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Cartographica Extraordinaire

The Historical Map Transformed


DAVID RUMSEY & EDITH M. PUNT
ESRI Press, $79.95 cloth, ISBN 1-58948-044-9;
380 New York St, Redlands, CA 92373-8100.
T
his beautiful large-format book cartographically traces the
discovery, exploration, and settlement of the continental
United States by Europeans, using a small fraction of the maps
from the David Rumsey collection in San Francisco. As visually
appealing and historically enlightening as it is, the books real
value lies in its introduction to the 150,000 items that comprise
Rumseys collection.
Rumsey began collecting maps in earnest in the mid-1980s,
focusing on North and South America between 1700 and 1900.
As digital technology came of age during the end of the 20th
century, Rumsey realized he could reconcile the conflicting
needs of preservation ... and access by scanning, compressing,
and making the collection available to anyone with Internet
access. The eponymous David Rumsey website turns on its
head the traditional map collection, which requires careful
storage in a library or museum vault, highly restrictive use poli-
cies, and the necessity of a historian traveling to the maps.
Internet access solves the problem of many hands taking hold
of rare and delicate objects democraticallyit makes the col-
lection available to perhaps three-quarters of a billion people
around the globe.
The book begins with the explorers maps, with Captain
James Cook, Jean-Franois de Galaup de la Prouse, and Cap-
tain George Vancouver. Text boxes accompany each map,
allowing the authors to note, for example, La Prouses use of
Mercator projection (Any straight line on a Mercator map is a
loxodrome, that is, a line of constant bearing, obviously an
advantage in navigation) and to contrast the English obses-
sion with taking and claiming land by mapping publicly its every
detailthey almost saw maps as deeds with the Spanish view
of maps as intellectual property to be hoarded, establishing
land ownership by controlling the knowledge of where places
were located.
Later chapters are devoted to exploration and maps of the
Louisiana Purchase, the great watersheds of the Mississippi and
Missouri Rivers, and to the formal surveying of the vast interior
by land surveyors armed with theodolites and compasses,
boundary markers and chains, monuments and maps. The
Land Ordinance of 1785 called for public lands to be sur-
veyed in reference to the geographic mile east and west along
baselines and north along true meridians. The authors cor-
rectly note the flat impossibility of the ordinance:
townships [could not] simultaneously follow true meridians
(which converge towards the poles) and have ninety degree angles
and measure an exact thirty-six square miles of area.
After a sampling of maps that show cartographers struggling
to accurately show the three-dimensional shape of the land,
and of maps that show the revolutionary effect of telegraphs,
railroads, and canals, the book concludes with maps from major
cities, including Quebec, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Los Angeles,
Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Some
cities have two or three maps on facing pages and allow the
reader to see the changes wrought by population pressure and
development. In Boston, for instance, a 1776 map shows the
Shawmut Peninsula almost entirely surrounded by water and
the Boston Common with one edge on the shore. In a second
map made almost a century later, the peninsula has been
widened and a portion of the Back Bay has been filled to create
the Public Garden; faintly drawn streets in the Back Bay sug-
gest the future course of infill and development. The final map,
from 1897, shows the profound influence of Frederick Law
Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture.
The entire Back Bay had been filled and Commonwealth
Avenue, a wide park-like thoroughfare, had been built through
the middle of it to connect the Boston Common and Public
Gardens to the Fens, Olmsteds masterful marriage of recre-
ation and water management.
Cartographica Extraordinaire is a great holiday gift for serious
map collectors or those merely interested in the exploration
and development of the United States. It is visually impressive,
substantively interesting, and beautifully printed on 80 pound
Italian paper to achieve extraordinary detail in the maps. But
dont stop with the book, which for all its finery has only 117
maps to look at. Point your browser to www.davidrumsey.com
and browse more than 10,000 of the most accessible, important
maps of the 18th and 19th centuries. Zoom in on the 1876 map
of St. Louis by Richard J. Compton and Camillie N. Dry. Click
down through several layers of resolution. Watch the map
redrawn in greater and greater detail. Soon, as if emerging from
the mists of time, youll begin to see the people and horses of the
19th century walking and trotting down the street. Its almost
as good as being there.
REVIEWER: Jay Kenney is an assistant editor at TBR.
Reprinted from The Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 24, #6. 2004, Jay Kenney. All rights reserved. May not be copied,
reproduced, or transmitted in any fashion without the written consent of Jay Kenney; info@bloomsburyreview.com.