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Barbara McCorkle's "Cartobibliography" added to KU Scholarworks

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Update (3/18/2010): Barbara McCorkle's "Cartobibliography of the Maps in 18th Century British and American Geography Books" was ranked fifth in the top ten the most-viewed items in KU Scholarworks for the past 12 months in March 2010.

In November, Barbara McCorkle made the product of thirty years of her research on eighteenth-century maps freely available to all in KU Scholarworks. Her "Cartobibliography of the Maps in 18th Century British and American Geography Books" was published as an e-book in the University of Kansas digital repository on the KU Scholarworks database.

McCorkle’s “Cartobibliography” contains 470 individual entries about geography books and 6700 entries for individual maps within those books. “Something like this is a tremendous aid to finding the maps in the books,” said Dr. Karen Cook, interim special collections librarian at Spencer Research Library.

"There was no bibliography of these items, so I made one,” McCorkle said of her book. Her work took her to libraries all over the US and UK, poring over English geography books from the eighteen century, compiling details of every map on every page. “I tried to see at least three copies of every book, because they varied between printings,” McCorkle said.

That scholarly attention to detail took time. “This was the one project that was always there,” McCorkle said. “Early on, the Special Libraries Association gave me a grant to do some work, but it was something I had to fit in to whatever else I was doing.”

The project is significant to researchers because “although many of these books are digitized and online, finding aids are not set up to help scholars find specific maps,” McCorkle said. “Also, not everybody has access to those databases.”

Accessibility to researchers was a major factor for McCorkle in deciding where her book would be published. “I chose KU Scholarworks because I thought it would reach more people,” she said.

Accompanying the gift of McCorkle’s scholarship is a gift to Spencer Research Library of the research materials she gathered over the course of this project, such as photocopies of the maps she wrote about, and printouts of the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) record for every item in her book. These follow an earlier gift of 125 geography texts, gazetteers and geographical dictionaries from the eighteenth century that McCorkle made in 2006.

Cook stressed the scholarly potential of the combination of McCorkle’s gift of print materials to Spencer and her electronically published work. “For the type of research that people need to do with old maps, they really need to work with the originals. There’s only so much you can do with the digital images,” Cook said. 
McCorkle served as an associate librarian at KU from 1968 to 1974, then spent time at both Purdue University and Yale University, finishing her career as map curator at Yale.

In her tenure at KU, McCorkle helped expand KU Libraries’ collection of geography books. “We have extensive holdings, thanks to Barbara,” Cook said. “The collections at Spencer inspired the book, so it’s really coming home in a way,” she added.

McCorkle’s late husband Oswald P. Backus was another notable presence at KU, serving as a professor in the history department for 22 years. After retiring, McCorkle returned to Kansas. “Three of my children had settled here, and all my old friends were here,” she said. “Lawrence was a much nicer place to live.”

For more information, contact Rebecca Smith at (785) 864-1761, or via email at

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