Fantastic Maps of American History

I think I need to start blogging more regularly about my finds in Boston area used bookstores.  Yesterday afternoon it was Atlas of American History, edited by James Truslow Adams and published by Scribners in 1943.  I paid five bucks for this book, which, following a beautifully simple plan, consists of 147 full page maps.  There are no paragraphs of text aside from the briefest notes where they can be fit into the maps themselves, and (a somewhat strange claim) there are no “nonexact pictorial interpretations”.  It works, though, and some of the maps are incredible.


I guess I’m always thinking about maps, but this book fits particularly well with some other things I’ve seen lately.  A little while ago the London Review of Books casually upended the world when they published a remark to the effect that the names of Tolkien’s hobbits were derived from American sources, in Appalachia to be specific.  The Boston Public Library is putting on an exhibit of maps of imaginary worlds.  They had Narnia, Middle Earth, and Westeros, but also Redwall; it was nothing revelatory, perhaps, but still cool to see them large and in one place.  Look at some of the place names on the map below.  What’s so fantastical, so outlandish, about fantasy?


Holy shit, look at this map!

Homann's Scandinavia of 1730

Homann’s Scandinavia of 1730

As soon as I saw today’s featured picture on Wikipedia, I knew I had to rave about it somewhere.  Wikipedia has no “like” buttons, probably for a good reason, but thanks to it and the beautiful institution of the Public Domain, I can copy it here.  Does the internet get any better than this?

I’ve seen my share of old maps, not only as popular backgrounds to everything, overblown to pixelation, but in the flesh, and way out of my price range, at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair.  This one is in a special class, though.  Without egregious distortions of the physical terrain, it presents an unfamiliar political division.  What is going on in Sweden?  Look at the tastefully subtle coloration.  Visit Wikimedia Commons here, and zoom in on the original.  Are all of these places real?  Didn’t I read about some of them in Egil’s Saga?  Are they all still there?  Look at the forests and mountain ranges.  At this level of detail, the stylization hardly seems to matter.  Written three hundred years ago in Latin, French, and German, it is still utterly intelligible.

Perhaps you understand why I find geography so fascinating, why I cover my walls in maps and learn them by heart?