Blog Comments

Here are my comments on other students blogs for class on Thursday 9.20.10:


A work in progress…

Here is what I have for my Sanborn Map so far. You are looking at a small region of Georgetown, Washington DC from 1903. The largest home and grounds on the map is Tudor Place, a five acre estate which I will be focusing on for my final project. As you can see, though Tudor Place is certainly the largest, Georgetown was made up of several large homes with equally spacious yards. I also plan on using the same color scheme to classify a Sanborn Map of the same series from 1916, by which time most all of the large homes have been replaced with row homes. Eventually Tudor Place will be the only estate of its kind in the neighborhood. It is not the house itself which makes it become a historic home, but rather, it is the houses’ relationship to the neighborhood around it which makes it become something unique and preservation worthy over time.

Green= Grass

Grey = Street

Brown = Retaining Wall

Blue = Dwelling

Purple = Stable

Teal= School

Red = Outbuilding

The border is unmarked and invisible.

Last week, I happened to catch the first few minutes of the Today Show, with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. I don’t know that I’ve ever watched the beginning of the Today Show before, but I learned that they are much more serious in the opening hours of the show than they are by the time Kathie Lee and Hoda take over. They bring you down with news of the economy and the war, and then just as you are heading out the door for work, they brightening up your day with a dose of Matthew Mc Conaughey, world’s sexiest man.

The news story which they were focusing on was that of the American hikers imprisoned in Iran. If you are not familiar with the story, in July of 2009 three American hikers, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, were hiking in the Zagros Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. This area is a popular tourist destination which lies dangerously close to the Iranian border. Though details are still murky, it would appear that the hikers accidentally crossed into Iran where they were seized by Iranian authorities, charged with espionage, and jailed without a trial. Recently however, Sarah Shourd was released from prison and allowed to return for the States. She had been kept in solitary confinement for the entirety of her fourteen month time in prison, and because of this, human rights organizations were able to successfully lobby for her release.

It was Sarah’s first interview after being released from prison which I saw on the Today Show. Surprisingly poised and articulate after her ordeal, one thing which Sarah said stuck out to me as interesting in the context of this class. In trying to stress the fact that the illegal entrance into Iran was an accident she reminded everyone that “the border is unmarked and invisible.”

In this class, we have been encouraged to think of borders between nation-states as a 19th century concept which has given way to a more malleable divide between nations. The various articles within Placing_History for example, were dominated by cultural contact zones within nations and played down the arbitrary lines in the sand which determine the border of a nation. Perhaps it is true that national borders are largely arbitrary, but that does not mean that they are not significant. Borders are policed and illegal to cross, not only in the more volatile regions of the world but also across the southern half of the United States. It is important that we not lose sight of this in our conversations about maps as power and socially constructed tools.  We should not allow new uses to blind us from older contexts which are still dominant today.

Help! I need somebody!

This weekend I’ve been working on cleaning up a Sanborn map of Georgetown. I have the line edits going at a pretty good click, but when I hit the “K” key and try to fill in various regions it keeps coming up with an error message. Any advice on what to do? Do I need to be on a particular setting to use the paint bucket tool?

Won’t you please, please help me.

New Issue: Is anyone else having trouble opening the Relief Shading “TRY IT!” Jpeg image in photoshop? I keep getting the error message that there is a problem reading the Jpeg file.

Comments for Class, 9.23.10

Here are the links to my comments on other student’s blogs:

Historical Atlas Evaluation

Three of the most interesting historical atlases reviewed this week were Edward Quinn’s Historical Atlas, the University of Maine’s Historical Atlas of Maine, and Hayes’ Historical Atlas of the United States. I will be examining Hayes’ work in the most detail, but the overall effectiveness of the Quinn and University of Maine online resources will also be discussed.

