The Social Life of Maps

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Elizabeth Mosier reports on a talk last Saturday by University of Delaware English professor Martin Brückner. “Using images from the exhibit he curated at Winterthur Museum (viewable online at http://commondestinations.winterthur.org), Brückner traced maps from production to purchase to public display and personal use, as they became fashionable objects in the period before and after the Revolutionary War,” Mosier writes.

In the 18th century, maps were everywhere: advertised with luxury goods in catalogs and with necessities in the newspaper, displayed in taverns and town halls and high-traffic areas in private homes, printed on parlor screens and ceramics and neckties—“cartifacts” serving no cartographic purpose. If political conflict built the market for maps, the cartouche—or decorative map title—refined it, adding beauty to the criteria for determining a map’s value. The brisk business in maps for navigating and decorating redefined what constituted their usefulness, in material and social terms. Owning a map meant economic status, educational achievement, and national identity; showing a map showed you belonged.

This is the “performative function” of maps, to create reality by plotting it.

geographic-revolution

Brückner is the author or editor of several books on the subject of the social history of maps in early America, including The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Early Maps, Literacy, and National Identity (UNC Press, 2006). I should really check his work (and Susan Schulten’s) out; my own graduate work was going to be on the social function of music, so the social function of maps is relevant to my interests for more than one reason. [via]

George Washington, Mapmaker

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George Washington, A plan of Alexandria, now Belhaven, 1749. Pen and ink, 36×44 cm. Library of Congress.

Last week, Slate’s Rebecca Onion looked at the surveying and mapmaking career of George Washington. Her main source is this page by the Library of Congress’s Edward Redmond. “Beginning with his early career as a surveyor and throughout his life as a soldier, planter, businessman, land speculator, farmer, military officer, and president, Washington relied on and benefitted from his knowledge of maps. Between 1747 and 1799 Washington surveyed over two hundred tracts of land and held title to more than sixty-five thousand acres in thirty-seven different locations,” Redmond writes. Here’s a list of Washington’s maps—drawn by him, drawn by others according to his sketches, or of property owned by him—held by the Library of Congress. [via]

DC Public Library Adds Historic Maps to Online Portal

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Platte grond van de stad Washington, 1793. Printed map, 8¾″×11″. DC Public Library, Special Collections, Washingtoniana Map Collection.

Last week, DC Public Library announced “the release of a century of historic Washington, D.C. maps in Dig DC, the online portal to DCPL Special Collections. These maps cover the District of Columbia and the region from the 1760s to the Civil War. To see them, head on over to the Maps: City & Regional collection on Dig DC!” Of the 8,000 or so maps in the library’s Washingtoniana Map Collection, 250 have been digitized so far; they’re working on scanning the entire collection. [via]

‘We Are One’ in Colonial Williamsburg

We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, an exhibition by the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center (it ran from May to November last year) is going on tour. First stop: Colonial Williamsburg. From March 2016 to January 2017 it will appear at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. From the press release: “More than 30 unique objects from Colonial Williamsburg’s collections will be included in the exhibition, which were not shown when it initially opened at the Boston Public Library in May 2015. […] Many of the objects from Colonial Williamsburg’s collection to be seen in We Are One are on view for the first time or are rarely exhibited.” [via]

Previously: Mapping the American Revolution.

 

Mapping the American Revolution

revolutionThe National Geographic website has an interview with Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen, authors of Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 (W. W. Norton, October 2015). In the interview, Brown says that “some of the best collections of Revolutionary War maps have been among the least used. Historians tended to use the same maps over and over again to illustrate their narratives. What we did is to take the opposite view. We wanted the maps to tell the story, so we picked maps that we thought would tell the story of the battles best.” Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Benjamin Franklin and the Gulf Stream

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Though the effects of the Gulf Stream were known to seafarers for centuries, Benjamin Franklin was the first to name it and chart it. The Library of Congress’s map blog has a post about the maps of the Gulf Stream produced by Franklin with his cousin, Timothy Folger, a ship captain who knew the currents. “Folger and Franklin jointly produced a chart of the Gulf Stream in 1768, first published in London by the English firm Mount and Page. The Geography and Map Division holds one of only three known copies of this first edition (see above), in addition to a copy of the ca. 1785 second edition.”

Map of Colonial New Jersey Rediscovered

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A 1769 map of New Jersey by the famed colonial surveyor Bernard Ratzer, commissioned to settle a longstanding border dispute between New Jersey and New York, has been uncovered by a Harvard University librarian. The map, criss-crossed by competing and alternate boundary lines, has been digitized and is available to view online as part of Harvard’s Colonial North American project.