David Patrick McKenzie

Digital Public Historian

Category: Hist 615 – History and Cartography – Fall 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Cartography: (Hopefully) Final Map Draft

Well, my friends, this is the end of our journey into the unknown world of maps, with only maps to guide us. Oh wait. Seriously, though, it’s been a great journey.

And with reaching the end, we are near the end of our final projects. I’ve done another run-through of mine. I took Sheri’s feedback from last week and kept the “old-style” look to the maps. I also went back through the text, and hopefully brought out the “so-what” a bit more.

So, here it is. Any feedback before tomorrow night, to give me time to make changes and print before class Thursday, would be most appreciated. Thanks!

Cartography: Atlas Pages, Draft 2

Since I have an advisory board meeting for the project I’m doing at work this week, I won’t be in class on Thursday night. However, nonetheless I’m submitting a second draft for the hivemind to critique.

Actually, I’m submitting two second drafts. For reference, here’s the assignment. They are identical, except that I changed the map colors for each. In one version, I use the default Ortelius template colors, as I did in my first draft. In the other version, I’ve taken some colors from my pictures to try (perhaps unsuccessfully) to replicate a 19th-century map feel. What do you think? Does that color scheme work, should I modify it (perhaps by lightening the colors), or should I stick with the default?

Otherwise, I made changes based on last week’s helpful comments. I spread the title across the first page. I added my sources–in this case, on the first page, because of spacing. I tried to make more of a case for why these journeys mattered–I’d especially appreciate feedback there. I played with the design a bit more–for example, expanding my DC map. I also played with the tonality of images, particularly the lithograph of Montreal.

Since I have two minor field exams between December 2 and 16, I’m hoping to get this project mostly wrapped up a bit earlier. So please comment!

Cartography: Final Project Draft

And thus the ride nears its end…

For my final atlas pages project, I decided to produce maps that I might well use in my dissertation: the journeys of three Mexicans through the United States in the 1830s. The three individuals were high officials:

  • Lorenzo de Zavala: Former governor of Mexico State and an author of Mexico’s progressive 1824 Constitution, Zavala fled after President Vicente Guerrero was overthrown in 1829. He traveled through the United States, later writing an influential memoir.
  • José María Tornel: Appointed minister to the United States in 1829, Tornel suffered an odd fate: After Guerrero’s overthrow, the new president, Anastasio Bustamante, tried to force Tornel to resign by cutting off his salary. Tornel refused to do so, living in Baltimore for a year. Tornel later published a memoir of his time in the United States.
  • Antonio López de Santa Anna: President of Mexico, Santa Anna had taken a leave of absence to suppress a rebellion in the northern region of Texas. After capturing the general, Texas rebels sent him on a diplomatic mission to the United States.

You can learn more by checking out the atlas pages here (in low resolution due to upload file size constraints). As can be seen, it is a work in progress. I need to polish up the writing, add my sources, and run down a couple of image permissions. Also, I need to work more closely on my base map–specifically merging northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan into Michigan Territory. That’s the first priority for the final project! Any feedback my classmates (or anyone else) can provide would be most appreciated!

For me, plotting out the journeys on the map–especially seeing points of commonality–was extremely helpful. In my eventual dissertation, I plan to look at these three visitors and their recollections of the United States, and also how U.S.-Americans perceived them. This exercise gave me good places to look as I assemble my sources.

I had already researched Santa Anna’s journey, but I had not done much work with Zavala’s or Tornel’s. This gave me the chance to look more closely at a published work about Tornel and at Zavala’s memoir.

I’ll look forward to hearing what others have to say in class tomorrow night… Oh wait, it’s past midnight, so tonight… Guess I should get to bed…

Cartography: Neighborhood Reconstruction

When I was leading tours at my previous job at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I tried–through description and photographs–to give visitors a sense of what the late 19th-century neighborhood (today Judiciary Square and Chinatown) surrounding the original Adas Israel synagogue looked like. It was a neighborhood of low-rise rowhouses with some stores and small office buildings, compared with the large office buildings that predominate today–not to mention the Verizon Center.

