The museum is working with the University of South Florida to showcase more than 6,000 historic maps and charts of Florida leading back to the 1400's.
The Touchton Map Library and Florida Center for Cartographic Education opened to the public on Sunday. Director Rodney Kite-Powell says it will allow visitors to learn about Florida's history in a new and exciting way.
"What we're doing with this new space is expanding our reach into the cartographic world with not only the exhibition of Florida maps, but also fostering research...that relate to Florida's place in the New World and it's place in the world in general."
The expansion is named after avid map-collector, Thomas Touchton, the founding chairman of the center's Board of Trustees. The museum will feature a third of his overall collection in the new library.
According to Kite-Powell, the importance of the new display cannot be overstated.
"(The maps are) our way to reach out in the community and teach people about Florida, Florida history, Florida cartography, the importance of Florida throughout history," said Kite-Powell. "We really are one of those bellwether states - you can see the pulse of the country by looking at Florida."
As one of only ten cartographic centers in the entire country, the new library will put Tampa on the map as the only place in the Southeastern U.S. to have one.
"There are institutions that foster research and other institutions that have a display component, but you'd have to go to either the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. or the University of Texas at Arlington to see a true cartographic center that does all of those things in the same institution," said Kite-Powell.
The center is done in partnership with USF, and one of the goals is to engage as many departments at the university with the research and application of these maps.
"Both now and historically, you can really teach a lot of great lessons in a variety of disciplines and we're hoping to be able to capitalize on that as best as we can," said Kite-Powell.
The center is confident the display will be popular with Tampa Bay residents, as well as with researchers and students. They serve as a key to history, according to Kite-Powell, as they can help people understand how Florida played a part in the larger American picture.
"If you learn Florida history, and you learn about the combination and clash and cooperation between different cultures, you can really learn that American story," said Kite-Powell.
The center will display different pieces from the collection every few months. The current set of maps runs through April. Visit TBHC's website for more information.