The cartography of hopes and dreams: the nineteenth-century bird's eye maps of the midwest and prairie states

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Roberta Williams (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Jeffrey Patton

Abstract: Over 5,000 bird's eye views of nineteenth-century North American cities and towns completed between 1820 and 1920. These maps provide an important documentation of the American landscape but have long been overlooked by the cartographic community. Adapting technique from landscape painting, military mapping and cadastral surveying, the bird's eye map makers created one of the most popular mapping formats of the nineteenth-century.This study focuses on the bird's eye maps of the Midwest and prairie states between 1865 and 1918, which was a tremendous period of change for the entire country. The end of the Civil War changed how the world saw The United States, and how we saw ourselves. Much of this introspection was undoubtedly the result of the influx of thousands of immigrants into the Midwest and prairies and the promise of the American Dream. This work looks at the cartographic components of 483 maps of the Midwestern Territories and the major artists who developed a profitable niche market within the larger commercial map trade that flourished during the nineteenth-century. They constructed maps rich in the iconography of patriotism and civic pride that were unparalleled in their ability to communicate sense of place. As these maps were carefully constructed graphic displays of local and regional characteristics, it was possible to "deconstruct" the maps into symbols, iconography and text that could be quantitatively studied though a modified version of context analysis. The application of context analysis to the bird's eye maps proved to be a very useful method of measuring the occurrence of cartographic elements of the map as well as documenting the changes in the maps over time that would eventually transforms the message of the map. Underwritten by railroads, real estate developers, local governments and proud local citizens, these incredibly detailed maps matched the desire of a nation in pursuit of its Manifest Destiny. These portraits of democratic idealism enticed thousands of settlers to the Western Territories. Today they are a seldom tapped repository of spatial and cultural information.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Bird's Eye Maps, Bird's Eye Views, Content Analysis, Nineteenth-century cartography, 19th century cartography, Panoramic Maps
Cartography $z United States $y 19th century $x History.
Content analysis (Communication) $x Maps.
United States $x Territorial expansion $x History $y 19th century.

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