Cartographic Innovation in the Early Republic
By Susan Schulten
In this talk, Susan Schulten will explore how the early nineteenth century represents a new era of visual thinking. In the United States, the experimental use of maps and graphic representation was in part a way to search for order in a highly unstable moment marked by economic and diplomatic crises, the rapid addition of western territories and states, the recurrence of epidemics, and the ongoing determination to achieve cultural as well as political independence from Europe. Through innovative maps and charts of the mail, internal improvements, climate, and vegetation, several individuals sought to uncover patterns in the human and natural world. These efforts may seem unrelated, but in each case the goal was to use graphic techniques to make sense of complex systems: the geography of vegetation and its relationship to the environment; patterns and dynamics of climate; networks of transportation and communication; the arc of national history and identity. This involved the use of traditional cartographic techniques, but also the attempt to redefine the map in order to capture multiple dimensions of analysis. In a moment that evokes our own, these individuals used visual tools to navigate an increasingly complex, interdependent, and data-driven world.
Susan Schulten is professor and chair of the History Department at the University of Denver, where she has taught since 1996. She is the author of The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880-1950 (2001) and Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (2012), both with the University of Chicago Press. In 2010, she was named a Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2013 Mapping the Nation was awarded the Norris and Carol Hundley Prize for historical scholarship. Schulten also contributes regularly to the New York Times' "Disunion" series, which commemorates the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. You can read more about her work at www.mappingthenation.com.