On Tuesday, I was invited to speak in a colleague’s class about mapping and the American West. I tried to avoid just showing the students a bunch of maps of Western space, but instead talked about how ideas about the West were constructed, how they changed over time, and how the Turnerian idea that the emptyness and violence of the West “made” American identity should be confounded by evidence that native peoples and other Euro-Americans had quite a good sense of Western space, even before Lewis and Clark went out to map it. These shouldn’t be revelations to historians, but I’d like to think that I persuaded these students that understanding ideas about space is essential to understanding the West more broadly, and that cartography is a way into how people imagined space.
I thought I’d share the Prezi I made for my talk – most of the images are from the David Rumsey Map Collection, though I was particularly inspired by Bethany Nowviskie’s recent article to include some of the penmanship maps produced by Frances Alshop Henshaw.
At any rate, here is the Prezi: