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Insula Hyspana

Maps, Movement, and American Literature

by: Martin Brückner

Mapping movement is a central theme in the texts of canonical as well as lesser known works taught today in classes on “American Literature.” From Christopher Columbus’s letters reporting on his first voyage (1493) to William Byrd’s History of the Dividing Line (ca.1728), from allegorical journey’s such as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) to road novels like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), authors created elaborate word maps when tracking personal experiences or fictional characters, settings, and spatial actions. In order to make sense of such literary mappings critical studies have long pursued micro-analytical approaches delving into word use, etymology, and poetics; or, they applied macro-analytical approaches exploring the history of narrative form, literary genre, and the role of the literary marketplace. From studies addressing matters of geographic and social mobility we have learned over time to think about American poems, short stories, plays, and novels as cartographically inflected literary proving grounds where American writers explored the trope of the heroic quest, the sentimental journey, the utopian/dystopian frontier tale, and the aesthetics as well as politics informing the feelings and actions of traveling figures that included the hunter, the emigrant, and the runaway slave next to the man or woman of leisure, the working fathers and mothers, and the modern figure of the child (Franklin 1979; Lawson-Peebles 1988; Jehlen 1994; Buell 1995; Hsu 2010).

In these approaches it is a frequent observation that the representational qualities of maps—for example, the Appolonian gaze or “God view,” the scaled symmetry of spatial relationships, the rhetorical power of surveillance—have over the centuries informed the style of American literature in general and the literary representation of movement in particular. It has often been noted that in early American texts cartographic inserts served as organizing elements informing contact narratives and colonial histories, such as Captain John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia (1624) or Cotton Mather’s ecclesiastical tome and hagiography, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702). Or, that maps or map-like drawings provided at once the literal and figurative plot for travel accounts from The Discoveries of John Lederer (1672), to Andrew Burnaby’s Travels through the middle settlements in North-America, in the Year 1759 and 1760 (1775), to Timothy Flint’s Recollections of the Last Ten Years, Passed in Occasional Residences and Journeyings in the Valley of the Mississippi (1826).

It has also been frequently noted that between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries many United States authors had written their works with a map in hand: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823) and The Chainbearer (1845) abound with references to his father’s archive of land surveyor’s plats; Herman Melville’s novels Redburn (1849) or Moby Dick (1851) were composed while the author consulted atlas maps and geography handbooks published by Jesse Olney; Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) provides specific geographical coordinates for navigating the South Pole; and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) offers an intricate metaphor of national identity by meshing language, literary form, and the graphic outline of Walden Pond. Similarly, if we fast-forward, maps appended works as different as Faulkner’s psychological novel, Absalom, Absalom! (1936) or John Steinbeck’s travelogue, Travels with Charley (1962). Maps posed as the referential framework in poetry as different as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855) and Elizabeth Bishop’s Trial Balances (1935) and Geography III (1976). And last but not least, maps were frequently present in the endpapers of American fantasy and action novels, such as Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (1900) or Dan Brown’s illustrated edition of Angels & Demons (2006).

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Lloyd's map of the lower Mississippi River from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico

As new scholarship in areas ranging from reader response studies to GIS-supported textual analysis has shown, the figure of the map—as verbal imitation, direct citation, or material insert—had a profound influence on the production and reception of American literature. Literary mappings that had been deemed to be metaphorical adaptations in American texts turn out to be well-rehearsed transcriptions of particular maps (Padrón 2004; Brückner 2006). Allusions to map genres, such as New World maps, became a standard reference for the way in which early modern authors envisioned unknown lands, processed the colonization of a vast continental expanse and numerous peoples, or reconciled personal desire for property with communal rules of ownership (Pagden 1994; Buell 1995; Newman 2012). Beginning in the late eighteenth-century, the growth of carto-literacy among authors and readers aligned even the most casual literary map reference with complex discursive patterns of power and reconnaissance, invoking narratological or poetic conventions that described, for example, dramatic action, points of view, the geographical architecture of settings, and above all the idea of subjective and social mobility (Muehrcke 1974; Anderson 1991; Turchi 2007; Padron 2007; Moretti 1995; Cooper and Gregory 2011; Wilkens 2013).

Guided by the critical approach of “literary cartography,” this essay examines the factor of movement in relation to actual maps that were published along with select prose writings that are today considered representative examples of the American literary canon. It takes its cue from two developments: first, since the 1980s literary historians have increasingly recognized maps as an important paratextual component of American literary culture, supplementing not only a wide range of fiction and nonfiction works but the very genre of the magisterial literary survey. Second, during the same decades that had literary historians debate the definition of the American canon, historians of cartography debated conventional map definitions, increasingly accepting maps as a intermedial construct tapping graphic, verbal, and performative modes of representation. Today, it is fair to say that major anthologies have not only redefined American literature in much broader and more inclusionary terms, but have now incorporated the occasional historical map along with personal letters, political pamphlets, poems, plays, and novels (Bercovitch 1994; Lauter 1984; Baym 1989; Jehlen and Warner 1996).

