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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

The Latest News: Journalism and the Diffusion of Information

The diffusion of information is important to the cohesiveness of a culture and a society. How (and how fast) did news travel from place to place between the years 1847 and 1929, the timeframe of the panoramic map collection? Steamboats, railroads, the Pony Express, and the telegraph all played significant roles in disseminating information and, apart from the Pony Express, all are depicted in the panoramic maps. If you look closely at some of the later maps, you will also see telephone wires and motor vehicles. Use panoramic maps to consider the role of these technologies in disseminating information and the growth of popular culture.

Pictured below are two panoramic maps of Sacramento, California -- one just before and one just after the flood of 1850. How long would it have taken for folks in San Francisco, California to have learned about this disastrous flood? How long would it have taken for the news to have reached New York or Washington, D.C.? Business was booming in Sacramento at the close of 1849. Look closely at these maps to see what was left of its "over 800 framed buildings, besides the tents" by mid-January, 1850.

View of Sacramento City as it appeared during the great inundation in January 1850 / drawn from nature by Geo. W. Casilear & Henry Bainbridge ; lith. of Sarony, New York.

Sacramento City, California As It Appeared during the Great Inundation, Drawn from Nature by Geo. W. Casilear & Henry Bainbridge, January 1850.

Pretend that you are a reporter and write a feature story concerning the Sacramento flood for the newspaper of one of the towns represented in the panoramic maps. Use the maps of Sacramento to write a descriptive account of the town in January, 1850 and to provide an assessment of the changes since December, 1849.

  • What details will you include?
  • Who will you interview?
  • What angle will you take? What is the relevance of the flood to the town for which you are writing?
  • How will you get your story to press in 1850?
  • How would you have gotten your story to press if you were a reporter in 1929? What new technologies would have been used for the dissemination of information? How much faster would information have travelled in 1929 as compared to 1850?
  • In 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin and Levi Strauss introduced the "bibless overall" in San Francisco, California. How long was it before copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin were being read in Washington, D.C. or Sacramento, California? How long did it take before the "bibless overall" (also known as "blue jeans" or "jeans") became popular across the nation? Were jeans being worn in Shasta, California by 1856, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory in 1870, South Bend, Indiana in 1890, or Port Jervis, New York by 1920? Can you use American Memory to document any portion of this all-American fashion trend?
  • How might panoramic maps have contributed to the dissemination of popular culture?