Blog Comments 10.28.10

Here are my comments on other students blogs for this week:

http://abradsh32.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/the-super-fun-readings-this-week/#comment-13

http://rflorescartography.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/102/#comment-47

http://alesanu.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/maps-in-the-twentieth-century/#comment-104

http://digitaliconoclasm.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/changing-motivations-and-perspectives/#comment-59

http://rkpjrhist615.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/cartography-in-the-20th-century/#comment-36

http://armablue.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/169/#comment-34

Cartographic Education and Maps in the Modern Era

The readings this week dealt with maps into the modern era.

Susan Schulten’s article “Richard Edes Harrison and the Challenge to American Cartography” looks at the innovations the map maker Harrison made during the 1940’s. Schulten’s goal is to see what techniques he used to produced his groundbreaking maps, and explore why they affected the general population so profoundly. Harrison’s main innovation was the use of new perspectives. By using new views, such as polar projection maps, he was able to stylize maps with the aim of emphasizing global connections. Harrison was willing to throw some older cartographic principles to the wind because he was trained as an architect and not a cartographer, allowing innovation. His maps were printed in popular magazines and emulated across the country. The styles of these maps emphasized connections on the local, national, and global level which all aimed to show Americans the interconnectivity of seemingly disparate nation-states, driving home how close the war in Europe really was in order to encourage action. Though initially used for the war effort in World War Two, this style of maps increased ideas of globalization generally even after the fighting had finished, shaping public perspectives.

In the article “Twentieth-Century American Road Maps and the Making of a National Motorized Space” James R Akerman looks at the development of the national highway system and how road maps affected the rise in automobile touring. By encouraging certain routes and specific destinations, early highway maps encouraged leisure travel to specific landmarks, predominately historic sites, as key components of a uniquely American identity. Though the kinds of touring encouraged by the highway map had a long history in first bicycle and later railroad tours, this kind of mass marketable American identity through the open road would not have been possible without state and federal mapping and the development of centrally controlled highway systems.

Though these articles have very different content and conclusions, they both got me thinking about modern day cartographic education as well as the map’s place in the media. Harrison’s maps created such a stir because his were the most wide spread maps viewed by the public at the time. The impact of these maps and their perspectives suggests to me that the general public was less versed in maps than they previously had been. This implies a diminishing in geographic education, since Americans’ main exposure to maps was through the media. Today media based maps are also the primary mode of maps which the public comes into contact with. These media maps consist of things like weather, traffic, and international maps displayed on the news and in newspapers. As a child, I cannot remember ever actually learning either cartography or geography. I recall there being a national map and a globe in most of my elementary school classrooms, but I know for certain that I was never tested on the states of the country, or the countries of the world. The item which sticks out to me as how I learned some of this cartographic information was through the Animaniacs song.

Amazing as this song is, and it is amazing, it is certainly not sufficient. The articles this week suggested to me that this shift in education priorities occurred around the 1940s. Though maps should be used in the media, as they are an important tool to disseminate information, cartographic education in the US needs to change.  I’m not certain why this topic slipped from favor in the educational system, but in today’s globalized world it needs to be reinstated.

Blog Comments

Here are my comments on other students’ blogs for this week:

http://reskelsen.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/hist-615-rubber-sheeting-assignment-2/#comment-39

http://rflorescartography.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/rubber-sheeting-dc-vs-sa/#comment-38

http://alesanu.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/rubber-sheeting-project/#comment-99

http://rkpjrhist615.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/546/#comment-25

http://armablue.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/a-beacon-of-hope-independence-rock/#comment-25

http://carawhiting.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/rubber-sheeting/#comment-16

The Altitude of Class

In real estate, it’s all about location. That statement was just as true in early American history. I will be looking at the geographical positioning of three elite houses, Sabine Hall in Richmond County Virginia, Gunston Hall in Mason Neck Virginia, and Tudor Place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC, to explore the geography of class.

