Unquestionable Geographies: The Empirical and the Romantic in U.S. Expansionist Cartography, 1810-1848
From 1810 with the publication of the first charts of the Louisiana Purchase, to 1848 with the celebration of the Mexican cession, leading U.S. cartographers like John Melish, Henry S. Tanner, S. Augustus Mitchell, and others marshaled their empirical and romantic skillsets to engage willfully and consciously in the work of empire-building. Instead of presenting static and impartial displays of geographic information, they were self-conscious and unashamed visionaries who manipulated and sometimes invented geographies, outlining the “sketchy” places with aggressive borders and labels and filling in the “silences” with make-believe topographies and hydrographies. They professed the revelation of natural designs that forecasted grand and prosperous futures. As powerful, yet fictive, expressions of dominion, maps significantly impacted the way many Americans viewed their national destiny, enticed by the geographic vocabularies that masked their chauvinisms and avarice by normalizing their territorial ambitions as natural, providential, and inevitable.