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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Washington Map Society?

The Washington Map Society, based in Washington, DC, is one of the premier map societies in the world. It began in 1979 as a small, informal group interested in cartography, cartographic history, and collecting maps. Since then it has expanded its membership to include around 400 individuals and institutions around the world.

How is the Washington Map Society run?

The WMS is an all-volunteer society with no paid employees and is governed by a Board of Directors elected by the membership. The Board of Directors includes four officers: president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. The Board of Directors and officers are nominated by a committee composed of both board and non-board members. Elections are held at the annual business meeting each spring. WMS members interested in serving on the board should make this known to the nominations committee. Other volunteer positions are appointed by the board, including the journal editor, membership chair, Ristow Prize chair, and other positions as necessary.


Who can join the Washington Map Society?

Membership is open to anyone interested in maps, and our members come from all walks of life, including collectors, historians, librarians, map dealers, cartographers, surveyors, institutions and general map enthusiasts. There is no expertise required to join. Whatever your background, you'll find a place in the WMS.

What are the benefits of membership in the Washington Map Society?

WMS members receive three annual issues of our acclaimed journal, The Portolan; a world-class speaker series on Zoom; and access to all past issues of the journal and over 50 videos of past speaker lectures. Members local to or traveling through the Washington, DC area are invited to take behind-the-scene tours of public and private collections and exhibits. Membership also helps support the annual Ristow Prize in cartographic history. Please see our Member Benefits page for full details.

How much are the dues and what do they cover?

The WMS offers single and multi-year membership options, including an introductory rate of $25 for a digital-only membership for first-time members. Members may choose between receiving The Portolan either in print (with digital access as well) or just digitally. For those who select to receive print copies of The Portolan, the cost of printing and shipping the journal is included in the membership dues. All other membership benefits, including our lecture series, access to the entire archive of Portolan issues and speaker videos, support for the Ristow Prize, and access to the WMS membership directory are included with every membership. Members are also invited to attend exclusive field trips and our Annual dinner, however additional fees may apply for these events.

Does WMS offer a special rate for Students?

Yes, WMS certainly does.  It is $10 per year for as long as a student is enrolled in school.  Students receive The Portolan digitally as well as all the Membership Benefits that WMS provides all its members.

I don't live in the DC area. Is it still worthwhile to belong to the Washington Map Society?

The WMS is an international society with about two-thirds of our membership living outside the greater Washington, DC area. We have individual members from 14 nations and 36 states in the U.S. With the sole exception of local field trips, all other member benefits are accessible to our members worldwide through the exclusive “Members Only” section of our website and our regular Zoom meetings. Our membership directory also allows our members to make connections with other map enthusiasts around the world. Click here for details on our Membership Benefits.

Will I still find the Washington Map Society useful and interesting if I don't have a background involving maps or cartography?

While some of our members are professionals in the field, many of our members are simply interested in learning about maps. There is no pre-requisite for becoming a member. The WMS offers lectures and Portolan articles suitable for every type of map enthusiast, from novice to expert.

The Portolan Journal

What is the Society journal?

We are very proud of our journal, The Portolan, which is published three times a year. Each issue is typically 70-80 pages and features research articles, accounts of speakers' presentations, book reviews, a list of recent cartographic writing, and news and events from WMS and other map related organizations around the world. Dozens of institutions and national libraries maintain membership with the WMS in order to provide The Portolan journal to their patrons. Click here for more information on The Portolan and click here to read some sample issues.

Can I submit an article for publication in The Portolan journal?

The WMS does accept submissions of articles for possible inclusion in The Portolan. Please click here for guidelines on submitting an article.

Can the Washington Map Society publicize my map-related event or book?

The WMS does include a list of upcoming events in the map community within The Portolan, which is published three times a year. Upcoming events must be submitted at least 3 months in advance of the event. Please contact The Portolan editor ( to submit an event. The Portolan also has an active book review program for books related to cartography. Books received from publishers are evaluated to ensure of their interest to the membership. Please click here for submission details regarding book reviews.

Ristow Prize

What is the Ristow Prize?

Since 1994 the Society has offered the prestigious and highly competitive Ristow Prize to an outstanding academic research paper in the fields of cartographic history. It honors Walter W. Ristow, one of America's preeminent cartographic historians, former Chief of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, and the Society's founding president. The winner receives a $1,500 prize and publication of their article in The Portolan. See our Ristow Prize page for details on eligibility and how to submit a paper.

WMS Events and Activities

When does the WMS meet?

The WMS holds around eight meetings each year between September and May. Meetings are hosted on Zoom and accessible worldwide. Most meetings consist of a guest speaker discussing a specific map-related topic. Members also have access to videos of past speaker lectures from the last 5 years. Click here to view a video of a past guest speaker meeting. Click here for our calendar of upcoming events.

Who speaks at meetings and what do they talk about?

Our speakers are drawn from many sources. Some are international figures in cartography, such as academics, historians, and recently published authors. Other speakers are drawn from the Washington Map Society itself, as many members are respected authorities in their fields. Topics presented range greatly from antique maps to modern GIS mapping, covering maps from every geography around the world and six centuries of mapmaking. Click here for a list of past meeting topics.

Do I have to be a member to attend WMS meetings and events?

Our speaker meetings are open to the public, and all are welcome to attend. Our special events, such as field trips, are often limited to members due to space constraints.

Are there other WMS activities?

When health and safety permit, the WMS usually offers one or two field trips per year in the Washington, DC area. These field trips typically feature a map-related conference, exhibit, collection, or symposium. The WMS is often able to arrange behind-the-scenes tours and special lectures not available to the general public. Due to the popularity of our field trips, they are often limited to WMS members and their partners.

The WMS also typically hosts an Annual Dinner and will continue to do so once public gatherings are deemed safe. These highly-regarded events combine a jovial social environment with a feature presentation by a speaker on an aspect of mapping or cartographic history. An additional fee is sometimes required for field trips and the Annual Dinner. Click here for our calendar of upcoming events.


How do I give a gift membership?

Giving a gift membership to a fellow map enthusiast is a wonderful way to share your love for maps. Recipients of gift memberships will receive a letter acknowledging your gift and introducing them to the WMS. Please click here to give a gift membership.

General Questions

How can I connect with other map enthusiasts?

Joining the Washington Map Society is a great way to meet people who share your interest in maps and cartography. Many of our member meetings and guest lectures include a social component that allows our members to get to know one another. Members are also able to contact fellow colleagues through the WMS membership directory. In addition, many of our members are active on the WMS Facebook page, which is a great place to share information about maps and map related events. Click here for the WMS Facebook page.

What is the Society's relationship to the Library of Congress?

There is no formal link between the Library of Congress and the Washington Map Society, but there has always been a close informal relationship between the WMS and the Library's Geography and Map Division. Division employees were instrumental in both the formation and evolution of the WMS. This is a great benefit because the Library of Congress houses one of the largest and finest map libraries in the world. Hundreds of past WMS meetings have been held in the Geography & Map Division Reading Room in Washington, DC, where staffers often laid out maps from the Library's collections that related to that evening’s WMS presentation.

If you have a question that is not answered above, please contact us.

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