Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The American Geographical Society's 1975 Map of the Arctic Region

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The American Geographical Society's 1975 Map of the Arctic Region

Article excerpt

Nearly half a century ago, in a quirky old house on the banks of the Hudson River there was intense activity. This was the residence of Bruce C. Heezen and Marie Tharp, geologist and cartographer, pioneers of mapping the ocean floor. It was not far from the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, where both worked. This place also functioned as their private laboratory. Perched atop a spiral staircase, they were looking down to the floor below where a large outline map of the Arctic at the scale of 1:3,000,000 was spread out. Half-finished bathymetric lines, scattered soundings, and colored patches in crayon covered the map. Several graduate students made adjustments to the bathymetry, as Bruce and Marie argued and shouted directions from above. It was bewildering, but Heezen assured an inquisitive visitor that their interpretation of scant available data was the right approach. The process of compiling other information depicted on this map was perhaps not as theatrical but was equally engrossing more than four decades ago. This article summarizes the production of the Map of the Arctic Region, the last single sheet map produced and published by the American Geographical Society (AGS) in 1975.

MAPS OF THE ARCTIC PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY

Arctic exploration and mapping was an important motivating factor behind the founding of the AGS, and these activities remained a crucial part of the organization's endeavors for well over a century (Wright 1952; Morin 2011). The history of AGS involvement in the north polar region was detailed by Nelson (2013).

In years past, most staff members of the Society have agreed--perhaps with some bemusement--that the pivotal map for the Society and its involvement in polar research was the 1912 Map of the Arctic Regions at the scale of 1:6,300,000, a 90 x 90 cm document published jointly with the American Museum of Natural History (Figure 1). The cartographer was Arthur Briesemeister, an employee of the Museum. His son, William Briesemeister, became the Society's first full-time cartographer the following year. (1) As the marginal note indicates, Briesemeister senior picked an interesting projection for this map. Constructed on thirty-six globe gores, a method later deemed impractical for such sheet maps, the Museum of Natural History used this map to create a partial globe model. The other striking aspect of the map is what it does not show. Although there is a large blank area labeled "unexplored," by 1912 many more details of the surrounding land area were available. (2) Data for the map were selected by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, librarian of the Society, and edited by Cyrus C. Adams, editor of the Geographical Review's immediate forerunner, Bulletin of the American Geographical Society. Adams had considerable Arctic expertise. Many years later, Briesemeister remarked that they "... had slight differences in regard to the publication of the map. Because of the differences an indirect result was the decision by the Council to appoint a director for the Society. Isaiah Bowman came to us in 1915 from Yale Univ. From that time on things started to hum." (Briesemeister 1958).

The first map of the Arctic published by the Society was the 28 x 30 cm Circumpolar Chart at the scale of 1:37,500,000 (Figure 2). It was introduced by Elisha K. Kane at the seventh sitting of the Society on December 14, 1852, and was subsequently published in the Bulletin of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, accompanying his paper on the possibility of an open Arctic Ocean (Kane 1852). During the decades prior to the publication of the 1912 Arctic map, much of the cartographic endeavor was ancillary to reports on the geography of the region, attempted rescue missions, explorations, and related discoveries. Some maps accompanied published papers; others were used as props or guides at the Society's popular illustrated lectures. Part-time draftsmen, principally George Schroeter and Frederick Leutner, prepared many of these maps. …

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