Meet Emma Willard, the First Female Map Maker in the U.S., and Her Brilliantly Inventive Maps (Circa 1826)

Americans have never like the word “empire,” having seceded from the British Empire to ostensibly found a free nation. The founders blamed slavery on the British, naming the king as the responsible party. Three of the most distinguished Virginia slaveholders denounced the practice as a “hideous blot,” “repugnant,” and “evil.” But they made no effort to end it. Likewise, according to the Declaration of Independence, the British were responsible for exciting “domestic insurrections among us,” and endeavouring “to  bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”

These denunciations aside, the new country nonetheless began a course identical to every other European world power, waging perpetual warfare, seizing territory and vastly expanding its control over more and more land and resources in the decades after Independence.




U.S. imperial power was asserted not only by force of arms and coin but also through an ideological view that made its appearance and growth an act of both divine and secular providence. We see this view reflected especially in the making of maps and early historical infographics.

In 1851, three years after war with Mexico had halved that country and expanded U.S. territory into what would become several new states, Emma Willard, the nation’s first female mapmaker, created the “Chronographer of Ancient History” above, a visual representation to “teach students about the shape of historical time,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate. The Chronographer is a “more specialized offshoot of Willard’s master Temple of Time, which tackled all of history”—or all six thousand years of it, anyway, since “Creation BC 4004.”

Willard made several such maps, illustrating an idea popular among 18th and 19th century historians, and illustrated in many similar ways by other artists: casting history as a succession of great empires, one taking over for another. Viewers of the map stand outside the temple’s stable framing, assured they are the inheritors of its historical largesse. Other visual metaphors told this story, too. Willard, as Ted Widmer points out at The Paris ReviewWillard was an “inventive visual thinker,” if also a very conventional historical one.

In an earlier map, from 1836, Willard visualized time as a series of branching imperial streams, flowing downward from “Creation.” Curiously, she situates American Independence on the periphery, ending with the “Empire of Napoleon” at the center. The U.S. was both something new in the world and, in other maps of hers, the fruition of a seed planted centuries earlier. Willard’s mapmaking began as an effort to supplement her materials as “a pioneering educator,” founder of the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, and a “versatile writer, publisher and yes, mapmaker,” who “used every tool available to teach young readers (and especially young women) how to see history in creative new ways.”

In another "chronographer" textbook illustration, she shows the “History of the U. States or Republic of America” as a tree which had been growing since 1492, though no such place as the United States existed for most of this history. Maps, writes Sarah Laskow at Atlas Obscura, “have the power to shape history” as well as to record it. Willard’s maps told grand, universal stories—imperial stories—about how the U.S. came to be. In 1828, when she was 41, “only slightly older than the United States of America itself," Willard published a series of maps in her History of the United States, or Republic of America.

This was “the first book of its kind—the first atlas to present the evolution of America.” Willard’s maps show the movement of Indigenous nations in plates like “Locations and Wanderings of The Aboriginal Tribes… The Direction of their Wanderings,” below—these were part of “a story about the triumph of Anglo settlers in this part of the world. She helped solidify, for both her peers and her students, a narrative of American destiny and inevitability, writes University of Denver historian Susan Schulten. Willard was “an exuberant nationalist,” who generally “accepted the removal of these tribes to the west as inevitable.”

Willard was a pioneer in many respects, including, perhaps, in her adoptation of European neoclassical ideas about history and time in the justification of a new American empire. Her snapshots of time collapse “centuries into a single image,” Schulten explains, as a way of mapping time “in a different way as a prelude to what comes to next.” See many more of Willard’s maps from The History of the United States, or Republic of America, the first historical atlas of the United States, at Boston Rare Maps.

via The Paris Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Rescue a Wet, Damaged Book: A Handy Visual Primer

How to save those wet, damaged books? The question has to be asked. Above, you can watch a visual primer from the Syracuse University Libraries--people who know something about taking care of books. It contains a series of tips--some intuitive, some less so--that will give you a clear action plan the next time water and paper meet.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Two Animated Maps Show the Expansion of the U.S. from the Different Perspectives of Settlers & Native Peoples

After John Ford, the history of U.S. expansion went by the name “How the West Was Won.” Decades earlier, in his essay “Annexation,” Jacksonian journalist John O’Sullivan famously coined the phrase “manifest destiny.” Historian Richard Slotkin called it “regeneration through violence” and novelist Cormac McCarthy summed up the jagged, ever-moving line of westward expansion from sea to sea with two words: Blood Meridian.

Indigenous versions of the story do not tend to enter common parlance in quite the same way, a fact upon which Vine Deloria, Jr. remarks in his “Indian Manifesto,” Custer Died for Your Sins. Violence is always central to the story. Usually the savagery of Native people is taken for granted. Savagery of settlers may be more or less emphasized. Yet the long history of land theft over the course of the centuries is also one of broken treaty after treaty.

Few tribes were defeated in war by the United States, but most sold some land and allowed the United States to hold the remainder in trust for them. In turn, the tribes acknowledged the sovereignty of the United States in preference to other possible sovereigns.