So although I recently switched jobs, the first thing that came to mind for the neighborhood reconstruction project was a slice of this particular neighborhood. I used a 9-block area of an 1888 Sanborn map from the Library of Congress. I chose these particular 9 blocks (E to H Streets, Fifth to Eighth Streets, NW) because they contained the original Adas Israel (at Sixth and G, NW), plus the commercial Seventh Street and two large federal buildings–the Patent Office (today the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery) and the Post Office (today the Hotel Monaco). This does not cover the entire area of the walking tour–but dealing with these 9 blocks was more than enough…

I faced a lot of options with this map. I could choose to represent a realistic idea of what the buildings looked like, cladding them in brick (since many were brick by 1888) and adding windows, etc. Between what I was choosing to show and, admittedly, time, I instead chose two variables to represent: building use and height. The map would give a sense of what was in the neighborhood–the commercial corridor, largely residential areas, some federal buildings, and stores interspersed here and there. It also would present the sense of a low-rise neighborhood–even if the rowhouses and stores are mere representations, they show the proportions.

The Sanborn map, thankfully, had some indication of building use. It labeled stores with an S, and indicated offices, federal buildings, livery stables, and even the National Roller Rink (who knew?!). The buildings it didn’t label I assumed were residential, but I’m not completely sure.

So my first step was tracing the buildings and assigning a color scheme. I found a document (PDF) that indicated traditional mapping colors for indicating land use. I adapted those to building use and ended up with this scheme:

  • Dark red: Commercial
  • Light red: Office
  • Green: Government
  • Light green: Recreation
  • Dark blue: Religious
  • Light blue: Livery (not a building use so prevalent in downtown Washington today…)
  • Yellow: Individual and boarding houses
  • Brown: Buildings listed as tenements

I then proceeded to outline each building and assign it a color–a more tedious process than I initially imagined. I also outlined parts of buildings because the map indicated that they had different heights–for example, the back of the building was often lower than the front portion. Here’s what it looked like from an overhead view:

Overhead view of the nine blocks, showing building uses.

Overhead view of the nine blocks, showing building uses.

Once I had done that–a process that took hours–I proceeded to add elevation to each building. This proved more difficult than I expected. For many buildings the maps only indicated number of floors, so I arbitrarily chose nine feet as the height of each floor. I also learned that SketchUp limits the drawing of building height to the height of the next building until you stretch it again.

So, here is the end result:

View from the corner of Fifth and F Streets, NW, home today to the National Academies.

View from the corner of Fifth and F Streets, NW, home today to the National Academies.

This map makes some things apparent. Indeed, one can see the concentrations of residential areas (yellow) and commercial (dark red) with some offices (light red) and religious buildings (blue). One can also see the lower building heights in the residential areas. Finally, one can also see the alley dwellings that were typical of Washington in this period (and well into the 20th century). So, I hope it accomplished my goal of giving some sense of the late 19th century neighborhood. As others have noted, it helped me to look more closely at the map and really get a strong sense of each building and how they fit together. I was happy to finally learn SketchUp. I’d like to do more with this map in the future–perhaps plot out more of the neighborhood, or give a gift to my former employer in the form of a walkthrough of the walking tour route. But that will be a project for when I have more spare time…

In the meanwhile, here are some more scenes:

Looking down Seventh Street, NW, a more commercial street.

Looking down Seventh Street, NW, a more commercial street.

Looking down Sixth Street, NW--a more residential street.

Looking down Sixth Street, NW–a more residential street.

The former Adas Israel synagogue at its original location.

The former Adas Israel synagogue at its original location.

For comparison, the real life view depicted above, circa 1905. From the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

And, finally, for your viewing (dis)pleasure, an animated flythrough and walkthrough of the map:

Cartography: Uncertainty and Mapping in the Digital and Analog

This week’s readings focused on the uses of GIS for the humanities. For this post I’d like to focus on what both Nate and Kirk also picked up on, and a point we discussed this summer in the new media minor field readings Nate and I took: visualizing uncertainty.

