daniel Burnham’s Vision of an American Metropolis; and Mapping Movement in American History and Culture.

Dr. Akerman’s CV can be found here: Akerman CV


Peter Nekola, Co-Director (Ph.D., Philosophy and History, New School for Social Research) came to appreciate reliable material maps while working as a wilderness guide in the Lake Superior Country in the 1990s. He has taught in a variety of fields since 2003, including philosophy, history, environmental studies, urban studies, and visual studies. Currently visiting assistant professor of philosophy at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, he served as assistant director of the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography in Chicago from 2012 to 2016. Before this he taught in the social science department at Pratt Institute, where he also worked to build a program in environmental studies. Much of his research has considered maps philosophically, as complex arguments for different sorts of geographical knowledge, particularly as maps have informed natural and social sciences in recent centuries, but also as they have framed ethical questions—and continue to do so. He is an associate editor of the forthcoming History of Cartography, Vol. 5, and is at work on two book manuscripts: Mapping the Northwoods: Cartography and Geographical Knowledge in the Lake Superior Country, from Industry to Conservation, for the MacLean Collection, and The Concept of the Geographical: A Study in the History and Theory of Knowledge, an expanded version of his doctoral dissertation. He has collaborated with Dr. Akerman on a number of projects in recent years, including the edited collection “Mapping Movement in American History and Culture” and a 2018 NEH Summer Seminar for Teachers on Reading Material Maps in the Digital Age.

Dr. Nekola’s CV can be found here: Nekola CV



Patrick Morris is Map Cataloging Librarian at the Newberry Library.  He is responsible for map reference and cataloging work. Pat holds an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Illinois, and a master’s degree in library science from Dominican University.


Madeline photo

Madeline Crispell is the Program Assistant for the Smith Center. She holds an MA in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture from the Bard Graduate Center, where she focused on material culture and immigration history. Alongside her work at the Newberry, she is the Curatorial Assistant at the Evanston History Center.