While map inserts are generally treated as illustrative contexts rather than texts, this essay builds on a bibliographic survey of “American” literature published between 1600 and 2000 which revealed that physical maps were a regular insert in diverse literary genres, especially in travel writing, didactic nonfiction (in particular when addressing immigrants), and fiction addressing children. Because mobility was central to genres like these, the essay explores the trope of movement broadly as an intermedial dialogue between literary text and cartographic paratext. To accomplish this, its primary goal is to offer a provisional (and thus not comprehensive) survey of nonfiction and fictional prose writings that either carried printed maps inside their pages and bindings or that are demonstrably informed by a specific map-text nexus. While territoriality, distance reading, and spatial thinking ostensibly inform all maps, be they graphic or literary in kind, the essay examines patterns of mobility that are mostly located at the intersection of a dialogic imagination with the goal of linking the map as the textual tool providing orientation and direction to various literary forms and readerly functions.

Last but not least, in order to describe the relationship between maps and movement as a mutually constitutive part of American literary history the essay borrows from conventional models of periodization and geography. Three sections track popular literary genres across different, at times overlapping, periods defined by popular anthologies of American literature published in the English language (Norton; Heath), addressing writings that tend to be by and large commensurate with the North American continent, including the Caribbean Basin, and the United States territory. The three sections are: “Maps in the literature of colonization,” “Maps in the literature of nation formation,” and “Maps in the literature of two Gilded Ages, 1900/2000.”

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New England : the most remarqueable parts thus named by the high and mighty Prince Charles, Prince of Great Britaine

Maps in the Literature of Colonization

The history of joining maps to literary efforts intent on parsing the American experience as one grounded in movement begins as early as 1493 with the publication of the bestselling pamphlet, De Insulis nuper inuentis (1493) containing Christopher Columbus’s letter to his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, in which descriptions of his experience were supplemented with map-like woodcuts. Within a decade, printers were quick to associate maps with travel reports, for example, with the dual publication of Martin Waldseemüller’s giant wall map, Universalis Cosmographia Secundum Ptholomaei Traditionem et Americi (1507) and Fracanzano da Montalboddo’s volume, Paesi novamente retrovati (1507). The Waldseemüller map is today celebrated for inventing “America” because it was the first map to name the continent (O’Gorman 1961; Schwartz 2007). Montalboddo’s anthology, on the other hand, is credited for publishing the first collection of reports detailing journeys to the American continent by, for example, Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Gaspar Corte-Real. Within a short period of time, the genre of the travel report not only took Europe by storm, but, following the addition of woodcut illustrations by enterprising publishers, became associated with maps and the literary trope of mapped information, settings, and news events.

The topics of early modern travel reports revolved around questions of how to make contact with America, including tales of reconnaissance, the presence of saleable natural resources and commodities, the discovery of unfamiliar fauna and flora, and recommendations on how to launch “plantations” or how to negotiate the presence of Native Americans, then called “savages.” The language of the early reports shifted back and forth between personal diary and encyclopedic histories. Authors frequently struggled for words that were capable of reporting unfamiliar plants and objects, thus revealing formal and conceptual uncertainties about how to describe the experience of what literary historians have dubbed the “marvels” or “wonder” of the New World (Greenblatt 1992; Campbell 1999; Bauer 2003). By contrast, the image of maps—even if they were rudimentary, highly inaccurate, and frequently imaginary—offered a supposedly more stable and correct view for readers interested in tracking travel routes and picturing the geography and biodiversity of the new world.

Illustrated travel reports that included maps and map-like illustrations—from Georg Stuchs’s Newe vnbekanthe Landte vnd ein newe Weldte (1513) and Hans Staden’s Warhaftige Historia und beschreibung eyner Landtschafft der Wilden Nacketen, Grimmigen Menschfresser-Leuthen in der Newenwelt America gelegen (1557) to the bestselling editions of Theodor de Bry’s anthology, Newe Welt vnd americanische Historien (c.1650)—which included Thomas Hariot’s now canonical work A Briefe and True Report of Virginia (1590)—shaped the public imagination in two ways. On one hand, they introduced the myths of American cannibalism, the ubiquity of precious metals, and geographical fantasies of gaining access to the garden of Eden. On the other hand, they established the tradition that writing and reading about journeys to and inside America required maps as much for the purpose of navigation as for navigating the text itself. For example, the maps appending Captain John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia (1624) and John Lederer’s Discoveries (1672) contained dotted lines or large inky crosses, offering readers graphic signposts that corresponded with the volumes’ table of contents, allowing readers to retrace travel routes and encounters with indigenous populations in the Chesapeake Bay area and Carolina territory using the two textual landscapes of the map and the printed word.

Smith’s Map of New England (1612) presented a somewhat different narrative model. Supplementing the fiercely self-promotional narrative titled Description of New England (1612), the map represents a palimpsest mixing authorial and literary ambitions. In the narrative, Smith assigns himself controversial powers demanding, under the guise of offering practical advice on how to colonize (“plant”) New England properly, the kind of trust and authority that is usually reserved for sovereigns and aristocratic government agents. In the map, he takes this sense of authority one step further: he not only rebaptizes native places with English names, such as “New London,” “The River Charles,” or “Oxford,” but inserts the author’s portrait in the margins; accompanied by a laudatory poem, Smith’s self-image appears in the symbolic space that mapmakers usually reserved for heraldry or other tokens of homage celebrating royalty or high-ranking sponsors supportive of risky Atlantic expeditions.

