The University of Richmond Animates the 1932 Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States


In 1902, the new­ly estab­lished Carnegie Insti­tu­tion of Wash­ing­ton set out to devel­op “a real­ly first rate atlas of Amer­i­can his­to­ry.” Work on the atlas began in earnest in 1912, under the direc­tion of the naval his­to­ri­an Charles O. Paullin, who spent the bet­ter part of the next 15 years bring­ing it to life. In 1929, the Amer­i­can Geo­graph­ic Soci­ety (AGS), along with the emi­nent geo­g­ra­ph­er John K. Wright, took over the project and brought it to com­ple­tion. The Atlas of the His­tor­i­cal Geog­ra­phy of the Unit­ed States was final­ly pub­lished in 1932 to wide crit­i­cal acclaim. Called a “mon­u­ment to his­tor­i­cal schol­ar­ship,” the com­pendi­um fea­tured near­ly 700 indi­vid­ual maps that gave visu­al insights into 500 years of Amer­i­can his­to­ry. Top­ic cov­ered includ­ed the “explo­ration and set­tle­ment of the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent, the loca­tion of col­leges and church­es, dis­putes over inter­na­tion­al and state bound­aries, vot­ing in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and in Con­gress, reforms from women’s suf­frage to workmen’s com­pen­sa­tion, trans­porta­tion, indus­tries, agri­cul­ture, com­merce, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealthmil­i­tary his­to­ry” and much more.

The Atlas of the His­tor­i­cal Geog­ra­phy of the Unit­ed States remains a valu­able his­tor­i­cal resource today. But, for all of these years, it had one notable short­com­ing. Around the time of its first pub­li­ca­tion, John K. Wright acknowl­edged that “The ide­al his­tor­i­cal atlas might well be a col­lec­tion of motion-pic­ture maps, if these could be dis­played on the pages of a book with­out the para­pher­na­lia of pro­jec­tor, reel, and screen.” The tech­nol­o­gy that would lend itself to cre­at­ing motion-pic­ture maps was­n’t avail­able in the 1930s. But it is today. And thanks to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Richmond’s Dig­i­tal Schol­ar­ship Lab, we can now view The Atlas of the His­tor­i­cal Geog­ra­phy of the Unit­ed States in a new dig­i­tal, some­times ani­mat­ed for­mat. If you want to see a good exam­ple of his­tor­i­cal data put into motion, then you might want to check out this map of Amer­i­can Explo­rations in the West, 1803–1852. (Click here and then click “Ani­mate” at the bot­tom of the screen.) This map will trace for you the expe­di­tions of Lewis and Clark and many oth­er explor­ers. Then, if you’re ready to be an explor­er your­self, you can start your jour­ney through the dig­i­tized atlas by enter­ing the Table of Con­tents.

via The New York Times

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Visu­al­iz­ing Slav­ery: The Map Abra­ham Lin­coln Spent Hours Study­ing Dur­ing the Civ­il War

Hen­ry David Thoreau’s Hand-Drawn Map of Cape Cod (1866)

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

Geog­ra­phy of World Cul­tures by Mar­tin Lewis (Stan­ford) in our col­lec­tion of 825 Free Online Cours­es

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  • Garth Henning says:

    Over at we’re show­ing chang­ing nation­al bor­ders, city growth, bat­tles, armies, ships, bat­tles, etc over time from 3000BC to today — lit­er­al­ly any day in his­to­ry. We’re a small project team, but as we get data filled in it shows the growth and evo­lu­tion of human civ­i­liza­tion. We can’t match Google Maps for detail about today’s cities or the 1932 atlas for 1932AD, but we do much bet­ter for 1800AD, 800AD, or 800BC! We’re more than just sta­t­ic his­toric maps over­laid on today’s streets but rather a world his­to­ry mod­el play­ing out on an actu­al dynam­ic map of world his­to­ry.

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