As the authors of the concluding essay of Spatial Humanities note, GIS and other data-driven technologies demand a degree of precision and certainty. They argue that this is different from the medium–text–in which we are most used to working. This medium allows us to display the uncertainty and imprecision that we get from our sources–the uncertainty and imprecision inherent in the humanistic venture. I’d take that argument a step further though–it’s not just text but much analog media that allows for us to show uncertainty or at least allows for imprecision.

I’ll take the example to which I frequently return: the different maps that I’ve created of the journey of Antonio López de Santa Anna to Washington in 1837. When I did my first map, for my website in Dr. Petrik’s Clio 2, I was able to mask that I didn’t have, for example, all of the exact routes that my travelers took or places they stayed. It was enough that I could show the general route on a 700 pixel-wide, non-zoomable, non-GIS map. The map was just trying to show the bigger picture.

But when I put this map into Google Maps this summer, that wasn’t the case. Rather, I found the map taking an incredible amount of time because it required extra research–due to the sophistication of detail the mapping application required (not even the most sophisticated GIS!). It wasn’t enough to just say that my travelers spent a week in Lexington, Kentucky, in late December 1836. One could zoom into the map and just see a marker in the center of Lexington. So, since a previous scholar had found their hotel in Lexington, I was able to locate it–and place the pin there. Thus, I added to the interpretive experience for my end-user.

But this was not the case with all of the stops. For those, I had to infer. For example, the travelers went through Frankfort, Kentucky, and according to one source visited the Kentucky state legislature. Since I didn’t have a hotel where they stayed, I just placed my pin at the site of the present-day Kentucky state capitol. Looking back, I should have colored that pin differently, to show the uncertainty inherent in my data.

This semester I plan to do a print map of that journey–one of three that I will chronicle together in my atlas piece. Again, I won’t have to worry about the precision that the medium of Google Maps or a more sophisticated GIS program requires. For all of my travelers, I can show only so much on a non-zoomable map that takes up part of an 11″x13″ page. I am plotting their locations in some cities, and showing those in separate maps–but this still won’t be as sophisticated as the map I created this summer.

But for my purposes, this may be better. I’m mainly trying to demonstrate with these maps the routes these travelers took and the places they visited–places where I will be looking for archival information about their visits as I write my dissertation. But in presenting the broad sweep of their journeys, neither my reader nor I can, or need be, distracted by the level of detail that I included in the Google Map–where they stayed in Lexington is not so essential to the broader story I am trying to tell. So in this case, the lack of detail the analog medium provides actually will help keep the story focused.

Addendum: This week I commented on Nate’s blog post.

Addendum #2: To make all of us feel inferior in our own reconstructions, check out this reconstruction of London before the Great Fire of 1666. H/T to Lynn Price for tweeting a link to it.

Cartography: Maps of My Perception

This week’s readings focused on maps that either creatively represent real life or that exist in fiction. You Are Here, edited by Katherine Harmon, shows excellent maps of imagination, imaginary places, and people’s personal perceptions of the world.

It’s that last type of map on which I’d like to focus: the maps we make in our heads. We all do so; our mental maps tend to be based on our own personal experiences. After seeing the maps Rosendo Flores made for a previous version of this class (maps that resonated with me since I, like Rosendo, moved from San Antonio to Washington for graduate school), I’ve been thinking about how I perceive space in different places–particularly how my mode of transport determines how I see space.

Like Rosendo, in San Antonio I tended to drive everywhere (even though, after I returned from Peace Corps, I frequently took a commuter bus to my job at the Alamo; my dislike of driving was evident even then). Following a point countless others have made, the car obliterated distance.

But when I went to college in Pittsburgh, I didn’t have a car to bring–nor did I want a car. Instead, I relied on walking and on Pittsburgh’s bus system–at that time, at least, free to Pitt students who showed ID. Although I rationally knew that the City of Pittsburgh itself is much smaller than San Antonio, it didn’t feel that way to me, particularly when I went to visit my relatives. Although they lived only a few miles away from me, it took me 45 minutes to an hour, and two buses, to get there. Thus, the city seemed about as large as did San Antonio, where I could get the 15 miles from my parents’ house to downtown in the same amount of time.