While in principle the genre of the travel report remains relatively unchanged during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the maps that accompanied them suggested a shift in compositional direction. The earliest reports were preoccupied with finding America; their contents concentrated on the American water/land divide, that is, on the relationship of the Atlantic Ocean with the American coast, coastal enclaves, corridors, and possible inroads into the continental hinterland (Benton 2010). At the same time, the reports experimented with linguistic and literary elements in the effort of rendering the unfamiliar in more familiar terms. While early travel accounts introduced to the English lexicon neologisms borrowed from European and Native American languages, on the whole (and perhaps unsurprisingly) they applied a Euro-centric approach to their literary craft: formal travel reports and informal diaries packed the American experience into established literary forms that were inflected by the literary protocols of historiography, the religious conversion narrative, and the encyclopedic method emerging from the natural sciences. Later accounts published during the mid seventeenth century, and thus after nearly two centuries of accumulating and mobilizing information, have travel writers locate their narratives inside a different hemispheric frame of reference, emphasizing (albeit with many overlaps) the Atlantic world and the American continent as one continual meta-setting.

The late seventeenth-century representation of the Atlantic world as a literary setting was the product of accounts that conceptualized the new world of America not in continental terms but as a watery world defined by the Atlantic Ocean, waterways, and islands. Many travel narratives, such as Richard Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657), resembled in narrative structure and content nautical maps like those compiled by William Hack’s Waggoner Atlas (1682) and William Blathwayt’s Atlas (1675-1685), which merged sea charts with detailed sailing directions in the effort to facilitate rapid movement in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Ligon’s history illustrates how the English-speaking world, driven by its growing focus on the Caribbean sugar and slave trade, conceived the experience of America as a succession of movements touching ground in unrelated settings between the coasts of Europe, Africa, and American islands. In particular Ligon’s spatial conception of the Caribbean strongly resembles the way in which early literary and political imaginings conceptualized America in un-continental terms.

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Washington, D.C. metropolitan area road map

Because the geological concept of continents was yet to be fully described and embraced, many travel writers and their readers, including members of the British Parliament, imagined America as an archipelago of loosely connected islands linked by bodies of water, tropical storms, and fantasies of geographic autonomy or nightmares of slave rebellion (Lewis and Wigen 1997). In the case of Ligon’s history, the author inserted the map A Topographicall Description… of Barbados (1657) in which toponyms and pictorial elements anticipate descriptions about land ownership, farming techniques, and slave culture. The trope of moving the economically active individual to American islands in the Atlantic world was perhaps made most popular by Daniel Defoe’s proto-capitalistic novel, Robinson Crusoe (1719), and Jonathan Swift’s satire, Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Other works invested in geographic, economic, or spiritual mobility adapted the island theme, such as James Grainger’s Georgic poem, The Sugar-Cane (1764); Thomas Paine’s political pamphlet, Common Sense (1776); Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), describing his itinerant life as a slave during the 1750s and 1770s; and Hector St. Jean Creveceour’s Letters from an American Farmer (1782) in which rudimentary maps depicting the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard provided visual plots for outlining the ideological concept of the “middle state” made popular in the now famous “Letter III: What is an American?”

The focus on Oceanic and Caribbean geographies began to wane as literature devoted to travels exploring the space of the continent increased rapidly during the eighteenth century. Fueled by the territorial conflicts between France and England, this literature included travelogues, natural histories, and geographies, which over the course of the decades expanded in geographic reach as well as literary application. While early tours like Sarah Kemble Knight’s Diary (1704) of a journey from Boston to Connecticut or Alexander Hamilton’s Itinerarium (1744) from Annapolis to Boston served to chart, albeit without the use of maps, the narrators’ movements between different local cultures, later works that included maps, such as Peter Kalm’s Travels into North America… Enriched with a Map (1773) and Jonathan Carver’s Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America (1778), turned the localized observations into international bestsellers.

The land-based continental perspective of movement emerged most fully in writings that were based on a handful of maps sponsored by government institutions. For example, John Mitchell’s Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755) and his treatise The Contest in America Between Great Britain and France (1757) not only projected a continental extension for most British American colonies but provided language reflecting imperial ambitions pursued first by the British Empire and then later by American politicians negotiating the territorial claims of the newly formed United States of America. A similar impact can be attributed to Lewis Evans’s A General Map of the Middle British Colonies (1755), which was published along with his volume, Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical and Mechanical Essays (1755). Both the Evans map and his literary analysis of the mid-Atlantic region propagated the Enlightenment concept according to which North America is a pastoral setting capable of accommodating European immigrants despite Native American land claims and the increasing dependence on slave-based economies (Marx 1964; Franklin 1979; Hallock 2003).

