Maps and Empire: New Books

Three academic books out this month deal with the subject of mapping, surveying, and empire-building:

The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence by S. Max Edelson (Harvard University Press) covers the period between the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution. From the publisher:

Under orders from King George III to reform the colonies, the Board of Trade dispatched surveyors to map far-flung frontiers, chart coastlines in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, sound Florida’s rivers, parcel tropical islands into plantation tracts, and mark boundaries with indigenous nations across the continental interior. Scaled to military standards of resolution, the maps they produced sought to capture the essential attributes of colonial spaces—their natural capacities for agriculture, navigation, and commerce—and give British officials the knowledge they needed to take command over colonization from across the Atlantic.

Britain’s vision of imperial control threatened to displace colonists as meaningful agents of empire and diminished what they viewed as their greatest historical accomplishment: settling the New World. As London’s mapmakers published these images of order in breathtaking American atlases, Continental and British forces were already engaged in a violent contest over who would control the real spaces they represented.

Maps and visualizations to accompany the book are available online[Amazon]

The First Mapping of America: The General Survey of British North America by Alex Johnson (I. B. Tauris) seems to cover similar territory, if you’ll pardon the pun, though I have very little information about it. [Amazon]

Finally, Daniel Foliard’s Dislocating the Orient: British Maps and the Making of the Middle East, 1854-1921 (University of Chicago Press) “vividly illustrates how the British first defined the Middle East as a geopolitical and cartographic region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through their imperial maps. Until then, the region had never been clearly distinguished from ‘the East’ or ‘the Orient.’ In the course of their colonial activities, however, the British began to conceive of the Middle East as a separate and distinct part of the world, with consequences that continue to be felt today.” [Amazon, iBooks]

Related: Map Books of 2017.

Map Auction News: Early American History

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Elihu Barker, “A Map of Kentucky from Actual Survey,” 1793. Map, 44 × 99 cm. Library of Congress.
  1. The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky: “A rare 18th-century wall map depicting frontier Kentucky that was put up for auction Thursday in New York has sold for $37,500—more than twice its high estimated value.” (See the Library of Congress’s copy of the map above.) [WMS]
  2. “Two large maps and six sketches of military defenses hand drawn by French military engineers in 1781 and used during the American War of Independence, the last such documents in private hands, will be auctioned off at a chateau in France next month,” Bloomberg reports. “Salvaged in 2007, the maps—that only barely escaped becoming mouse food—show British defenses along the East Coast, including fortifications near New York. They are being sold by the eighth-generation descendants of Marshall de Rochambeau, the commander of the French expeditionary force sent by King Louis XVI to aid the American rebels.” [WMS]

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]

‘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.)