Spreading the Word: A History of Information in the California Gold Rush

By Richard T. Stillson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Marketplaces for Information
Guidebooks and Maps

Along with newspapers, books and maps were part of the complex of print information sources that strongly affected whether and when potential goldrushers decided to go to California and how they tried to get there. Like newspapers, these publications differed in their usefulness, the ways in which they attempted to create credibility and expand their market, and their availability in various parts of the country. This chapter examines various guidebooks and maps with a view to illustrating the diversity and usefulness of these information sources to goldrushers at a time when information was scarce and urgently needed. The chapter also provides more evidence about how information was produced and assessed and examines the sources and markers of credibility in this competitive information marketplace.

This case study of information provision and assessment illustrates complex and interactive relationships among book, map, and newspaper publishers in the mid-nineteenth century.1 Newspapers, books and maps both competed with and supported one another as classes of print. Guidebooks usually contained or referred to specific maps; some maps that were published individually contained guidebook-like information or referred to specific guidebooks; newspapers advertised and commented on the usefulness of various guidebooks and maps; and the guidebooks gave credibility, by their presumed authoritativeness, to newspaper stories about the gold rush. The competition and interaction among books, maps, and newspaper publishers resulted in the publication of much contradictory information. Large regional variations in the availability of books and maps further complicated the problem of information assessment for the emigrants as they moved across the country towards the trailheads.

Authors and publishers produced a wide variety of guidebooks and maps that were marketed to goldrushers in the early months of gold fever. Several au-

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