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Expansion at Tampa Bay History Center will house combined map collection, the largest in the Southeast

Two prominent collections of maps that helped early explorers navigate both land and waterways of Florida – along with the maritime and tool artifacts they left behind – are being combined and will be housed in a new addition of the Tampa Bay History Center, creating the only research library of its kind in the Southeastern United States and one of only nine in the nation.

Gathering at the Tampa Bay History Center Dec. 14 at a press conference, USF System President Judy Genshaft and History Center President and CEO C.J. Roberts, as well as other community leaders and supporters, shared their enthusiasm for the project that extends an already robust partnership.

TBHC Founding Board Chairman Tom Touchton with USF System President Judy Genshaft.

“We are happy, we are thrilled to be involved in this project,” Genshaft said. “We are deepening our relationship with our very valued partner, the History Center, and together, we will extend educational opportunities and resources to new audiences. This expansion will house 6,000 maps dating from 1493 to current day. Access to an additional 10,000 maps and other documents through USF Libraries will make it one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in the world! This partnership, and the new library it has created, will get to the very essence of what a research university is all about.”

“For the past 14 years, the History Center and USF have worked closely together in documenting, preserving, and interpreting our history,” Roberts said. “With the opening of the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education, our relationship will become even closer as work to promote the study of and appreciation for cartography.”

TBHC President and CEO C.J. Roberts.

The new $11 million expansion project will house this state’s most valued collections of maps and artifacts. Called Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates and Shipwrecks, the 8,500-square-foot gallery at the History Center will house the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education (TML/FCCE), a partnership between the History Center and USF. The gallery will also feature a 60-foot replica sailing vessel and focus on explorers who landed in “La Florida” more than 500 years ago, pirates who wreaked havoc along Florida’s coasts in the 17th and 18th centuries, and efforts to recover long-forgotten shipwrecks from Florida’s waters.

Construction for the gallery is scheduled to begin in January 2017 and is expected to be complete by fall of 2017.

USF Libraries Dean Todd Chavez answers reporters' questions about the map collection with Judy Genshaft.

The partnership between the History Center and USF began in earnest two decades ago when TBHC provided a million-dollar gift that helped establish the Florida Studies Center in the USF Libraries. Combined efforts to preserve local history continue today on key efforts such as the publication of the Tampa Bay History Journal, an annual lecture series, special exhibitions, and internships for USF students, among other initiatives.

“For more than two decades, the University of South Florida and the History Center have been working together exploring, preserving, and sharing the rich history of our region,” Genshaft said. “As a matter of fact, the History Center holds a very special place in my heart. On my first day of work at USF, July 5, 2000, I was surprised with a $1-million check donation from the History Center to establish an endowment to promote Florida studies through the USF Libraries’ collections. Talk about a warm welcome! That is something I will never forget and am always very appreciative for. Since then, our partnership has yielded much fruit. We have new collections and exhibitions, a history journal, community programming, and now, the Touchton Map Library and Florida Center for Cartographic Education.”

The History Center’s expansion project includes the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education and will house a map library and cartographic center that will be home to some 6,000 maps dating back to the discovery of the New World. Access to an additional 10,000 maps and other documents via USF Libraries will make the Touchton Map Library among the largest collections of Florida cartography anywhere in the world, said Todd Chavez, dean of the USF Libraries.

“Our world-class, internationally distinctive combined collection of nearly 15,000 maps is one of the largest collections of rare Florida and Caribbean maps in the world,” Chavez said. “You'd have to travel to London or Paris to find a comparable collection. Even the Library of Congress doesn't have everything that we do."

In addition, rare artifacts recovered from shipwrecks off the coast of Florida, including 400-year-old navigational tools, weaponry and pottery, will also be on permanent display in the new “Treasure Seekers” gallery. The focus on Florida’s maritime history allows the museum to explore the science, technology and engineering of centuries-old sailing vessels and how sailors used primitive tools and the stars to navigate unknown waters.

Check out the entire expansion project here

The TBHC opened in 2009 and tells the stories of the Tampa Bay area. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the TBHC is also a Smithsonian Affiliate.

The expansion comes at a period of growth for the History Center, as well as a defining time for USF as its Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute prepare to move to downtown Tampa to help anchor the multi-billion-dollar Channelside District redevelopment project by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

USF System President Judy Genshaft and USF Libraries Dean Todd Chavez take in the downtown view.

“The Channelside district will be full of life,” Genshaft continued. “It’s such a bright future for all of downtown Tampa and the region. We are proud to be playing a part in making such a transformational change to our whole region.”

Additional comments from the press conference. 

Steve Raney, president and CEO of Raymond James Financial and chair of the TBHC Board of Trustees: “The vision of expanding the facility goes back to when we opened eight years ago. The one real question then was, when do we move forward? Last fall, the board members, we joined arms and knew it was time for us to move forward in opening both this cartography center, as well as this exhibition space. Thanks to a lot of public sector support, especially from the State of Florida and Hillsborough County, as well as a lot of support from individual and company contributors, we’re over 50 percent of our way towards that $11 million goal.”

Stacy White, chair of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners: “The History Center serves a unique purpose for our community. It preserves our legacy so future generations can appreciate its cultural heritage, its rich history and diverse people. Put simply, the Tampa Bay History Center is a historical treasure.”

Rodney Kite-Powell, the Saunders Foundation Curator of History for the Tampa Bay History Center and the director of the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education: “Florida history is American history. Not just the history of the United States but also the history of the Americas. Florida serves as the gateway between mainland North America and the Caribbean. Keep in mind that the earliest history of the United States did not originate in Virginia or Massachusetts. It came from right here in Florida.”

Photos by Eric Younghans, story by Sarah Worth, USF Health Communications.

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