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

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Cartographers invested incredible amounts of time in researching and creating panoramic maps, rendering details with amazing accuracy. For each project, a frame or projection was developed, showing, in perspective, the pattern of streets. The artist then walked the streets, sketching buildings, trees, and other features to present a complete and accurate landscape. In one of his maps, Augustus Koch shaded all the buildings constructed of brick. When late-twentieth-century researchers compared his map to fire insurance maps of that era, the mapmaker's shading proved to be completely accurate.

Dallas, TX  1892

Dallas, Texas, Paul Giraud, 1892.

Nevertheless, one must be careful when analyzing and interpreting these maps or any historical material, and consider the influences behind the creation of such materials. Many of these nineteenth-century panoramas were prepared for a chambers of commerce or for real estate agencies in order to advertise a city's commercial and residential potential. Using this map of Dallas, Texas, discuss ways in which advertisers and other funding sources might have influenced the way that the city is presented. Notice the importance of advertising to this map and the depiction of the city's "projected river and navigation improvements." What do these features suggest about the purpose of this map and the goals of its funders and creator? Did the projected improvements actually take place?

Washington, D.C., E. Sachse, 1852

Washington, D.C., E. Sachse, 1852.

Similarly, in an 1852 View of Washington, the mapmaker presents the Washington Monument as complete and surrounded by a pediment at the base. In fact, however, the monument was not completed until 1884, and the pediment, although part of the original design, was never built. Click to the left-of-center on the horizon line for a close-up of the monument.

Another way to identify errors or exaggerations in maps and the factors that may have caused them is to compare them with photographs of the same locations. Choose the name of a town and search in Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929, for a cartographic view; then search on the same town in Panoramic Photographs for a photographer's view of that same location. Is the harbor as busy? Does a specific building have the same number of stories? What is the overall effect of these small differences? Do they matter?

Design a map that promotes the commercial development of your hometown or another town of your choice. What items do you find yourself including and excluding from your map? Why?