Created in 1830, Quinn’s atlas is a classical history, looking at the development of Western Europe. Full of value judgments and opinions, such as the assertion that Louis, Charlemagne’s successor, was “an imbecile and pusillanimous,” Quinn’s atlas does not attempt to be unbiased. This can also be seen in his argument that European nations were beginning to form as early at 814 AD, lending legitimacy and history to the relatively new nation-state system. Functionally, the online resource was difficult to use. Each page of the atlas is its own link, making it difficult and time consuming to look through the atlas as a whole. Stylistically, each page looks at one nation or region at a time, with all areas not being discussed blacked out by a daunting black cloud. As more areas are included into the narrative of the atlas, the cloud shrinks, revealing more landmass. This is the most striking visual representation of “silences” on a map I have seen thus far. Not only does this black cloud system remove the areas being discussed from a regional or international context, it also makes areas of the world literally “in the dark” until brought into the western context.

The University of Maine atlas on the other hand is a reflection of modern sensibilities, mapping indigenous and cultural history. This atlas looks at the cartographic history of Maine from the ice age to the present. Using thematic maps, historical maps, images, and text, this atlas explores the transnational and cultural contexts of indigenous peoples, Euro-American exploration, and the rise of environmental awareness. The integration of maps and text within the atlas shows the importance of narrative to the visuals, and also encourages the reader to consider the varying contexts of the region in a way that the older atlas style represented by Quinn does not.

In his work Historical Atlas of the United States Derek Hayes creates a visually stunning atlas of maps and images which come together to tell the story of America, from contact to the modern age. In the opening of his work Hayes laments that “the story of America’s past has been told in many different ways, but never before in any comprehensive form from the unique perspective allowed by the study of original maps.”[1] Hayes seeks to fill this academic gap with his historical atlas, which incorporates visually interesting maps and images in an attempt to track America’s expansionist history. But, he is clear to point out that though historical atlases generally, and his own specifically, have great historical value, the atlas does not stand on its own. Rather, it should be used alongside more traditional history works.

Because the atlas should be used as one tool of many in creating a comprehensive understanding of history, text is meant to play a more marginal role within the atlas. This is clearly evident in the stylistic choices of the atlas. On any given page the maps and other images, such as portraits of the people involved, political cartoons, or paintings representing an event, are the clear focus because of their size and number. The fact that text wrapping is used to shape and mold the narrative in ways which allow for the most appealing view of the visuals, with little consideration to the readability of the information, shows the secondary role of the text. The information about the maps themselves, which can be found in captions alongside the maps, are slightly more important than the running narrative of each chapter. This is reflected through their bolded type. But neither kind of text is as important as the visual representations within the sections. Though the narrative nature of maps takes precedence over words for Hayes, the reality is that text is key in explaining the narrative behind the map, which is not self evident. That is why, though marginalized, text is an important part of using the atlas and understanding the kind of story it seeks to tell.


Though he claims to look at the regions that would eventually become America from “1492 to 9/11,” by in large Hayes’ story is one of American history from Colonial America to the turn of the last century. Given the huge span of time and space covered, a helpful design element is the use of colored pages to represent shifts between focuses. Each chapter is colored one in a series of light, neutral colors so that it was clear when the reader changed topics. The major themes discussed within the work are discovery and exploration, technology, the negotiable quality of boarders and divisions, westward expansion, war, and colonization and power. With these themes, Hayes is seeking to show the “aggressive vigilance that has characterized America from its beginnings.”[3] In his historiography of historic atlases, Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past, Jeremy Black argues that most historic atlases have a thesis and central argument the way traditional histories do, but that they are often outlined in the introduction and are less evident in the body of the work.[4] This is the case for Hayes. His themes can certainly be found within the fifty-eight, mostly chronological, chapter breakdowns, but it is subtle and not self evident from the content of any isolated chapter.