It is in map accompaniments that readers will find sustained textual examples illustrating how maps informed literature of the colonial period and beyond. Combining literary conventions pioneered by European travel narratives—emphasizing the experience of the traveler/narrator, the careful tally of natural resources, and even the aesthetic appreciation of natural phenomena—both the eloquent and the laconic report borrowed amply from cartographic elements. Moving from simple inscription to complex imagery, travel reports incorporated and/or imitated place names and coordinates, wordy map inserts and allegorical cartouche imagery in order to better represent particular spaces, materials, and peoples. On occasion the authors’ preoccupation with maps had its pitfalls: For example, when European travelers lost their way because they had naively followed Native American maps, which, unlike Western cartography, marked places in spatio-temporal terms (Warhus 1997; Brückner 2006; Hollis 2011); or, when natural conditions, like shifting coastal sands, thwarted the authors’ desire for establishing literal and figurative boundaries as described in William Byrd’s History of the Dividing Line (1730; Franklin 1979); or, when the map as such was deemed to be a tool of representation superior to the English language as suggested by Thomas Jefferson’s first two chapters in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1784; Brückner 2006). In the examples where colonial authors purposefully prepared maps to accompany their writings, their verbal representation borrowed the map’s graphic mode of communicating authority by referencing map titles and geodetic accuracy, the cartographic lexicon and the supervisory “at a glance” method of visualization. Map-based information was presented selectively or generalized, allowing writers to name, edit, or omit contested places or unpleasant experiences. While references to maps, coordinates, and measurements transformed geographical descriptions into literary maps, the same rhetorical ploy frequently served to silence American voices, including Native Americans and European minorities, members of the working class and the enslaved.

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Topographicall description and admeasurement of the yland of Barbados in the West Indyaes : with the mrs. names of the seureall plantacons

Maps in the Literature of Nation Formation

After the Revolution, map-illustrated travel writing evolved into a popular genre, allowing several generations of authors to explore the new nation in small or large scale accounts as well as experiment with the formal parameters of the travel report (Kolodny 1984; Lewis 1988; Buell 1995). Sketch maps appended the regional journey documented by William Bartram’s Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, etc. (1791), which was quickly recognized for its elegiac tone and fantastical depiction of the American South. Similarly, Timothy Dwight’s more pondering Travels in New England and New York (1823), provided a new generation of writers with thick descriptions meshing geography, statistics, and local history. By contrast, much more detailed maps accompanied the reports of transcontinental expeditions, such as William Clark’s map supplementing Nicholas Biddle’s History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark (1814); or, Charles Preuss’s maps published in John Fremont’s polemical Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44 (1845) (Allen 1975; Baker 2006).

In these writings, even the most rudimentary map—like the one drawn by Bartram—emerged as a much-valued reading index for cross-referencing the journeys’ geographical progress with musings about the narrator’s psychological state, cultural geography, and the environment. Indeed, in the course of the nineteenth-century it could be argued that maps fostered literary strategies that turned prosaic descriptions of movement into poetic or philosophical masterpieces exploring questions unique to the American experience, in particular addressing questions about modern identity in the age of industrial mobilization as can be found in the mappings and meditations about life in Concord, Massachusetts, and the United States in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) or his essay “Walking” (1862).

While travel writers used word maps that sketched travel routes charting everything from small woods to the whole continent, the perhaps most popular form of experiencing the journey through the nation was made available to ordinary people by a burgeoning schoolbook industry that incorporated local and national maps into the geography lessons. Early slogans, like Noah Webster’s 1788 exhortation that “A tour of the United States ought now to be considered as a necessary part of a liberal education” (Webster 1965), spurred many authors and readers to consult geography books and their companion atlases as the next best alternative for traveling the country without having to leave the comfort and safety of the home or classroom. During the era of the early republic, Jedidiah Morse’ bestselling textbooks, such as Geography Made Easy (1784) shaped the geographical imagination of American writers as different as Susanna Rowson and Charles Brockden Brown by providing a model in literary mapping according to which fold-out maps—like Amos Doolittle’s A Map of the United States of America (1784)—supplemented the textbook’s encyclopedic framework intent on inventorying the geography, economy, and cultural customs of every state. One feature of Morse’s model and that of a host of other geographers was the textbook journey to geographical landmarks, such as the Niagara Falls in upstate New York, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and so forth. At the same time, another feature of early national geography books was the literary construction of regionally inflected fictional character types, such as the thrifty New Englander or the lazy Virginia Gentleman. While biased and offensive even by contemporaneous standards, these place-based stereotypes informed geography lessons that required students to apply their textbook knowledge by touring the national map with eyes and fingers in search of the places and people that represented the “American character” (Brückner 2006).

At this point of the survey it is important to note that by the time the War of 1812 had ended the widespread inclusion of maps in genres like the travel report and the mass-produced textbook had come to define the horizon of literary expectation. At the same time, and this coincides roughly with Americans beginning to define literature as belletristic writing, the number of “literary” genres anthologized under the rubric of “American literature” rarely included a printed map. From the standpoint of the sociology and economics of literary production this may come as a surprise because historians of US print culture have demonstrated that in the course of the early nineteenth century maps were rapidly becoming inexpensive artifacts at the same time when publishers were increasingly willing to invest in book illustrations (Brückner 2017; Caspar 2007). From the standpoint of literary studies, moreover, the lack of actual maps illustrating movement is almost baffling in light of the frequency with which American authors of fiction used map references in their creative efforts to convey the American experience in thematic terms, for example, when exploring the vagaries of westward migration, class mobility, and the journeys of ex-slaves.

Although prose works, from the historical romance to the short story to the biographical sketch, lacked the material presence of maps, three types of fiction in particular displayed a strong affinity with popular map genres during the long nineteenth-century: picaresque narratives and small-scale overview maps; frontier stories and large-scale promotional maps; sensational fiction and river maps.

