Historian unleashes the power of cartography
In 2010, Susan Schulten, associate professor of history and the author of The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880–1950 (University of Chicago Press, 2001), received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which she used to complete another book, the forthcoming A Nation in Maps. The book is scheduled for publication in spring 2012.
While at work on her second book, Schulten was contacted by The New York Times to contribute to “Disunion,” a series examining the Civil War. (In honor of the war’s 150th anniversary, the series will run through April 2015.) Her first submission focused on Lincoln’s election victory in 1860. Subsequent installments examined a map of slavery favored by Lincoln and the birth of West Virginia after the start of the war.
Schulten is a sought-after resource because of her unusual way of viewing the world: cartographically. Her work demonstrates that maps help us form opinions about the world we live in.
“My current project examines the place of maps in American life, primarily in the 19th century,” Schulten said. “It was then that maps began to be used not just to represent the landscape or borders, but also to analyze information, such as disease, the weather and the census.”
Schulten enjoys the fact that her interest in maps is now shared by many others, thanks in part to such resources as GoogleMaps, MapQuest and GPS.
“The geospatial revolution generally has brought the meaning of maps squarely back into the public imagination,” she said. “I find it thrilling to think that the maps I am studying in the 19th century were in some way the antecedent to this revolution. To think about the map as a tool of analysis was an intellectual shift that made it possible to unleash the power of cartography.”