A History of Twentieth-Century American Academic Cartography

By McMaster, Robert; McMaster, Susanna | Cartography and Geographic Information Science, July 2002 | Go to article overview

A History of Twentieth-Century American Academic Cartography


McMaster, Robert, McMaster, Susanna, Cartography and Geographic Information Science


Introduction

This paper details the history and development of U.S. academic cartography in the twentieth century. Although one can find formal education in cartography dating back to the nineteenth century, including coursework at Princeton and the United States Military and Naval Academies, the building of core programs and faculty is a relatively new development. As pointed out in 1987, "Academic cartography in the United States is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon, although it builds on an earlier foundation of governmental, service academy, and private map making" (McMaster and Thrower 1987, p. 345). Since that publication there has been little research on how this discipline grew from a single individual, J. Paul Goode at the University of Chicago, to one of the more significant influences in academic geography. One exception is the 1991 United States National Report to the International Cartographic Association, entitled "History and Development of Academic Cartography in the United States" and published in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems (CaGIS) (McMaster 1991). This particular issue of CaGIS detailed the earlier programs at Wisconsin, Kansas, and Washington, as well as those at the universities of South Carolina, Northern Illinois, Southwest Texas State, Michigan State, Oregon State, Penn State, SUNY at Buffalo, Ohio State, Syracuse, and Minnesota. Histories of other significant programs, including UCLA, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Clark University, University of Georgia, San Diego State University, and George Mason University, remain to be told.

The scope of this paper does not allow documentation of the very rich cartographic activity in other countries such as the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, the former Soviet Union, and China. We leave the identification, documentation, and analysis of such programs to those more knowledgeable about their significance. We also constrain this paper to a particular approach--that of identifying and documenting key individuals and programs in academic cartography. Our approach is to carefully document the individuals, programs, and some of the cartographic events, providing interpretation where possible; it is not a "critical history" that proposes multiple realities of these events.

Further research will allow for a deeper analysis of this history and a careful documentation of the linkages among the various intellectual threads. One example would be to critically evaluate the paradigm of experimental cartography that is detailed briefly in this paper and expanded on in Daniel Montello's paper in this volume. From its roots with Arthur Robinson's The Look of Maps (1950) to its dominance as a research paradigm--particularly at the Universities of Wisconsin, Kansas, and Washington--to a significant decrease in its emphasis in the late 1980s, a critical assessment of its dissemination and true impact on the field is needed. We also note that the emphasis in this paper focuses on thematic cartography, and we do not delve into the education of topographic cartographers, surveyors, or remote sensing specialists. Although the main development of thematic mapping can be traced to nineteenth-century Europe, it is in the twentieth-century United States that thematic cartography evolved as an academic discipline. It is this unique history that focuses on thematic and statistical cartography--and the education of individuals in these fields--that we document.

Four Major Periods of U.S. Academic Cartography

We review developments in the history of U.S. academic cartography by identifying and discussing four major periods. The incipient period, from the early part of the century to the 1940s, represents what might be called nodal activity, in which academic cartography was centered at only two to three institutions under the leadership of individuals not necessarily educated in cartography.

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