Caught between warring European empires, Indigenous nations made the best deals they could with the advancing U.S. and its army of Civil War veterans. “From this humble beginning the federal government stole some two billion acres of land and continues to take what it can without arousing the ire of the ignorant public.”




The brutality of the 19th century became professionalized, carried out by regulars in uniform, hence the detached language of “Indian wars.” These were followed by other kinds of violence: institutionalized paternalism, further encroachment and enclosure, and the forced removal of thousands of children from their parents and into reeducation camps.

The two maps you see here, with sweepingly broad visual gestures in gif form, illustrate the 19th century seizure of land across the North American continent from the perspective of a U.S. national history and that of an Indigenous multi-national history. The map at the top traces the story from the country's beginnings in the 13 colonies to the annexation, purchase, and finally statehood of Hawaii and Alaska in 1959.

The above map is more focused, spanning the years 1810 to 1891. As Nick Routley points out in a post at Visual Capitalist, “five of the largest expansion events in U.S. history” took place during the 1800s, though the first one he cites falls outside the timeline above. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase ended up acquiring what now makes up “nearly 25% of the current territory of the United States, stretching from New Orleans all the way up to Montana and North Dakota.”

Other notable events include the 1819 purchase of Florida from Spain by John Quincy Adams, the aforementioned purchase of Alaska from Russia, and the 1845 annexation of Texas. The Mexican-American War of 1848 gets less mention these days, though it expanded slavery and was quite hotly debated at the time by such principled figures as Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay his poll tax over it and wrote “Civil Disobedience” while in jail.

In the so-called Mexican Cession, Texas became a state and “the United States took control of a huge parcel of land that includes the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah, as well as portions of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.” Mexico, on the other hand, “saw the size of their territory halved.” After each seizure of territory, mass migrations westward commenced in wave upon wave.

Routely does not survey these migration events, but you can learn about them in accounts like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Indigenous People’s History of the United States and Deloria’s manifesto. When we approach the founding and expansion of the U.S. from multiple perspectives, both visual and historical, we understand why critical historians often use the phrase “settler colonialism” rather than “westward expansion” or its synonyms. And why the overused and limited phrase “nation of immigrants” might just as well be “nation of migrants.”

via Visual Capitalist

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Meandering Mississippi River and How It Evolved Over Thousands of Years Visualized in Brilliant Maps from 1944

Given that Turkey's Büyük Menderes River was historically known as the Meander, you might well imagine how un-straightforward a path it takes through the country. But the English adjective descended from its name describes a fair few other twisting, turning rivers as well, and also a form of river mapping that suits them. "I have long admired the Mississippi River meander maps designed by Army Corps of Engineers cartographer Harold Fisk," writes Jason Kottke at Kottke.org by way of an introduction to his short essay on them at the site of printmaker 20x200.

"In their relentless flow to lower ground, rivers like to roam over the landscape, cutting through solid rock and loamy soil alike, gaining advantage here and there where they can," goes Kottke's explanation of how meandering rivers come to be. "The best and easiest course for a river to take downhill is its current course... right up until the moment when it's not." Each color in Fisk's meander maps of the longest river in North America "represents a new course, a marker of each time a bend had become too bendy and the river 'decided' to take a more direct path." Kottke summarizes these maps' appeal succinctly: "They are time machines."

"Standing before a painting by Hilma af Klint, a sculpture by Bernini, or a cave painting in Chauvet, France draws you back in time in a powerful way: you know you're standing precisely where those artists stood hundreds or even thousands of years ago, laying paint to surface or chisel to stone." Here, thanks to a "clever mapmaker with an artistic eye," we can imagine the Mississippi "as it was during the European exploration of the Americas in the 1500s, during the Cahokia civilization in the 1200s (when this city's population matched London's), when the first humans came upon the river more than 12,000 years ago, and even back to before humans, when mammoths, camels, dire wolves, and giant beavers roamed the land and gazed upon the river."

You can buy prints of three different Mississippi meander maps from 20x200, all of them originally part of Fisk's report "Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River completed in 1944. The study was made to learn about the formation of the valley over time, and about the major factors that dictate its flow and flooding in the modern era." Fisk drew upon data collected through approximately 16,000 borings, and "also found the river's heart in this jumble of loops and purls," producing a reflection of the river's distinctive personality in "this explosive, autumn-colored palette." Regarding these maps, we can't help but wonder in what shape some future team of intrepid surveyors will find the Mississippi a few thousand years hence — and what new words, in what languages, that shape might inspire.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Interactive Map of Odysseus’ 10-Year Journey in Homer’s Odyssey

The Odyssey, one of Homer's two great epics, narrates Odysseus' long, strange trip home after the Trojan war. During their ten-year journey, Odysseus and his men had to overcome divine and natural forces, from battering storms and winds to difficult encounters with the Cyclops Polyphemus, the cannibalistic Laestrygones, the witch-goddess Circe and the rest. And they took a most circuitous route, bouncing all over the Mediterranean, moving first down to Crete and Tunisia. Next over to Sicily, then off toward Spain, and back to Greece again.

