Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America

Article excerpt

Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America. By Susan Schulten. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 246. $50.00, ISBN 978-0-226-74068-3.)

In this innovative book Susan Schulten makes a compelling case for maps as both symbolic and material representations of change in the ways Americans viewed their nation, its past, and its potential for development. In conjunction with its companion website (, Schulten's book reveals the power of maps to shape history, policy, and national identity. Using myriad textual and graphic materials, Schulten argues that cartographic techniques developed in the nineteenth century revolutionized the processes of creating and distributing maps and the ways they were interpreted and applied. She states that such changes resulted in a new mode of thinking, which "was both a cause and a consequence of modernization" (p. 7). Schulten concludes that by the end of the nineteenth century, maps had become important means by which the modern American state asserted power over the nation's people, territory, and resources.

Schulten contends that between the Revolution and the twentieth century, maps were transformed from simple informational tools into complex artifacts of interpretation and analysis. The rise of "thematic" maps (a term Schulten uses advisedly) in the early decades of the nineteenth century set the stage for the growth of American nationalism premised on the notion that territorial expansion equaled social progress (chapters 1 and 2). Such maps "demonstrate[d] the nation's territorial legitimacy and coherence" and paved the way for new types of maps focused on solving specific problems (p. 79). Schulten presents three such cases: disease as a factor of environment (chapter 3), slavery (chapter 4), and population distribution and demographic character (chapter 5). …


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