Maps are about so much more than simply depicting geographical territory. As author Susan Schulten writes in this illuminating new book, they ‘both reflect and mediate change. They capture what people knew, what they thought they knew, what they hoped for, and what they feared.’ All of which makes maps an excellent vehicle for investigating and depicting history’s meandering path.
Schulten has divided her book into nine eras, covering the period from 1490 to 2001, starting with Henric Martellus Germanus’s Ptolemaic world map, which Schulten argues played a role in instigating Christopher Columbus’s voyage of discovery, and ending with a map of the area around Ground Zero in New York which was drawn in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks. The maps include depictions of immigration and internal migration, gerrymandering, epidemiology, continental drift, road networks, vice, political affiliations and subterranean mineral resources, all of which have been drawn from the British Library’s collections and some of which have never previously been published.
The book takes a global view of American history and hence not all of the maps are of America itself, with several examples showing aspects of the overseas wars in which American soldiers fought and died. Each map is discussed at length, with Schulten providing insights into both what the map tells us about American history and the history of the map itself – not to mention the history of cartography as a discipline.
Beautifully produced and written in a very engaging and accessible style, this is one of those rare books that’s both visually arresting and intellectually enriching. With each map profile essentially selfcontained, the book is perfect for dipping into, each new ‘episode’ opening a window on a different facet of American history and eventually building into an epic story of the rise of one of the world’s most powerful nations.
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