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A new Dunedin Public Library exhibition, "Charting the Peaceful Sea - Maps of the Pacific 1642-1846", looks back in time to explore the world as we knew it hundreds of years ago.
"The impetus behind this exhibition was twofold," heritage collections rare books librarian Anthony Tedeschi says.
"I wanted to draw the public's attention to one of the stellar collections held by the Dunedin Public Library, namely a collection of books on early European voyages of discovery in the Pacific.
"The second reason is much more basic - most people simply love maps.
"There is something about the skill involved and representational beauty of early maps that attracts the young and old alike," Mr Tedeschi says.
"I've observed patrons between the ages of 12 and 80 peering into the cases with the same look of delight, wondering `how did they do it? Are these maps and books really that old?'."
Mr Tedeschi, who co-curated the exhibition with Delyth Sunley, says the maps were produced "with great mathematical and technical skill in an age before computers, satellite imagery and GPS".
The collection documents the exploration of the Pacific by Holland, France, England and, later, the United States, which occurred from the 17th century.
The first map to show any portion of New Zealand was drawn by Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642, a copy of which is shown in the exhibition.
The earliest British map on display is from Sir John Narborough's voyage to the Pacific in 1670-71.
The most accomplished of the 18th-century explorers was Captain James Cook, who made three separate voyages to the Pacific in 1768-71, 1772-75 and 1776-79.
First and early editions of Cook's charts and maps form the core of the exhibition.
The books are mostly from the donation of Dr Robert McNab, who gave his collection of 4200 books to the Dunedin Public Library in 1913.
"The Heritage Collections is a closed-stacks collection.
"This means patrons cannot freely browse the shelves or borrow materials, but they can request items at the third-floor reference desk," Mr Tedeschi says.
"A staff member will then retrieve the requested item.
What exhibitions such as `Charting the Peaceful Sea' allow us to do is provide a way of showing some of the rare books held by the libraries, making material available for viewing that many may not know is held right here in Dunedin."
"Charting the Peaceful Sea" is at the Reed Gallery in the Dunedin Public Library until August 31.