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The basis for this presentation is an exhibition that was developed by the Leventhal Map and Education Center and displayed at the Boston Public Library from May 2019 until March 2020 (online version at https://collections.leventhalmap.org/exhibits/25). This exhibition, entitled, American Transformed: Mapping the 19th Century, uses a variety of maps and related graphic objects to tell the story of how America’s physical and cultural geography changed during the 19th century. From a traditional interpretation of U.S. history, this transformation was viewed as progress, but in this discussion, we will ask at what price?

Contemporary 19th century maps are an ideal graphic device for telling this multifaceted story. Most maps capture one moment in time. By examining a selection of maps that document different time periods, geographic change over time becomes apparent. However, these maps reflect the biases of their creators, most of which were published by agencies of the federal government or commercial companies catering to profit making motives. Consequently, they tend to emphasize and glorify the superiority of European white culture at the expense of Native Americans and other disenfranchised peoples. As the exhibition unravels these biases and explains the processes that affected change, the interpretation also includes the more unpleasant stories of dispossession and annihilation of Native populations and the exploitation and destruction of natural resources.

When the Euro-American settlers crossed the Appalachian Mountains at the end of the 18th century, they did not encounter a virgin landscape. Rather, it was a vast territory of tribal homelands claimed by a variety of indigenous peoples, upon which French and Spanish settlers had imposed a loose network of trails and scattered settlements. The settlement patterns that developed as the United States exerted its political control over this area exhibited a more intensive agricultural and mining exploitation of the existing vegetation, soils, and mineral resources. This cultural landscape featured a gridded settlement pattern of small farms and large plantations; an increasingly interconnected transportation network of roads, canals, and railroads; a multitude of factories that were polluting rivers and the atmosphere; and an intensifying hierarchy of urban settlements ranging from villages to towns to large cities. The landscape was being populated by an increasingly diverse population starting with immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland and Germany to which were added immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, Africans who were originally brought to the United States as enslaved laborers, and Asians hired to work in mining camps and on railroad construction. These immigrants superimposed themselves on an indigenous population that was pushed off original homelands and was rapidly being exterminated.

Speaker Biography:

Dr. Grim retired in May 2018 as Curator of Maps for the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library. He assumed this position in 2005 after working 33 years for the Federal government with the cartographic collections at the National Archives and the Library of Congress. When he retired from the Library of Congress, he was Specialist in Cartographic History, where he served as Curator of the Geography and Map Division’s rare map, atlas and globe collections and Executive Secretary of the Philip Lee Phillips Society, a friends and support group for the Division. He serves as Book Review Editor for Imago Mundi, the international journal for the history of cartography, and has been an active member of the Washington and Boston Map Societies. During the past year, he has served as the Washington Map Society’s Program Chair, organizing monthly Zoom meetings now co-sponsored by eight regional map societies. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in historical geography from the University of Maryland.