In the Washington area, even when I drive, things seem further away than they did in San Antonio. Commuting from my apartment in Arlington to GMU campus, for example, involves less distance than did my commute from my parents’ house to downtown San Antonio. Yet, GMU may as well be the end of the earth.

So then the question arises: How do I represent my mental maps of these three cities graphically? Since this is for a blog post rather than a full project, I took screenshots from Google Maps to experiment. Laying out the journeys in actual space looks like this:

From left: San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia. Although the maps' scale is slightly different, nonetheless this makes clear that the distance traveled in Pittsburgh is significantly smaller.

From left: San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia. Although the maps’ scale is slightly different, nonetheless this makes clear that the distance traveled in Pittsburgh is significantly smaller.

But here’s how I perceived those distances, due to means of transportation and traffic:

From left: San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia. Not only do I show different scales, but notice that I made the maps different sizes to reflect my perceptions of space with each.

From left: San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia. Not only do I show different scales, but notice that I made the maps different sizes to reflect my perceptions of space with each.

Thus, the maps of my perception are significantly different. As we’ve been reading this semester, the maps people see, and the maps they make in their heads, shape how they perceive the world. How do we as historians capture those perceptions when people didn’t write them, much less draw them? Can we know? Or are many of those individual perceptions, those individual personal maps, lost to history?

Addendum: This week I commented on Nate’s blog post.

Cartography: Maps Predicting–or Pushing–“Conquest”

In previous weeks, we’ve read about maps helping to legitimate conquest of what they depict as blank space, of “terra nullius.” While all of this week’s readings have fascinating things to say, I found James R. Akerman’s “Twentieth-Century American Road Maps and the Making of a National Motorized Space” most fascinating, as it reminded me of that broader theme. In his fascinating chapter on the evolution of road maps, he puts forth the notion that laying out a road on a map–particularly a paved, improved road–would help make it a reality. For example, on page 176, Akerman says:

Association highway promotional maps thus served the dual purpose of attracting or routing early motorists through specific corridors, thereby creating both short-term income for local interests and long-term justification for the construction of regional and interstate highways, specifically along routes designated by the associations. To build and sustain momentum for these efforts, the maps had subtly to persuade potential tourists that the primary goal-a continuous improved motorway-had already been achieved.

There is something to this argument. When a map shows something under construction, planned–as with the case of Metro’s Silver Line–or, even more so, already there even if it isn’t, that something has an air of inevitability. As Akerman shows, road maps helped lay the groundwork–pun not intended–for people in the United States to imagine a national road network, to make the idea of traveling long distances, even coast to coast, by auto more imaginable. This is similar to earlier maps that Bruckner, among others, point out as showing the inevitability of conquest of “blank” spaces or spaces already depicted inside U.S. borders.

In the case that Akerman describes, maps helped automobiles conquer the North American landscape, for better or worse. Showing fully improved roads where there were none helped create the demand to improve those roads. Circular logic, perhaps, but effective.

Addendum: This week I commented on Kenna’s blog.

Cartography: Creating Worlds with Maps

This week’s readings focused on the ways that maps, consciously or unconsciously, create worlds–whether a view of the outside world for individuals with little mobility, as Penny L. Richards discusses; a fantasy world, as Diane Dillon discusses with regard to the Columbian Exposition of 1893; or the world of past time, as Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton discuss in their history of the timeline. While all three readings provide fertile ground for exploration, I’m going to focus in this post on the article by Richards.