If you're looking for an easy way to visualize all of the twists and turns in The Odyssey, then we'd recommend spending some time with the interactive map created by Gisèle Mounzer"Odysseus' Journey" breaks down Odysseus' voyage into 14 key scenes and locates them on a modern map designed by Esri, a company that creates GIS mapping software.




Meanwhile, if you're interested in the whole concept of ancient travel, we'd suggest revisiting one of our previous posts: Play Caesar: Travel Ancient Rome with Stanford’s Interactive Map. It tells you all about ORBIS, a geospatial network model, that lets you simulate journeys in Ancient Roman. You pick the points of origin and destination for a trip, and ORBIS will reconstruct the duration and financial cost of making the ancient journey.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December, 2013.

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New Interactive “Murder Map” Reveals the Meanest Streets of Medieval London

How dangerous was medieval London? That’s a question that has recently been studied by the University of Cambridge’s Violence Research Center, and they have provided a handy interactive map for our perusal. Just in case we go back in time in a TARDIS or some such machine, we’ll know what parts of the city to avoid. And those parts are...well, most of it, actually.

The data containing info of 142 homicides comes from surviving coroner’s rolls from the first half of the 14th century. A coroner during this time was a bit closer to a police detective in ours, called to the scene of any sudden and unnatural death. And if it looked liked foul play a neighborhood jury of somewhere between 12 and 50 people were called to offer a verdict.




Hover over a marker on the map and you can discover what happened at that location. Here are a few examples:

On the evening of July 20, 1325, Peter Clark, a baker, was stabbed in the heart by a fellow baker called Walter after an argument. Walter took sanctuary in a church, confessed to the crime, and a month later made his way out of the country by boat.

On December 21, 1325, Roger Scott, a tailor, was quarreling with Robert de Oundle in the streets of Bishopgate, when Robert stabbed Roger with a hidden knife, killing him instantly. He also fled, to where nobody knew.

On February 13, 1324, William Warrock and William de Northamptone were arguing in the high street of Castle Baynard, when the former stabbed the latter in the heart. Warrock, who had no belongings, disappeared.

Sensing a theme here? We’ll never know the reason for these fatal altercations, but the knife industry was doing well out of it. The study crunched the numbers and found some statistics: the time of year did not seem to be a factor, but like today, the weekend was a deadlier time. And the hours between early evening and the first hour of London’s curfew, when the city insisted all fires be extinguished and people go to bed.

A whopping 52% of murders happened in the public square or the high street. No other location cracks 10%. And long knives were the weapon of choice at 35%, second only to short knives at 20%. And though it wasn’t reflected in the three random examples, most people got stabbed in the head. Unsurprisingly men committed the majority of the crimes, and all classes of society and profession murdered their way around London, including priests. (One example is given of a priest who stabs a gardener to death when the latter discovered him stealing apples.)

Professor and criminologist Manuel Eisner summed up the work of his group thus:

“The events described in the Coroners’ Rolls show weapons were never far away, male honour had to be protected, and conflicts easily got out of hand. They give us a detailed picture of how homicide was embedded in the rhythms of urban medieval life.”

And in fact, given the proportion of crime to the general population, London was pretty deadly, about 15-20 times higher than a modern British city.

But Eisner notes the comparisons can only go so far: “We have firearms, but we also have emergency services. It’s easier to kill but easier to save lives.”

Visit the interactive medieval murder map here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

A Subway Map of Human Anatomy: All the Systems of Our Body Visualized in the Style of the London Underground

We all have bodies, but how many of us truly know our way around them? Plenty of books explain in detail the functions of and relationships between each and every part of our anatomy, but few of them do it in a way the layman — and especially the layman not yet accustomed to the sight of human viscera laid bare — can readily grasp. We need a visualization of the human body, but what kind of visualization can best represent it with a maximum of clarity and a minimum of misleading distortion?

"Most people might imagine an intricate network of blood vessels or the complex neural circuits of the brain," writes Visual Capitalist's Iman Ghosh. "Or we might picture diagrams from the iconic medical textbook, Gray’s Anatomy." But how about a visualization of the body in the style of a classic piece of information design we've all seen at least once, the London Underground map? "Created by Jonathan Simmonds M.D., a resident physician at Tufts Medical Center," Ghosh writes, "it’s a simple yet beautifully intuitive demonstration of how efficiently our bodies work."




Just as Harry Beck's original 1933 London Underground map straightened out and color-coded each of the lines then in operation, Simmonds' anatomical map traces thirteen different "lines" through the body, each of which represents a different system of the body: the nervous system in yellow, for example, the airway system in black, and the lymphatic system in green. "While dashed lines represent deeper structures, sections with ‘transfers’ show where different organ systems intersect," Ghosh writes. If you're wondering where to start, she adds, "there’s a helpful 'You Are Here' at the heart."

You can take a close look at Simmonds' work in a large, high-resolution version here. Not only does following the model of the London Underground map introduce a degree of immediate legibility seldom seen (at least by non-medical students) in anatomical diagrams, it also underscores an aspect of the very nature of our human bodies that we don't often consider. We might instinctively think of them as sets of discrete organs all encased together and functioning independently, but in fact they're more like cities: just as busy, just as interconnected, just as dependent on connections and routines, and just as improbably functional.

via Visual Capitalist

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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