Especially during the first decades after Independence, American readers would have found that small scale maps, like the Doolittle map in Morse’s School Geography, not only showed the nation, the continent, and the transatlantic context, but also provided a convenient graphic device when following the plot of picaresque stories and novels. Like their European counterpart, the American picaresque chronicled the travels and travails of a single or a set of characters, usually of low social standing, whose movements ranged across the globe and tended to be episodic as well as highly unstructured because their progress was randomly subjected to irrational accidents, like storms and pirate attacks, rather than rational designs predicated on stationary planning (Davidson 1986).

In the anonymous novella, The History of Constantius and Pulchera (1795), the heroine or “picara” embarks on an improbable tour that takes the reader from Philadelphia to various settings along the North Atlantic rim (Essex, Mass.; Bourdeaux, France; Lisbon, Portugal; etc.) only to return in the end to the capital of the United States. Similarly, in James Butler’s Fortune’s Football (1798) the male protagonist, the “picaro,” occupies in quick succession geographic locales that included London, Venice, Malta, Algiers, London, Quebec, Florence, Isphahan, Bagdad, Moscow, and again London. While the characters’ rapid encounter of randomly placed settings was central to the story, picaresque stories like these required readers to consult small-scale maps—that is, maps showing large areas—in order to track the stories’ plots. Indeed, the haphazard movement of characters in novels, such as Royal Tyler’s The Algerine Captive (1797) or Charles Brockden Brown’s Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist (1803-05), loosely resembled the design of cartographic board games. Board games from Thomas Jefferys’s Royal Geographical Pastime: Exhibiting a Complete Tour Round the World (1770) to Milton Bradley’s The Game of Round the World (1873) mimicked the journeys of novelistic characters allowing readers to behave like players whose actions relied on chance rather than on personal intent or cultural reason (Brückner 2006).

A similarly calculated suspension of readerly order informed the mapping motifs in the kind of fiction that grappled with life on the western frontier. A good example is Caroline Kirkland’s fictionalized biography and novel of frontier manners, A New Home—Who’ll Follow? or Glimpses of Western life? (1839). It describes the experience of a middle-class East Coast family that, having been displaced by the economic crash of 1837, travels to southern Michigan following the paths laid out by large-scale promotional maps, that is, by maps showing a smaller area, like John Farmer’s An Improved Map of the Surveyed Part of The Territories of Michigan and Ouisconsin (1836). Farmer’s map and those designed by land speculators depicted a territory that was not only neatly subdivided according to the township system decreed by the US Land Ordinance Act of 1785, but that contained the core elements of modern infrastructure, including roads, towns, ferries, and so forth.

In the case of Kirkland’s narrative, however, after enduring detours, impassible roads, and nonexisting settlements, the characters (and readers) quickly discover that the map preceded the territory, that is, that the information on the map were fictional projections rather than factual representations of conditions on the ground. Or, as Kirkland writes, according to the “chart” advertising Michigan, there were “canals and railroads, with boats and cars at full speed. There was a steam-mill, a windmill or two; for even a land-shark did not dare to put a stream where there was scarce running water for the cattle; and a state road, which had at least been talked of, and a courthouse and other county buildings”—to which she added a quip against the way in which land speculators tricked prospective settlers: “Besides all this, there was a large and elegantly-decorated space for the name of the happy purchaser” (Kirkland 135). Similar tales commenting on the way in which maps had bewitched some characters while others bemoaned the blind trust in the authority of maps can be found in the sea novels by Herman Melville (Mardi 1849; Moby Dick 1851), in gothic tales by Edgar Allan Poe (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym [1837] or “The Gold Bug” [1843]), and in Charles Dickens’s American novel, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44) which includes a testy account of how promotional maps made false promises and lured unsuspecting emigrants to the American frontier.

Maps showing the course of the Mississippi River left perhaps the most profound mark on prose works during the long nineteenth century. A veritable “Who’s Who” of authors used the river as setting in a variety of genres in order to imaginatively illustrate geographic, economic, and social mobility. American readers would have found the river map reflected in the narrative plots of travel accounts from Frances Milton Trollope’s The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw; or Scenes on the Mississippi (1836), to Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883) to George Byron Merrick’s Old Times on the Upper Mississippi: the Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854 to 1863 (1909); in novels such as Mayne Reid’s The Quadroon; or, A Lover’s Adventures in Louisiana (1856), Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857), and George Washington Cable’s Gideon’s Band; a Tale of the Mississippi (1914); and in young adult sensational tales from Friedrich Gerstäcker’s The River Pirates of the Mississippi (c.1848, 1900) and Edward Stratemeyer’s The Rover Boys in Southern Waters; or, The Deserted Steam Yacht (1907).

Two classic American novels in particular are closely associated with literary cartography, linking the delineation of movement to the readerly habit of tracing stories with map in hand: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). In the case of Stowe’s abolitionist novel, river maps—like Norman’s Chart of the Lower Mississippi River (1858)—were at the heart of one of the novel’s more poignant scenes of literary mapping. Sitting on the moving deck of a riverboat, Tom surveys the southern plantation landscape in the terms of the mapmaker, in the process revealing as much as hiding the conditions on land, here how the image of neatly surveyed plantations disguised the fact that its picturesque looks were founded upon the brutal regime of slavery (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ch. 14). Throughout, the novel’s plot presupposes a carto-literate audience that is capable of following the fate of the principal characters, as they travel southwards on the river from state to state into the heart of American slavery and northwards along treacherous roads towards the Canadian border and freedom. While Stowe only implies the river map, she offers a more concrete map source in an episode reminiscent of the textbook travel lessons discussed above: the New England character of Miss Ophelia (and thus Stowe’s implied readership) studies the course of the river using “Morse’s Atlas” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ch. 15), thus linking the novel’s plot either to Jedidiah Morse’s Modern Atlas Adapted to Morse’s New School Geography (1822) or to Morse’s North American Atlas (1845) published by his son Sidney E. Morse.

