Fall 2007

65 years of charting the world at the Foscue Map Library

See some of the maps in the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library

Dorothy Bruton keeps a basket of maps by her living room chair for quick reference. The 1945 SMU geography graduate served from 1945 to 1950 as the first librarian of SMU’s Edwin J. Foscue Map Library.

"I use maps every day," says the 82-year-old retired Dallas travel agent. "As small as the world is today, it’s a shame not to know about it."

As the map library celebrates its 65th anniversary, scholars from all disciplines use its resources in the Science and Engineering Library to know more about the world, says Dawn Youngblood, curator of the map library.

"Maps have a universal quality," she says. "A wide range of researchers – from artists who want to study the way rivers flow for paintings to engineering students planning pipelines to professionals planning freeway interchanges – use maps as decision-making tools."

Edwin J. Foscue, chair of SMU’s geography department from 1923 to 1965, created the library in 1942, then was called to Washington, D.C., during World War II to serve the Army Map Service. "When the United States entered World War II, many areas of the world were poorly mapped or had never been mapped," Youngblood says. The Army Map Service was charged with compiling and publishing maps for all branches of the military.

Foscue served as head of the Board of Geographic Names, a group responsible for making sure map names were consistent – for example, Constantinople or Istanbul?

1959 relief map

Because of Foscue’s influence, after the war ended, the SMU map library became one of seven key depositories in the United States, receiving 27,000 maps captured from the Germans and Japanese as well as copies of each map produced by the Army Map Service, Youngblood says.

The library’s current holdings include more than 260,000 individual maps, nautical charts and aeronautical charts; 3,000 aerial photographs and remote sensing images; more than 1,200 soil survey publications; and 1,250 atlases.

Online resources include geographic information systems, which analyze and display data according to location.

The library celebrated its anniversary in October by hosting the fall meeting of the Texas Map Society. Eleanor Maclay, map librarian from 1950 to 1957, was among the honored guests.

For more information about the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, visit or see the Fondren Library Center exhibit – October 15 through January 4 – which celebrates the library’s 65th anniversary.

Geographic Information Systems in Action

Anthropology Ph.D. student Bob Foxworth is using the map library’s geographic information systems as tools to help analyze three-dimensional properties of prehistoric hunting grounds in the Gunnison Basin of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

The remains of stone hunting blinds suggest early hunter-gatherers may have hunted communally during the winter months when deer, elk and bighorn sheep gathered in large herds at lower elevations, Foxworth says.

"There is not a lot of information about high-altitude hunter-gatherers," he says. By using map software to merge data about weather patterns, animal winter ranges and winter grazing potential at different elevation zones, Foxworth hopes to provide new information about prehistoric hunters.

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