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A Word from the New President

When more than a year ago Caroline De Candt asked me if I might be interested in taking over the Presidency from her in 2021, my initial reaction was a negative one. Not that I didn’t want to, on the contrary I was honoured by her initiative, but rather I thought (and still think) that my multiple professional occupations would prevent me of doing the job as it should be done. For the past years I have been scientific advisor to the Brussels Map Circle and in so doing was able to have a look behind the scenes of the Circle’s organisation. And although we are a fairly small circle, with a defined yearly programme, although the President can count on a trustworthy and dynamic Executive Committee, the Presidency requires great availability of its incumbent. And I wasn’t sure – actually, I am still not very sure – if I could guarantee such availability. In addition I would have loved to see Caroline continuing the Presidency. But she had made up her mind and couldn’t be persuaded to stay on. Furthermore, with the health crisis forcing her to cancel the Circle’s trip to Venice, which should have been the final act of her then almost ten-year Presidency, she decided to step down early, in October 2020. So, as the saying goes, what must be, must be, and I agreed to be a candidate for the Presidency of the Circle on condition that I could be, following Eric Leenders’ example (MiH No 31, May 2008), a transitional President in the hope that within a reasonable lapse of time a younger, and more available, candidate will put him/herself forward. Under these conditions I was elected President in October 2020.

In the nine years of her Presidency (19 March 2011 - 07 October 2020), Caroline profoundly changed the organisation of the Circle. On 24 March 2012 its original name, BIMCC – Brussels International Map Collectors’ Circle, changed into the more straightforward Brussels Map Circle (MiH No 43, May 2012). She also put some order into the Circle’s statutes. From January 2012 onwards the traditional Newsletter became Maps in History; and thanks to her brother Paul it now boasts a new layout and is published in colour (MiH No 42, January 2012). She arranged for General Assemblies and Map Afternoons (MAPAF) to be held at the Royal Library of Belgium, and the Meetings of the Executive Committee at the premises of Arenberg Auctions (MiH No 60, January 2018). But Caroline not only took initiatives regarding the formal aspects of our organisation, she also put her stamp on its content. For instance, every second year she embedded the Circle’s conference into the framework of Europalia, the prestigious international cultural festival held in Belgium every two years which each time takes a different country/region as a focus. For many years she had an excellent partner in the geography department of Ghent University, more particularly its head, Prof. De Maeyer, with whom she organised the lecture series in Ghent on Reading old maps (October 2011 - May 2012; MiH No 41, September 2011). At the Mercator conference in Sint-Niklaas, another initiative of the Geography department, several of our Members presented their personal research (25 - 28 April 2012; MiH No 43 and 44) and in 2015 the Circle sponsored the organisation of the ICHC conference in Antwerp (12 - 17 July 2015; MiH No 53, September 2015). In the same city, she organised a well-attended reception at the Plantin-Moretus Museum to celebrate the Circle’s twentieth anniversary (MiH No 61, January 2019). Another joint venture, this time with the Royal Library and the Davidsfonds editing house, formed the framework within which the book Vlaanderen in 100 kaarten [Flanders in 100 maps], under the direction of Eric Leenders and myself, could be written. And we went to Rome … another joint venture, this time with the Associazione Culturale Roberto Almagià (MiH No 56, September 2016). Under her Presidency the monthly digital WhatsMap? was launched, bringing our Members the latest news on what is going on in the world of the history of cartography. Her last initiative were the occasional talks on aspects of the history of cartography she wanted to organise, of which, unfortunately, due to the health crisis, only one could actually take place, at the Royal Library of Belgium on 6 February 2020. Perhaps I have forgotten one or two more initiatives she took, but even as it stands now, the list of achievements is impressive and sets the bar very high for her successor(s), to say the least.

I realise this is not the easiest period to take over, nor is it the time to be very ambitious. Our Circle’s aim is above all to meet, to come together, to exchange ideas, look at maps, listen to scholars, colleagues and friends talking about their research into an aspect of the history of cartography, a specific collection or a particular map. Today it has become very difficult to plan such meetings or get-togethers. We cannot arrange map evenings, conferences, or trips. Many societies, museums and other cultural organisations try to replace the physical with the virtual; podcasts and webinars are proposed online. It is obvious to all of you we cannot offer that. But it doesn’t mean the Circle’s activities are necessarily on hold. On the contrary, we have our website, which is updated on a regular basis, as is our WhatsMap? Our magazine Maps in History will bring you the latest news of our reading, our ideas, our research and that of others. And … we are working on our future. In October 2021 we will host the 38th IMCoS Conference on Belgium’s contribution to cartography. Do have a look at the apposite webpage. Probably it will be the first time we can meet again physically. We are determined to make it a party! Until then, keep safe!


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