River maps loomed even larger in Twain’s famous tale about childhood and rebellion, Reconstruction America and the culture of racism. What is well-known today is that as a former river pilot Twain used his intimate knowledge of the Mississippi River when creating verbal depictions of its meandering course, overgrown banks, and islands, thus adding descriptive authenticity to the otherwise fictional construction of the characters’ vernacular speech and actions. What is perhaps less known is the fact that Twain was childhood friends with river pilots who not only helped create actual river maps, here Lloyd’s Map of the Lower Mississippi River from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico (1862), but also served as models for fictional characters like Tom Sawyer (Holland 2008).

More generally speaking, the river map left its generic mark on the way in which both Stowe and Twain structured their narratives. River maps tended to be constructed like “strip” or “ribbon” maps, and thus would consist of narrow paper segments showing only the land located on the left and right of the river. At the same time, they were often assembled as scrolls that were housed in wooden boxes with a display window, allowing pilots (and also travelers) to manually turn the ribbon map to match the boat’s position on the river. The narrative structures of the two novels behave similarly to these pilot maps: characters rarely stray from the river’s course; the omniscient narrators describe the hinterland extending beyond the river in mostly superficial terms when compared to the interactions with the river and its banks; and the rapid movement of the novel’s scenes, which critics today tend to consider as forerunners of a modern “filmic” technique and sensibility, resemble the mechanical motion of scrolling through pilot or ribbon maps.

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A map of the British and French dominions in North America : with the roads, distances, limits, and extent of the settlements, humbly inscribed to...

Maps in the Literature of two Gilded Ages, 1900/2000

Map inserts representing movement—or for that matter places—remain mostly absent in the canon of American fiction during the long twentieth century, despite the fact that many authors creatively examined the mobilization of people in relation to modern transportation technology and emerging travel opportunities provided by trains, cruise ships, bicycles, motorcycles, and of course, the automobile. Bibliographic research probing paratextual metadata reveals only a smattering of printed maps supplementing novels, poems, and plays. When maps are present, they tend to be added to anniversary editions or lesson plans teaching classic works such as Melville’s Moby Dick or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (Hopkins and Buscher 1999).

Yet, cartographic imaginings continued to abound in American prose fiction, in particular in novels that were inspired by the rise of the modern city and suburban developments, technological change and transnational awareness. In particular authors specializing in the genres of “low-brow” fiction, like the penny press Western or detective fiction, emulated the graphic code of cartographic representation in order to give depth and structure to imaginary landscapes, characters, and actions. For example, Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902) and Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) applied the representational language of maps in order to better delineate places, in particular when creating the illusion of utopian, island-like settings located in the unruly territories of the western continent. Conversely, modernist mappings by authors like John Dos Passos playfully enlist the reading experience of urban street maps. In the case of Faulkner’s conception of “Yoknapatawpha County” a unique insert map appending Absalom, Absalom! offers graphic guidance to multiple plot strands and points of view, in short a cartographic blueprint for tracking a multitude of objects, emotions, and voices.

Through the invocation of the visual experience and concept of the map twentieth-century literary mappings open up fictive worlds that are multidimensional, and whose spatiality is contingent upon a dialectic that pits geographies against ante-geographies according to which imaginary places exist not only outside known spaces but appear similar to or contiguous with the physical geography of the here and now (Padrón 2007; Turchi 2007, Pavlik 2010). Indeed, if we consider American literature as the discourse network “1900/2000” (to borrow from Friedrich Kittler’s study Discourse Networks, 1800/1900), thus bracketing modern American literary history, we will discover three literary genres devoted explicitly to literary cartographies in which maps are joined to literary journeys: The grand tour account; journeys to fictional worlds; and the American road trip.

The theme of the mapped “grand tour” entered American fiction during the Antebellum decades in the form of fictional or personal travel accounts describing visits to South America, the European continent, and the Holy Land for both children and adults. In both forms, rudimentary map inserts served the dual didactic purpose of teaching historical and national geography while providing blueprints for tracing the movement of fictionalized guides in works such as Samuel G. Goodrich’s Peter Parley’s History of the Wanderings of Tom Starboard (1834) or John L. Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land (1837). After the Civil War, a burgeoning market for young adult fiction transformed the grand tour into gender specific genres. Offering geographical authentication and readerly guidance, map inserts were thus commonly found in Elizabeth W. Champney’s “Vassar girls” adventures (see her Three Vassar girls in South America: a holiday trip of three college girls… [1885]) and in Hezekiah Butterworth’s multi-book “Zigzag” series for boys. For example, in Butterworth’s Zi__gzag Journeys in the Western States of America; the Atlantic to the Pacific (1884) a foldout map was used to illustrate the size of the United States by fitting Europe into the space between California and the Mississippi River, while the volume’s endpapers contained map fragments to illustrate diverse travel routes next to images showing various modes of transportation. Each of these fictional travel accounts, wittingly or not, commented on the travelers’ shifting perception of time and space, the impact of speed, or the experience of rapid relocation using novel forms of transportation. Inspired by Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), the American journalist, Nellie Bly, made headlines by embarking on the ultimate “grand tour”—later described with a map accompaniment in Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in 72 Days (1890)—that would have her race around the globe in order to break the Verne’s imaginary travel record, with newspaper audiences tracking her progress via maps and telegraphed reports (Wong 2007).