At its core, this work is a traditional story of the United States which focuses on English colonial experiences and macro history. Hayes does incorporate the other international colonial powers in his work, as well as Native Americans and African Americans, but when included, minority groups were often sectioned off into their own chapters which jumped the chronology of the rest of the atlas. The two page chapter on slavery titled “A Man and a Brother,” which covers slavery from 1526 to 1852 for example, is placed between a chapter on the American Revolution and a chapter on the establishment of Washington DC as the nation’s capitol in 1800. The chapter’s short length, as well as its isolation in the middle of chapters dealing with very specific space times shows Hayes’ discomfort with using mapped sources to tell a story outside of the Anglo-European context. The inclusion of Native American history was more integrated into the broader story of the atlas, but this is because the Native American experience is more easily linked to the narrative of traditional maps and border history. The atlas provides Native American history from a European perspective and with European interests at its core. These shortcomings were a pronounced weakness within the atlas.

Of the many topics covered, I found the chapter on the Lewis and Clark Expedition titled “Across America” to be particularly fascinating. Within this chapter Hayes discusses themes of exploration, border creation, westward expansion, and how this mission would directly and indirectly lead to conflict with natives and the remaining European powers on the continent. For “Across America,” Hayes chooses to use only maps, instead of a combination of different types of visuals, to articulate the historical moment. The use of various kinds of other images, such as portraits and present day photographs, were well used in other sections, providing a variety of perspectives and visual interest. Perhaps this section could have used different kinds of visuals, especially on pages 112 and 113 where the entire layout is beige. (See Right) But, the use of maps alone best supports the themes of the spatial unknown, exploration, and expansion covered. These maps illuminate history by showing early ideas of western geography, displaying the path used by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in its national and regional contexts, and showing change over time. This change came because of increased knowledge of the regions after exploration, but as the two maps of the Louisiana Purchas display, this change was also a part of creating and recreating a national narrative over ownership and rights. The territorial representation of the Louisiana Purchase shifted so greatly not just because of new geographic information, but also because the powers that be wanted to justify expansionism. (See Below)

Beginning before the actual exploration, this chapter deals with the imprecise nature of mapping the continental US before Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Mountain ranges and rivers came out of blank spaces on the map, representing the unknown. Following the Louisiana Purchase Lewis and Clark were sent to explore the new territory both for scientific purposes, and to try to find the Northwest Passage in an attempt to open the interior of the country to fast and easy shipping. This highlights the economic motivations behind the mission. This economic interest is also featured with the map by Private Robert Frazer which was meant to be a part of his book detailing the exploration, which was never published. (See Below) Frazer hoped to sell his story for profit, revealing another economic layer of the Lewis and Clarke mission – that these men were national celebrities who stood to make a hearty sum from their story. This fact could have certainly impacted what they chose to focus on in the retelling of their story and why. Though they did not find a quick and easy route to the Pacific Ocean, the Lewis and Clark Expedition helped to spur western settlement and manifest destiny.

There were several weaknesses within the work, such as the neglect of minority groups discussed above. However, Hayes’ largest weakness was the failure to create new material. Though he fulfilled his goal of showing American history through the often neglected source of maps, Hayes does not create any maps, charts, graphs, or other visuals of his own. I can’t help but to question the importance of simple compilation in showing maps of national expansion without creating dynamic historical retellings of your own in the same genre. Still, I enjoyed Hayes’ Historical Atlas of the United States. In many ways it felt like a physical representation of the museum experience. With its incorporation of visuals to propel a fairly simple and traditional narrative of expansion with text as an important, but ultimately secondary tool, encouraging browsing, while positioning itself as one tool of many with which to learn American history is clearly a museum state of mind. Hayes chose his visuals thoughtfully and they were beautifully presented. If being one tool amongst many in shaping a conscientious understanding of US expansionist history is the barometer for success for a historical atlas, then the Historical Atlas of the United States is extremely successful.

[1] Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of the United States Pp 6

[2] An example of the kind of map found within the atlas. This is a 1832 image of the continental United States with an American Eagle superimposed on it demonstrates patriotic themes of mapmaking.

[3] Hayes Pp 7

[4] Jeremy Black, Maps and History pp 66