Formal Paper 2: Mapping the Details
November 9, 2017
Giving Maps Their Place in History
Many people can look at antiquated maps and candidly point out the simple fact that they are old, and map a specific moment in history. This is what should intrigue the viewer of the map. Maps are far more than outlined areas placed on a canvas, they can tell a story and give meaning to the time from which they are derived. These maps each have their own unique details that set them apart from other maps of that same time. These unique details shed light on the cultural and historical values of the maps, giving them context and importance.
Take the map titled “A Map of the Middle British Colonies in North America” for example. This map is a representation of the Middle British Colonies. The map is extremely detailed and there are many ornate intricacies that make the map unique. The detail that should most stick out to a viewer is the seemingly innumerable number of roads and travel routes that intertwine all throughout the area that is being mapped. There are so many different routes that it is almost impossible to sort through all of them, creating quite an intriguing appearance for the map. This attention to detail concerning the routes leads the viewer to believe that this map was created for travel and trade within the Middle Colonies. Just from this fine detail, the map can be given historical and cultural significance, as well as context.
Given that the British made this map of their colonies, we can tell that they are very concerned with this area, as it had great importance to them at the time of the creation of this map, in the year 1755. At this point, it is still many years before the American Revolution, so the British have a very strong hold on its American colonies, which makes sense given the detail of the map, they took a lot of time to complete the map, and they did not have to be preoccupied with quelling the civil unrest and uprising that would ensue throughout the American Revolution. Another interesting detail is that although the map was created in 1755, it says in a personal note from the cartographer to Thomas Pownall, that the map was revised in 1776, the exact year of the American Revolution. This is particularly interesting because one can only wonder why the British would choose this timing for their revision. It could merely be coincidental, however it’s possible that the British felt that their control over the American Colonies was slipping and wanted to clarify any loose ends in their colonies. Each of these details can be attributed to real life events that happened at the creation of the map, which shows that maps can “come to life” in a way, and are good for far more than just mapping and surveying a specific area, they can be placed to a specific time in history, giving them context, which in turn helps the viewer better understand the map itself.