 

 

 

Left to Right: Sabine Hall, Gunston Hall, Tudor Place

Each of these homes were built by some of the most elite and prosperous families of their times, and because of that each offers an enlightening example of ideal home placement. Though the geographic location of each home depended on the needs of the family, as both Sabine and Gunston Halls were plantation homes of tobacco planters, where as Tudor Place was the suburban home of a merchant. As we shall see, each of the homes were built on hills above waterways. This was so that they could have access to the transportation of those waterways, so that they could have enjoyable views of the area, but perhaps most importantly, so that they could display their status by living above their neighbors, literally and figuratively.  Each of these homes were not only built on hills, but they each also chose to build on the final rise on a series of hills before a downward slope to a river. So even if people did eventually build in front of them, these homes would keep their pristine views. Hills in these regions also take on additional importance since they are relatively flat areas; making rises all the more rare and sought after.

 

 

 

 

Left to right: Shaded relief maps showing altitudes of Richmond County Virginia (Sabine Hall), Mason Neck Virginia (Gunston Hall), and Georgetown, Washington DC (Tudor Place)

SABINE HALL:

Built in 1730 by Robert “King” Carter for his son Landon Carter, Sabine Hall sits ¼ of a mile from the Rappahannock River and is named after the pastoral retreat of the Roman poet Horace.  Like his father, Landon Carter was a wealthy tobacco planter and politician, in fact in the 1750’s Landon had over 100 slaves at Sabine Hall alone, with over 400 slaves stretched throughout estates in eight counties, making him one of most prosperous property owners in Virginia.[1] Because of his status he was able to choose almost anywhere to build his home and his final positioning of Sabine Hall is important for this reason.

Sabine Hall’s location in Richmond County, VA.

Though the general location in Virginia was chosen for its suitability for tobacco yields, the Sabine Hall main house was situated on the southern most edge of a hill, before the landscape falls away, creating a commanding view both looking down from the big house and to passersby looking up to the great Carter estate.  This need to look up to the estate by travelers and neighbors was almost certainly Carters’ intention. He was a man always concerned with his own place in life. Desperate to always appear in control of his own facilities and act as a King over his family and slaves, Carter had no problem pulling rank and pointing out his own strengths which made him an apt leader. Because Landon Carter was constantly concerned with his own status as a gentlemen and master, in positioning his house he wished to be above all those around him.

View down from Sabine Hall

 

 

 

 

GUNSTON HALL:

Gunston Hall was the plantation home of George Mason, founding father, land speculator, and prosperous planter. Completed in 1759, Gunston Hall is actually a fairly modest country home. Though the main house itself is rather small, it once sat on 5,500 acres of improved land with tobacco and wheat fields, orchards, a gaming park, a school house, various outbuildings for domestic work, and slave cabins. So despite its small size, Gunston Hall sat at the center of what seemed more like a village than a gentleman’s house. Like Sabine Hall, Gunston Hall is built on the crest of a hill, overlooking the Potomac River, but in constructing his great house Mason even went so far as to further build an artificial hill on top of the existing rise to give the house a greater presence.[2]

Left: Gunston Hall’s location in Mason Neck, VA. Right: View down from Gunston Hall

The overall layout of the Gunston Hall plantation makes this added artificial rise all the more interesting. While the main house sits atop a hill, the service quarters are pushed to the periphery, appearing on the side on the main house rather than behind it, as was common. This was done so that Mason’s views would not be tarnished by having to view the domestic work of his slaves, work which made his lifestyle possible. Additionally, the slave quarters, known as “Log Town”, were built north-west of the house at the bottom of a hill “far enough within which to be out of sight” from the main house.[3] Though Log Town was invisible when looking down from the main house, it is possible that because of the geographical location of Gunston Hall, the altitude of the house made it visible and always looming over the slaves’ residence. This geographical hierarchy and manipulation of the land reflected social and political hierarchies of race.

Above: “The Plantation,” 1825

TUDOR PLACE:

Left: Tudor Place’s location in Georgetown, Washington DC.

Tudor Place is the most modern of these examples, built in 1816 by wealthy tobacco merchant and land speculator Thomas Peter and his wife Martha Custis Peter, step-granddaughter of George Washington. Coming from elite family stock on both sides, the Peters were poised to be one of the leading families of the new Federal City.  When choosing a site to build their family home, the Peters chose Georgetown because of the potential retreat its hills provided from the swamp lands which make up most of Washington DC. The Peters’ had been living on K Street, along the Potomac River at the bottom of hills of Georgetown, so they understood the powerful presence large homes made on travelers moving along the Potomac and through the city. Because of this they chose to purchase 8.5 acres at present day Q Street, between 31st and 32nd, which is the final crest of the final hill in Georgetown. (See views from both locations below) The view down from Tudor Place is clearly more desirable than the view up from the Potomac. This particular view from Tudor Place looks out towards south-east Washington. This neighborhoods’ geographical location below Georgetown implies that the area is also socially below Georgetown, just as elite families like the Peters’ hoped to communicate.

