by David Rumsey & Edith M. Punt
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
There is something magical about a map, and Cartographica Extraordinaire captures that magic in its 148 pages. Rather than an atlas, although it shares many features in common with such a compendium. The book's six chapters cover the historical period in which North America was settled by Europeans and shows the growth and changes in mapping that occurred during those years.
Beginning with maps from the eighteenth century, North America is clearly a region incompletely known. Furthermore, the maps showing physical features, even in areas which have been explored, are not necessarily accurate as the term would be used today. These early maps also use a variety of different symbols to indicate features of the land. They also include vast expanses of blank area to indicate land where the cartographers had no indication as to what lay in the terra incognita.
The maps in all periods are accompanied by text which provide background. There are copious captions which provide specific information about the maps presented and their source material. In addition, the authors provide details about the exploration and cartographic techniques used during the various periods.
Eventually, mapping the shape of the land progresses to attempting to define the shape of the land when ownership questions began to arise as the land was settled. Perhaps the most interesting series of maps occurs in this section as the editors provide a series of maps showing the state of Illinois (pp.54-7) divided into counties. In the earliest map, from 1820, shows the state with nineteen counties outlines, mostly in the southern portion of the state. The series of maps, which number ten, cover a period of 54 years and show the growth of population, the increase in counties (to 102), and more and more detailed knowledge of the land.
From the earliest days represented in the book, there is a progression of the uses for the maps. Exploration, land ownership, artistic representation of the land, navigation, all have their places in the pages of Cartographica Extraordinaire. Maps giving directions to specific places are included, featuring such pieces as a map showing the route from Philadelphia to Washington (p.87) which seems to be a forerunner of the triptychs provided by AAA.
The maps included in Cartographica Extraordinaire are very well produced. While most appear in only a few colors, the full color maps, such as the one of the New York and Erie Railroad (pp.92-3) are reproduced in vibrant colors. Even when color is lacking, the maps are presented with a plethora of detail and attention to the fine lines which present information to the reader.
Cartographica Extraordinaire is an excellent work for those who are not only interested in maps, but also interested in the expansion of the United States, whether by the pioneering efforts of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark or the expansion of rail and telegraph lines throughout the country. Not all the types of maps will be familiar to all readers, but some of the stranger maps are certainly interesting and worth the time to study.
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