Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, may be used to weave together the study of history and the language arts. Panoramic maps help us to understand and interpret narratives, distinguish fact from fantasy, and develop concepts about place and time. These maps may shed light on a wide variety of literature, including novels, letters, diaries, essays, and poetry. We may enrich and enhance our understanding of U.S. history and literature by comparing information from panoramic maps with other primary sources and works of creative imagination.
Historical Context and Literature: Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Panoramic maps may be used to enhance the study of works composed by authors who lived and wrote during the period covered by Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929. One such author is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who was raised in Hannibal, Missouri. Referred to as "America's greatest humorist," Twain wrote many stories about life along the Mississippi River, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi.
There are a number of interesting similarities between panoramic maps and Mark Twain's books. Each medium benefited from improvements in print technology, and both were often sold through subscription. Perhaps the most remarkable similarity between the two is in the extent to which the writer, Mark Twain, and the panoramic cartographer, Albert Ruger, depicted certain colorful aspects of Hannibal, Missouri.
When I was a boy, there was one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. . . Once a day a cheap gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keoduk. . . After all these years I can still picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, . . . a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the levee; a pile of skids on the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town drunkard asleep in the shadow of them; two or three wood flats at the head of the wharf, but nobody to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them; the great Mississippi, the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest away on the other side; the point above the town, and the point below . . . Presently a film of dark smoke appears above one of those remote points: instantly a Negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, "S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin'!"
- What details from Twain's description of Hannibal, Missouri can you also find in the map? What are the similarities and differences between the description and the map? What aspects or characteristics of Hannibal does each artist emphasize? What overall effect do you think that each artist was trying to achieve? Is one depiction more idealized than the other? Do the two items convey the same overall sense of place?
- Regional writing flourished in the United States during much of the time period covered by these panoramic maps. Both the regional writers and the panoramic mapmakers depicted diverse locales in the United States. Research more about America's regional writers. Who were they? Which regions did they write about?
- What might have caused this interest in regionalism, manifested both in maps and literature during this period? Can you find other evidence of this interest in regionalism in other items or events from the era?