Envisioning the American West: Maps, the Representational Barrage of 19th Century Expedition Reports, and the Production of Scientific Knowledge

By Krygier, J. B. | Cartography & Geographic Information Systems, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Envisioning the American West: Maps, the Representational Barrage of 19th Century Expedition Reports, and the Production of Scientific Knowledge


Krygier, J. B., Cartography & Geographic Information Systems


ABSTRACT. A striking shaded relief map, created by Baron F. W. von Egloffstein to accompany the report on the first official exploration of the Grand Canyon in 1857-58, represents an important new way of envisioning America's western landscapes. Ideas from the history and sociology of science, art history, and cultural geography are woven together as a means of understanding Egloffstein's map, its cultural and scientific context, and its explicit interrelations with text, illustrations, and panoramic landscape views. The actual production of the illustrations, panoramic views, and maps is examined together with the manner in which these representations served as a vital means in the production of scientific knowledge. As such, this study is a contribution to an understanding of the "visual ways of knowing" in geography and in science. I argue that historical cartographic exemplars can serve as an important means of understanding and informing current theoretical debates in geography, cartography, and geographic visualization.

KEYWORDS: shaded relief maps, panoramas, Great Reconnaissance, American West, history of cartography, geographic visualization, intertextuality, Baron F. W. von Egloffstein

Introduction

This method of representing topography Is ... truer to nature. It is an approximation to a bird's eye view, and is intelligible to every eye (Ives 1861, Appendix D).

Upon first encountering the map by Baron Frederick W. von Egloffstein, referred to by Joseph Christmas Ives in the above quote, I was struck, as was Ives, by the power and authority of its carefully shaded terrain (Figure 1) (note 1). Egloffstein's map represents a spectacular new way of depicting, seeing, and understanding landscape, and it is unique among pre-Civil War maps of the American West (Irwin 1976, 74).

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The map Egloffstein constructed is one of the earliest maps of the Americas to use a shaded-relief method of terrain representation, created with what has been called the first commercial half-tone process in the United States.

William Goetzmann declared Egloffstein's map to be "one of the most important detailed maps drawn before the Civil War" (Goetzmann 1978, 316). David Lavender, in his history of the Grand Canyon, comments on the "lovely" nature of the map's "three-dimensional ... rendering of the land's tormented topography" (Lavender 1982, 77). Carl Wheat, in his massive survey of the history of the mapping of the Transmississippi West, called Egloffstein "a genius" with regard to his representation of the Grand Canyon (Wheat 1957-63, vol. 5, 101). We are now conditioned to such representations of terrain; they pervade our imagination and understanding of landscape (Pike and Thelin 1990-91). Yet this map--a way of seeing and knowing--embodies a contradiction: we are provided with a "bird's eye view," "intelligible to every eye" and "truer to nature," which is simultaneously, as with every map, a wholly artificial view from nowhere. The map engenders "realistic effects ... based on a radical abstraction" (Crary 1995, 9).

Cartographic exemplars such as Egloffstein's map pose a challenge to cartographers and geographers. What is the origin of such innovative ways of seeing and representing, and what is the process by which these ways came about? (Krygier 1995). Also, how can the analysis of such exemplars inform current debates about visual ways of knowing in geography and the role maps play in the production of scientific knowledge? (MacEachren 1995).

The research reported here considers both questions in the context of Egloffstein's map of the Grand Canyon. Addressing such questions from a historic perspective can contribute to an understanding of visualization as a geographic and scientific method.

How does one go about understanding the way of seeing and representing embodied in Egloffstein's map of the Grand Canyon? …

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