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Onscreen, if still not yet on site

Take a walk through online exhibitions of political cartoons, cartography, and Polaroid photography, at the Mass Historical Society, Boston Public Library, and MIT Museum.

"The Gerry-Mander. A new species of Monster which appeared in Essex South District in Jan. 1812."Massachusetts Historical Society

Many museums and galleries have reopened, with various pandemic-related attendance protocols to ensure visitor and employee safety. The latest to do so is the Addison Gallery of American Art, at Phillips Andover Academy.

In lieu of reopening, others have been mounting online exhibitions. The Massachusetts Historical Society currently has two digital shows. The Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library has another. And the MIT Museum is offering a second, virtual installment of a major exhibition that ran on site last fall and winter.

The MHS is America’s oldest historical society. Although primarily an archive, it also regularly presents exhibitions, featuring maps, prints, letters, books, vintage photographs, and public documents.


As its title suggests, “Who Counts? A Look at Voter Rights Through Political Cartoons” features another kind of document. Some of the categories that make up the exhibition are historical: women’s suffrage, for example. Others seem alarmingly contemporary: voting by mail. Most are both: the Electoral College, political corruption, restricting voting rights.

The cartoons and other illustrations span more than 200 years. The most recent is a Tom Toles Washington Post cartoon from earlier this year. The show includes Elkanah Tisdale’s famous “Gerrymander,” from 1812. Its attack on partisan redistricting on the North Shore added a new word to the language.

Other works in “Who Counts?” come from the likes of Thomas Nast, Bill Mauldin, and Herblock. On Oct. 23, MHS librarian Peter Drummey will present a virtual gallery tour of the exhibition from 2 p.m.-3 p.m.

Paul Szep's "Thomas Nast."© 2020 Used with permission of Paul Szep. All rights reserved.

Nast (1840-1902), that most celebrated of political cartoonists, is the subject of “Thomas Nast: A Life in Cartoons.” In a nice twist, the exhibition doesn’t emphasize Nast’s own work (though it offers links to many of his cartoons). Instead, nine contemporary cartoonists illustrate episodes from Nast’s life. One of the nine will be familiar to Globe readers of a certain age. Paul Szep won two Pulitzer Prizes for the paper during the 1970s.


Heading down Boylston Street, the Leventhal Center at the BPL is about a 15-minute walk from the MHS. Virtually, “Bending Lines: Maps and Data From Distortion to Deception” is just a few keystrokes away. It runs through May 6 (the two MHS shows do not as yet have a closing date).

“Bending Lines” rests on a fundamental contradiction: Although we trust maps to be accurate renderings of reality, they are by definition only approximations of reality. This is true even when cartographers have the best intentions (no flat map of a round globe can be truly accurate). It’s definitely true when, as sometimes happens, the cartographic intent is to deceive.

“Bending Lines” comes in three parts. “Why Persuade?” examines what motivates cartographers. Examples range from land speculation and advertising to warmongering and political dissent. “How the Lines Get Bent” looks at techniques used in making maps and visualizing data. And “The Power to Make Belief” — the similarity to “make believe” is not coincidence — considers the relationship between knowledge, conveyed by the mapmaker, and trust, offered by the map user.

A US electoral map from 1888.Leventhal Map Center

The first installment of the MIT Museum’s “The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology” closed in early March. A second hanging, with most of the 200 images in the show replaced, was up a week before COVID-19 intervened.


Since last month, “The Polaroid Project, Part II,” has been online. It runs through Dec. 31. The shows includes a stellar array of photographers. Among them are Ansel Adams, Chuck Close, Marie Cosindas, Elsa Dorfman, Gisèle Freund, Philippe Halsman, David Hockney, the actor Dennis Hopper (who was probably a better photographer than he was an actor), André Kertész, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Rauschenberg, film director Gus Van Sant, Andy Warhol, and William Wegman. Also on display are cameras, documents, and other related objects and ephemera.

A Polaroid SX-70 camera.Michael Cardinali/MIT Museum

A 3-D interactive tour lets you move through the exhibition space and zoom in on installations. Curators Deborah Douglas and Barbara Hitchcock offer commentary. Along with fellow curator William Ewing, they’ll participate in an online talk about the exhibition at noon on Oct. 29.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.