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

Imagination and Description

Panoramic maps and literature have a lot in common: each depict a setting at a particular point in time and rely on the reader's imagination to enhance their depiction. Each has additional meaning when used to illustrate the historical moment in which they were created. When used comparatively, they may also help us to see the changes that take place in a particular locale over time.

On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl [Carol Kennicott] stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky. She saw no Indians now; she saw flour mills and the blinking windows of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.

Sinclair Lewis’s highly successful novel Main Street, was published in 1920, about sixty years after Minnesota became a state. Set in the imaginary town of Gopher Prairie, Main Street was roughly based on life in Lewis' hometown of Sauk Centre, Minnesota.

  • Use your imagination to create your own fictitious town. Name your town's streets and decide how many schools, churches, businesses, stores, parks, and factories it will have. Where will these buildings be located and how will the parks be landscaped? Or, erite about your own town: recount the major events that have happened there, the people who have lived there, and the positives and negatives of residing in your town.
  • Choose a novel (or short story) and analyze the influence of its setting on the characters, the story, and the story's resolution. Are you able to find sensory details and dialogue that reveal the influence of a place on the plot?
  • Some people claim that all history is a story told from the victor's point of view. What is Minnesota today was once the territory of the Chippewa and the Sioux. After doing some research, try your hand at writing the story of one tribe's village during the mid-1800s and draw a panoramic map to illustrate your narrative.