Interactive maps shed new light on American history Screenshot from "American Panorama" showing the origins of foreign-born Americans living in Washington, D.C. in 2000. (Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond)
Interactive maps shed new light on American history
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Maps are more than geographic sketches of place. They contain stories. A wealth of digital tools is available to mapmakers today. It means that these stories have now evolved to take viewers into the past. The maps show changes over time. They serve as detailed sources of information. 

The University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab is striving to push geographic storytelling even further. It has created a new set of maps from its "American Panorama" project.
 
The lab teamed up with cartography firm Stamen Design. They created an atlas. It spans the shaping of America, writes Laura Bliss for City Lab. They have four maps available to explore now. Those are, "The Forced Migration of Enslaved People in the United States, 1810-1860," "The Overland Trails, 1840-1860," "Foreign-Born Population: A Nation of Overlapping Diasporas, 1850-2010" and "Canals, 1820-1860."
 
The project was inspired by Charles Paullin's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. It was originally published in 1932. That atlas uses almost 700 maps to cover many aspects that shaped the political, social, geological and economic boundaries of the country. 

Paullin's editor was John K. Wright.  He commented at the time that "[t]he ideal historical atlas might well be a collection of motion-picture maps," reports Jennifer Schuessler for The New York Times. The Richmond lab brought Wright's desire to life. The lab digitized Paullin's atlas in 2013. With "American Panorama," the lab works to boost the spirit of the project further.
 
Panorama is a completely digital atlas. It is not just one adapted to the form. "We don't want it to be faithfully following the look of a historical atlas," Jon Christensen tells City Lab. He is a historian at the University of California, Los Angeles and partner with Stamen. "We want these to look like maps made in the 21st century."
 

They do. As Bliss notes, the maps are dense, "like entire textbook chapters turned interactive tools."
 
In the diaspora map, viewers can click on individual counties in each state. Viewers can trace the people living there in each decade back to their country of birth. That is often Ireland or Germany in the 1860s, Mexico in the 1990s and China for the West Coast in the 2000s. Historical notes explain the reasons for some of the shifting patterns. For example, there was the Immigration Act of 1965.  It allowed many more people from countries outside of Western Europe to come to the United States.
 
The Overland Trails map tracks how many people journeyed through parts of the United States each year. It also offers background to explain the reason for the spikes and declines in travel. It links to travelers' diary entries. These passages often record details on the weather people endured. And the company they kept on the road.
 
The map of forced migration tells the most powerful story through data and narration. While one tab alongside the map shows the number of enslaved people in each state by year, the other tab gives life to those statistics. The information comes through accounts by those forced into slavery.
 
The goal for the project is to help scholars in making new historical findings.  At the same time, it makes the maps accessible for the general public, Bliss writes for City Lab. In the coming months, the team plans to add maps on redlining discrimination during the Great Depression, presidential voting and urban renewal in postwar America, among others.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can a map show more than political boundaries?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (45)
  • taylorp-1-bar
    1/15/2016 - 08:13 p.m.

    Maps can show more than political boundaries because it also shows geographical features. On paragraph 3, one of the listed maps was, " 'Canals 1820-1860'." This shows that maps show geographical features, and not just political boundaries, because canals are geographical boundaries and the fact that there is a map based in canals shows that maps can show geographical features, too.

  • linah-cam
    1/19/2016 - 07:49 a.m.

    Map apps has been developed to take users to the past.
    they contain stories nowadays.

  • katelynfoly2016-
    1/19/2016 - 09:42 a.m.

    The University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab has created a new set of maps from its "American Panorama" project. The project was inspired by Charles Paullin's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. It was originally published in 1932. The lab teamed up with cartography firm Stamen Design. They made an atlas that basically spans the shaping of America. They called it Panorama. on the map viewers can click on individual counties in each state and can trace the people living there in each decade back to their country of birth.

    CTQ- they are interactive which lets you explore more tha just the outer layer.

  • colbyboly2016-
    1/19/2016 - 09:43 a.m.

    When you think of a map you may just think of a piece of paper that helps you get places but in reality it is so much more. The University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab is striving to push geographic storytelling even further. It has created a new set of maps from its American Panorama project. They are beginning to make more advanced interactive maps that can tell you a lot more about a specific place than a regular map.

    CTQ -These maps can show more than political boundaries because they are interactive which allows you to explore more than just the outer layer. Also, they are making more specific maps which are created to give you different information than normal maps.

  • delaneyboly2016-
    1/19/2016 - 09:43 a.m.

    A group of people believe that maps show mare than where a lake ends or a country starts. They believe that maps can show where people are from why they traveled here and their goal. They have now created maps to show the history of the people. The maps are very dense and they tell a lot about immigration. They have started making the maps already and they are beginning to be really helpful. This is good to know about so when we see a map we don't always assume it's to tell us where the states are. In these new maps you can find out things like discrimination and immigration.



    CTQ A map is able to show us more than just boundaries because it could use lines and arrows to show movement between people or how people got treated.

  • lexiholy2016-
    1/19/2016 - 10:27 a.m.

    This story is about how the map has "evolved" over the years and today is the day that the map now shows different paths and travel patterns.

    CTQ
    They can show more than political boundaries by adding more to the map and doing a deeper dig into history.

  • chriseoly2016-
    1/19/2016 - 10:37 a.m.

    This article is about a great map that has tons of information complied onto it. It can show immigration patterns, discrimination, and many more.
    CTQ: You can make a lot of different types of maps, and when this one was actually not made, it was more of a compilation.

  • savanahboly2016-
    1/19/2016 - 12:25 p.m.

    This article is about interactive maps. These maps show the landscape (like original maps) ,but also allow people to read stories of the past. The maps were formed by students at the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab. The students had to look at about 700 maps (political, social, geological and economic maps) to make the digital maps come to life.

    Different maps have different types of information on them. Most maps are made to show the environment of an area, but there are also maps that specialize in things other that the environment. The maps made by the students at the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab combined all the different types of maps (political, social, geological and economic maps) to make a new and improved map that screams the 21st century.

  • claires-ver
    1/19/2016 - 12:46 p.m.

    These maps are new tools to understanding the true experience in history by seeing the geography and adapting to how it would have been.

  • jakevoly2016-
    1/19/2016 - 02:21 p.m.

    That there were maps made back in the 1800s.

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