Changes in society and technology resonated strongly in the first American works of science fiction and later in the burgeoning genre of fantasy novels. Today, readers are perhaps most familiar with maps emphasizing stationary geographies, sweeping vistas of countries, continents, or parallel worlds invented in works ranging from extraterrestrial canals and waterways in Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess on Mars (1912) to the landscapes of Middle Earth in J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings (1937-1949), from Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz (1900) to Christopher Paolini’s Eragon (2003). Less familiar are the fictional maps showing imaginary journeys to unknown continents, the moon, and the deep sea that emerged parallel to scientific reconnaissance missions into the heart of Africa and Asia, innovations in engineering, and military experiments involving steam ships, submarines, balloons, and railroads.

Popular novels by Jules Verne and his imitators capitalized on what must have been a seemingly insatiable appetite for stories that mixed sensational plots and scientific theories. The story that caught the attention of American readers for nearly a century revolved around the “Hollow Earth” theory. In 1818, and thus long before the publication of Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), the American officer, Captain John Cleves Symmes, introduced the theory of a hollow earth containing concentric spheres that were accessible via large openings (1400 miles across) at both poles. Symmes’s theory inspired the anonymous science fiction novel, Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery (1820), in which the narrator, after gaining access to the inner surface of the earth at the South Pole, discovered a utopian society living deep inside the earth. The hollow earth fantasy of finding a parallel universe containing advanced albeit subterranean civilizations quickly became a staple of American popular fiction. Besides influencing Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) and purportedly also Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), the hollow earth story had its perhaps greatest following in John Uri Lloyd’s fantasy novel Etidorhpa, or, The End of Earth (1895) in which the narrator, upon receiving instructions from an underground inhabitant, enters with map in hand the earth’s interior continents through a cave in Kentucky. American authors embraced Symmes’s theory far into the twentieth century, but none offered as explicit a map as did William Reed’s illustrated study of polar expeditions, The Phantom of the Poles (1906) showing the “Hollow Earth”).

The final prominent genre containing the occasional map insert consists of “road” fiction and biographies that involved traveling long distances across the United States by car and more recently also by motorcycle, bicycle, and even on foot. Since the advent of the mass-produced car, the American media, and in particular car advertisements, has coined the “road trip” as a fantasy of unfettered geographical and social mobility. Fiction writers, many of whom were working freelance for movie and advertising companies, developed the theme of road travel into a productive metaphor, plot device, agent of action, even character—think Ian Fleming’s Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car (1964) or Stephen King’s horror novel Christine (1983)—in order to convey life in a fast-paced America that was always on the move.

Classic modern narratives—from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1924) and John Steinbeck’ Grapes of Wrath (1938) to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977)—created elaborate literary maps exploring the exigencies of movement in modern American society. But while these novels omitted physical maps, autobiographical writings by John Steinbeck and William Least Heat-Moon purposefully included maps as part of the literary experience. The endpapers of Steinbeck’s travelogue, Travels with Charley (1962), depicted a road trip along the perimeter of the United States with the goal to find some answer to the question “What are Americans like today?” Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways (1982), whose title is named after the cartographic convention of drawing secondary roads in the color blue, allows readers to follow with map in hand the author’s adventures and soul-searching meditations compiled during a 13,000-mile journey across America and through mostly forgotten small towns.

When searching American literature for the presence of physical maps and the rhetoric of mapping in relation to the theme of movement and spatial representation, readers of critical studies will quickly discover an impasse formulated best by Henri Lefebvre’s somewhat cautionary assertion “that any search for space in literary texts will find it everywhere and in every guise” (Lefebvre 1991, 15). But when he asks the question “how many maps, in the descriptive or geographical sense, might be needed to deal exhaustively with a given space, to code and decode all its meanings and contents?” (85), the answer for readers of American literature despite the scarcity of the physical artifact would have to be “many.” Inspired by spatial theories like Lefebvre’s recent approaches to American literature tend to be informed by critical methodologies whose discussion of maps and mapping has provided new perspective and energy to literary criticism more generally (Brückner 2016).

Studies invested in “literary cartography” frequently invoke the terms and protocols developed by, for example, Michel de Certeau (maps are “a memorandum prescribing actions”; de Certeau 1984, 120), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (“the map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious”; Deleuze 1987, 12), or Jean Baudrillard (“the map precedes the territory”; Baudrillard 1994, 1). As the discourse of maps has come to pervade discussions of literary form and the tools of literary analysis, it is only a short leap to align older residual discussions of the factor of movement with the new critical terms of a modern mapping function, reconciling the classical rhetorical “topos” with the early modern neologism of “plot,” the early modern quest or pilgrimage motif with poststructural uses of “narrative,” and modern spatial idioms linking “travel” and “exploring” to “colonization” and “decolonization.” Indeed, it was the representational power of maps that has by now encouraged literary scholars to speculate how maps mobilized American literary culture figuratively and literally. If we consider Benedict Anderson’s critique of nationalism in relation to the history of print culture and Edward Said’s exploration of culture and imperialism, not to mention more recent discussions of transnational literature and identity, the discourse of maps and the language of mobility provide a fertile contact zone for addressing movement in a wide range of American literatures across time and space (Anderson 1991; Said 1993).

