University of St. Thomas English Professor Heather Bouwman was recently recognized and spotlighted by the New York Public Library in a profile, which is a part of a series of interviews on the experiences of people using the library to research for the development of their work.
Her research involved using Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior as a part of her most recent novel project catered to young readers, which she began to work on in 2019. The novel is a historical fantasy set in the Netherlands in the 1660s. Not knowing what the Netherlands looked like then, Bouwman had to find out and went to the library to do so.
“Online, I saw that the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division at New York Public Library had the Dutch language version of the Atlas Maior, which I had seen in other languages but not Dutch,” Bouwman said. “Then, I dug more into the collection online and realized there was so much at the library that I had never had the chance to explore, and (of course) experts to ask questions of!”
Bouwman’s novel follows three kids: Mattie, Geert-Jan and Rika, who all come from different backgrounds and walks of life. Mattie is the daughter of a formerly enslaved mother from Brazil; Geert-Jan is the white son of a rich merchant; and Rika is the daughter of the village miller. The children become friends when Mattie begins working for Geert-Jan’s household, and they discover a magical painting along with a plot to take over their village.
“In a novel that ties high art, cartography, and capitalism to imperialism and the trading of enslaved people, the three kids must work together – along with a talking cow who has a secret power – to save their village and bring villainous acts to the light,” Bouwman said.