Richards’s article focuses on two women, Ellen Mordecai and Priscilla Bailey, in 19th-century North Carolina. Both women found themselves, like many women of their era, separated from family members and friends in an increasingly mobile society, and turned to maps as solace for that separation from familiar people and surroundings. (As a side note, I found the timing of reading this article ironic; Mordecai’s brother, Alfred, frequently comes up in tours and talks I give for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, where I end my employment Monday.) Richards uses Mordecai’s well-documented relationship with maps, something about which she wrote frequently, to then discuss Bailey’s more speculatively.

This reading complemented Bruckner’s discussion (last week’s reading) about geographic education forming an important part of women’s education in the early 19th century. I found this reading to be an interesting addition to that–not only did geographic education result in a heightened sense of nationalism, as Bruckner argues, but (probably inadvertently) helped to connect women, often without the same geographic mobility as men, to the world beyond their homes. Thus this article helps to bolster Bruckner’s argument by, indeed, showing the connection to the broader nation through maps; Mordecai sees herself as part of the larger collective, a nation beyond her individual experience, through her love of maps and tracing the travels of her brothers. As Richards acknowledged, the unfortunate part is that we don’t have Mordecai’s maps anymore, so we can’t be sure which she was using. Nonetheless, Richards’s readings of Mordecai’s writings show the impact maps had on her life. As Bruckner noted, many women of that era made needlework maps and learned cartography in school. As Richards noted, it would be useful to look into the reception and use of that geographic education by other women of the era. Were their maps laden with personal symbolism, as were Mordecai’s? What sorts of personal symbols did they include in their own mental maps?

Addendum: I commented on Sheri’s blog.

Cartography: Neat Map Annotation

From The Appendix journal, using modern technology to illuminate a 16-century indigenous map from Mexico.

Cartography: Geographic Education in Service of Expansion

In The Geographic Revolution in Early America, Martin Bruckner looks at the meanings that maps and geographic knowledge took, from surveys of the land in the 1690s to school textbooks promoting and naturalizing U.S. national expansion in the 1820s. While this book has tons of aspects about which I could comment, I’d like to focus on Bruckner’s related discussions of a continental, “American” vision during the U.S.-American Revolution (chapter 2) and visions of continental empire (chapter 7).

What is America?

As friends can tell you, I bristle at use of the term “American” to refer to the United States. So, I was particularly intrigued by Bruckner’s discussion of British colonials’ uses of the term American, and their visions of themselves as inhabitants of an American continent, in chapter 2. What Bruckner doesn’t answer, and what I’d like to know, is just how expansive was this idea of America and American-ness? He offers some hints that seem to indicate an exclusion of Spanish America from their vision of a continent (and future empire?) in the 1760s and 1770s. Did this sense of unity as Americans only mean British America, or Spanish America as well? I’m guessing the former, but am curious. To what extent was some notion of Pan-Americanism influential in this era, as Caitlin Fitz is showing it was through U.S.-American support of Latin American revolutions the early 19th century? Did the revolutionary-era vision of America include either unity with or conquest of Spanish areas, or simply the non-Spanish parts of the North American continent? Bruckner doesn’t expound on this as much, showing attention focused west but not discussing attention focused south.

Visions of a Continental Empire

I also found chapter 7, about 1810s and 1820s geographic textbooks that presupposed national expansion, fascinating. I found his argument, grounded in the books themselves, interesting. But I am curious about the effect of those books. Was the United States’s subsequent continental expansion, and its accompanying rhetoric (Manifest Destiny and all that) a direct result? Bruckner suggests such–after all, the generation that revolted in Texas, elected a dark horse candidate who promised 54 40 or fight, and stormed to the Halls of the Montezumas was raised on these textbooks. But Bruckner, situated in the cultural turn in history (and an English professor, for that matter), falls into the trap that some cultural histories do: not then answering the question of direct effect. I’d like to see more direct evidence than simply that these textbooks existed and the next generation engaged in expansionism. Does such evidence exist? Perhaps a good follow-on to Bruckner’s study would be someone answering that question. For example, did writers and political leaders who later supported expansionism use these textbooks? Did they ever write of their influence? Or is it enough that these textbooks were part of a broader culture that supported expansionism?

Addendum: I commented on Michael’s blog post.

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