Left to Right: View looking up towards Georgetown from the Potomac River, View looking down from Tudor Place

By Building their homes on a higher altitude than was possible or affordable for many others of the time, these three elite houses reveal the ways in which high society hoped to reinforce social hierarchies through physical space and exposes an interesting and largely neglected area of historical geographic research.


[1] Rhys Isaac, Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

[2] Donald Ransone Taylor, Gunston Hall: Return To Splendor – The Colonial Plantation Home of George Mason, Father of America’s Bill of Rights (Lorton, VA: Gunston Hall Board of Regents 1994)

[3] John Mason, The Recollections of John Mason: George Mason’s Son Remembers his father and life and Gunston Hall, Edited by Treey K Dunn (Marshall, VA: EPM Publications, inc.) pp 77

Wearing Your Map on Your Sleeve

This week the main reading was Martin Bruckner’s The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity. This book looks at America from 1680 to 1820 and argues that during this time the interaction between geography and literacy education were connected to the creation of an early national identity.  Bruckner looks at geography’s role within novels with themes of identity formation to show how geographical knowledge affected Americans’ ideas about who they were now that they were not English citizens. Bruckner also holds that geographical education affected the psychology of American expansionism, justifying imperialism abroad.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book was Chapter 3, titled “Maps, Spellers, and the Semiotics of Nationalism in the Early Republic.” This chapter shows how leaders in early American education promoted cartography, in particular, the logo of the national map, as an answer to the need for a new way to communicate ideas that would distinguish the early Republic from its former imperial identity. Politics, language, styles, and customs were all based off of English and European ideas. The recently independent former colonists needed a way to distinguish themselves and create a new identity.

When early Americans needed a new sense of self after the Revolution, they chose the map of the American continent to represent this new identity.  The map as logo united federalist ideas of “union” and “states” through images which created a visual narrative of independence that was easy to communicate to the public. Maps were able to combine visual memory and verbal literacy with the idea of the nation. Maps also became important in early American consumer culture – they were printed for popular sale, used as art, included in family portraits, and printed onto china wares.

 

Today maps are similarly used in material culture. This weekend I was visiting my sister in California. One of the days of the visit we went shopping and my sister, being a stationary junky, insisted we go into one of those high end paper retailers. While there I happened to notice that they were selling wrapping paper with various maps on them. There were wrapping papers featuring a map of Paris, a map of the continental US, a subway map of an anonymous city, and a map of the world.

 

This caught my attention because of my recent readings about early American material culture. Could it be that maps are just as popular today? I looked around the store more and found not only map themed wrapping paper, but also travel coffee mugs, picture frames, and postcards featuring various maps. A quick Google search also brought up map wallpaper, map shower curtains, and clothes featuring maps.

Maps in modern American culture represent some of the same trends outlined by Bruckner. Obviously the character of these maps have changed, but maps in both time periods represent maps as logo, maps as a part of material culture, and maps as art. Both also represent maps as status, but in different ways. Where maps included in family portraits showed wealth and status, maps used in merchandise today implies travel and the way of life associated with being well traveled. The mugs, t-shirts, and postcards of exotic places in map form imply that the person has been there. It also says that the person enjoyed their trip, and therefore shares some personality qualities with that location. Every place on earth has different narratives associated with it. Wearing a map of the New York City subway system on your t-shirt implies that you have some sort of intimate connection to New York City, a fast paced, trendy, and somewhat exotic city which holds a unique place in the collective mindset of our country. You would like the people around you to assume that you also share those qualities. These various national and international maps also show how the global has become local as more and more people are able to travel and purchase map-based merchandise from ever expanding locations.

I do not think that maps still represent the connections to the novel, literacy, and education the way Bruckner argues, but I think the continuation of map in consumer culture shows its continued importance in American culture.