The Washington Post

“Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below”

Boston Public Library


What's beneath our feet?

The answer to that question has changed dramatically over the centuries.

For millennia, humans have tried to envision the world below them - and have drawn pictures of what they think lies underneath.

“Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below,” an exhibition at the Boston Public Library's Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, plumbs the depths of those questions through maps, images and archaeological artifacts. The free exhibition explores nearly 400 years of maps and objects in an attempt to find out why and how humans imagine subterranean landscapes including caves, mines and water tables.

The display includes maps of the archaeology of Pompeii as well as modern-day assessments of residual lead and chlorine in the water supply of Flint, Mich. Colorful and complicated images reflect the biases of their day and the concerns of their authors, including the United States' desire to appropriate the natural resources of Native American lands and a 17th-century Jesuit priest's attempt to use Scripture to create a framework for Earth's geology.

The exhibition isn't limited to maps: There are 3-D objects such as minerals found in Massachusetts and artifacts - an arrowhead and a sail needle, for example - found beneath Boston.

The collection offers a variety of ways to re-envision what's going on below Earth's surface. You may well leave the library with a new appreciation for the rocks, water, gases and historical artifacts that are beneath you at this very moment.

Can't get to the library before Feb. 25? You can catch the exhibition online: It includes a bibliography, reading lists and a 3-D tour of the gallery itself.