New editions of The Norton Anthology of American Literature or The Heath Anthology of American Literature still include maps in the endpapers (“North America to 1700” in front and “The United States: A Literary View” in the back). These maps track the movement of texts, characters, and readers in their historical moment spaces, thus suggestively making the representation of the map advance as the graphic container of literary history (Baym 1989; Lauter 2006; Alberti 2006). Indeed, if we accept Franco Moretti’s approach to the European novel, the conceptual tools of literary cartography emerge as a productive critical tool because only by mapping the text (and Moretti really wants us to use graphic maps) will we “bring … to light relations that would otherwise remain hidden” (Moretti 2005, 3). With the aid of the computational powers of “literary GIS” applications, new methodological models are now able to recover lost or overlooked map-based movements in American literature. Through digitization, both the map insert and the ubiquitous word map can easily be transformed into metadata that will allow the next generation of students to bridge the gap that has historically separated textual and cartographic representations of spaces in order to reclaim and better understand the meaning of movement in American literature.

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Map of the United States of America

Further Reading

Mapping movement has been a staple method for modern critics and popular readers intent on interpreting American literatures at least since Frederick Jackson Turner presented his “frontier thesis” in 1893 and D. H. Lawrence published his critical appreciation Studies in Classic American Literature in 1923. However, when approaching prose genres in which mobility is a central theme—and these genres range from contact narratives and travel reports to picaresque novels and its unique off-shoot, the “road” novel—critical studies have only recently begun to address how the literary representation of mobility related to actual printed maps and how the latter inflected works of prose fiction during the various stages of literary production and consumption.

There is no dearth in studies engaging with the factor of spatial mobility (as opposed to social mobility). Beginning with studies addressing eighteenth-century American literature, the motif of movement is central to works examining the figure of the traveler such as Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness (1956), Percy G. Adams’ Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (1983), and Barbara Stafford’s Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature, and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760-1840 (1984). A great number of studies address spatial mobility in American fiction when examining the literary function of natural settings, like oceans, lakes, and rivers, or the technological means of transportation, including horse and boat journeys, railway, bicycle, and automobile travels. While these studies are too numerous to cite at length, readers will find the following works to offer a representative sample: Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (1957), Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence. The Mythology of the American Frontier (1973), John D. Seelye, Prophetic Waters: The River in Early American Life and Literature (1977); or, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (1987), Kris Lackey, RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative (1999), and Ann Brigham, American Road Narratives. Reimagining Mobility in Literature and Film (2015).

Nonfiction writings that have shaped the early canon of American literature, from Sarah Kemble to William Byrd, Olaudah Equiano to Sojourner Truth, Thomas Jefferson to Henry David Thoreau, contain the factor of geographic mobility according to a broad spectrum of critical works: Leo Marx’s cultural study of literary form, The Machine in the Garden (1964); Wayne Franklin’s recovery project Discoverers, Explorers, Settlers. The Diligent Writers of Early America (1979); Annette Kolodny’s feminist study, The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860 (1984); Lawrence Buell’s ecocritical study, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (1995); and Bruce Harvey’s transnational approach, American Geographics. U. S. National Narratives and the Representation of the Non-European World, 1830-1865 (2001).

Work engaging directly with the relationship of maps and literature taps a diverse field of investigation exploring the construction of fictional worlds more generally and the conventions of children’s literature or fantasy tales in specific: see for example, Ricardo Padrón’s “Mapping Imaginary Worlds,” (in Maps: Finding Our Place in the World, 2007); Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination. The Writer as Cartographer (2007); Anthony Pavlik, “‘A Special Kind of Reading Game’: Maps in Children’s Literature,” International Research in Children’s Literature (2010); and J. B. Post, An Atlas of Fantasy (1979).

For studies examining the relationship of maps and American literature from angles that include literacy and education, sign theory and abolitionism see Martin Brückner, The Geographic Revolution in Early America: Maps, Literacy, and National Identity (2006), Anne Baker, Heartless Immensity. Literature, Culture, and Geography in Antebellum America (2006), William Boelhower, “Inventing America: A Model of Cartographic Semiosis,” (in Word & Image 1988), and Martha Schoolman, Abolitionist Geographies (2014). Only a few studies explicitly examine the relationship between maps and movement in American literature: see the early essay by Phillip C. Muehrcke and Juliana O. Muehrcke, “Maps in Literature” (in Geographical Review 1974), the edited volume by Martin Brückner and Hsuan Hsu, American Literary Geographies (2007), and the essays by Martin Brückner “The Ambulatory Map: Commodity, Mobility, and Visualcy in Eighteenth-Century Colonial America” (in Winterthur Portfolio 2011), and Gavin Hollis, “The Wrong Side of the Map? The Cartographic Encounters of John Lederer” (in Early American Cartographies 2011).

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Improved map of the territories of Michigan and Ouisconsin (pronounced Wisconsin)
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