Knowing that the Geography and Map Division's (G&M) rich holdings include many unique Portuguese maps, the newly appointed ambassador from Portugal, Fernando Andresen Guimarães, asked Iêda Siqueira Wiarda, the Luso-Brazilian specialist in the Hispanic Division, to arrange a tour of G&M. During that meeting, hosted by Ronald Grim, specialist in cartographic history, the idea for an exhibition highlighting Portuguese contributions to world geography and to U.S. communities was discussed.
Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) -- all of whom have large Luso-American constituencies -- also supported the idea. With the guidance of Teresa Greenwald, the Portuguese Embassy's social and communities counselor, and with funding from the Luso-American Development Foundation, the Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities and Newport Concrete Inc., the idea became a reality with the opening on June 10, the National Day of Portugal.
During the exhibition opening, some 1,000 book and nonbook materials were presented by Universidade Aberta (Lisbon) President Armando Rocha Trindade and Maria Laura Bettencourt Pires, who recalled her days as a researcher at the Library.
With 32 items, including maps, photographs and newspapers, the exhibition highlights the Portuguese impact in New England, California, Hawaii and, more recently, New Jersey.
Although numerous countries and individuals were involved in the exploration and mapping of the Americas, it was the Portuguese who set the stage during the 15th century. Portuguese-born and -sponsored explorers played a key role in charting a route around the southern tip of South America; in exploring and exploiting the waters bordering the northeast coast of North America; and in exploring the Pacific Coast, especially the area that today is the state of California. Columbus himself owed much of his training and geographic knowledge to the Portuguese.