Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Cumming Map Collection: Start

A guide to the Cumming Map Collection, one of the finest map collections of the American Southeast.

Old Explorer's Map Cropped as Page Border Pt. 1Old Explorer's Map Cropped as Page Border Pt. 2Old Explorer's Map Cropped as Page Border Pt. 3

William Patterson Cumming: A Collection Begins

William Patterson Cumming Profile PicOne day, William Patterson Cumming stumbled upon a faulty map in a window shop with his wife, fellow English professor Elizabeth Chandler, while on their honeymoon. He wondered why Davidson and Charlotte were shown as underwater on it.  Spotting this peculiar map, which turned out to be the 1676 map of Carolina by arguably the most famous English cartographer, John Speed (now part of the collection), initiated Dr. Cumming's pathway to soon become the leading authority on American maps of the Southeast. He returned from his trip eager to find the answer, but when he discovered how little had been written on early American map conceptions in general, he began the inquiry himself. Graduate of the class of 1921 and Davidson Irving English Professor, Dr. Cumming (1900-1989) was originally born in Nagoya, Japan to missionary parents. He came to the United States in 1914 to further his studies. While remaining a loyal English professor to his students, Dr. Cumming, with due time and growing interest, began to accumulate more maps, publish articles on cartographic history, and later wrote several books on the history of early maps (pre-American Revolution) in North America. He became quite acclaimed-- delivering lectures, winning awards, and becoming a renowned scholar of early mapping history of North America. After retiring, he eventually gifted his map collection to the College. Regarded as the finest collection of early American maps of the Southeast, Davidson Archives invites you make an appointment to learn more.  

Dr. Cumming's Books Available for Checkout:
 Note: In addition to books published by Dr. Cumming, we have an abundance of other related and renowned books acquired by him that form part of the collection. Email us to see them.

More About His Map Collection

Whether for a government agency, an airline pilot, or or simply a college student finding her way around campus--maps can be found almost everywhere and are used for all kinds of purposes.

They guide, they teach, they show, and they hide.

GPS Navigation on SmartphoneTechnology today has afforded us maps that can be generated at the click of a button, but the maps in this rare and finely-cultivated scholar's collection take us back centuries before. Dr. Cumming spent the latter half of his lifetime delving into cartographic history and had a good many travels to collect the maps we house in the Smith Rare Book Room. His trips included travel to places like the Windsor Castle in England during his Europe cartographic tour from 1958-59 or to Rome to negotiate the purchasing of Sebastian Munster's 1540 map of the New World-- the oldest in the collection.

The collection is a master compendium from an expert himself, with supplemental reference books, exhibition pamphlets, map dealer's catalogues, other scholarly and related books, and other resources. Whether interested in European colonial history, attitudes toward Native Americans, voyages to the New World, cartouche drawings, or anything in between, these maps may be a helpful resource for you. While most of the maps cover the Southeastern region, there are some from a few other regions like Spain, Mexico, and Italy. 

Furthermore, we also have a detailed print catalog of all of the 48 maps in the collection with a description of the special features of each map as elucidated by Dr. Cumming. If you are interested in seeing this catalog, please contact us.

On the Cumming Map Collection, Dr. Helen Wallis, former Map Librarian of the British Library, very well-known in map circles, and longtime friend of the Cumming's, has called it, "The finest collection of American maps of the Southeast in private hands." She also said,

For a scholar, this collection is a paradise. The maps of the Southeast preserved in the great libraries of Europe and America are dispersed. Here at a stretch of a hand, the scholar can pick out maps and books, all well documented. These record the evolution of a great country in what were to European eyes the wilderness of territories of the New World.

 In this Guide:
Cumming Map Collection

Map on Scroll Clipart IconBrowse some maps available in the collection and learn about other map resources we house. 

For digital copies of these maps, see the North Carolina Maps collection. 

Questions? Need help? Ask Us
Davidson College Library, Box 7200, 209 Ridge Rd., Davidson, NC 28035-7200
Creative Commons license logo for CC by-sa 4.0
This Davidson College Library Research Guides are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
All box-title icons from Entypo pictograms by Daniel Bruce —