2 December 2006 – Maps have been used to aid to exploration, for documenting land’s potential as property, even to plan a battle. For those reasons and more, the “Historical Atlas of the United States, With Original Maps,” by Derek Hayes UC Press, $39.95 is a must-have reference book.
An oversized book that begs to be browsed alongside history books, this atlas impresses for its completeness — 1492 to 9/11 — but impresses even more for what it says about our changing knowledge of the world.
For example, we learn from an English map made in 1625 that California was once thought to be an island. Another early map in the atlas stops at the Pacific Northwest, which was as yet unexplored. And readers will be tickled by the maps of the original states that — because no one knew how wide the country was — are extended Westward indefinitely.
The earliest maps of America were drawn on animal hide. One to be found here shows the distribution of tribes in the Great Lakes area. Another — the earliest map of the North American continent — was made in 1500 by the Spaniard Juan de la Cosa on animal skin.
The variety of maps is extraordinary: a map of the Civil War, a map showing plans for Fort Niagara; a map of Indian trails; a map from 1775 showing British and American troops at Concord; a declassified map of Cuba from the Bay of Pigs era; a “disposition of warships” maps from Dec. 7, 1941; plus maps used in advertising, road maps, hurricane maps, moon maps and Internet server maps.
Hayes tells us that the most important map in the collection is arguably the 1775 map showing the northern boundaries of the country after the Treaty of Paris talks. Given to King George III, the map was written on by the king.