Old-Fashioned Atlas Gets a New-Fashioned Update


A new digital project reproduces all maps in the legendary 1932 Historical Geography of the United States. Many of these beautiful maps are enhanced in ways impossible in print, animated to show change over time or made clickable to view the underlying data. (University of Richmond)

Check out our own collection of historical maps!

Listen to University of Richmond President Ed Ayers explain this amazing project!

Discussion Ideas

  • The new-and-improved atlas has three major improvements on the 1932 version: georectificed maps, animated maps, and clickable maps. What is a “georectified map”? (Scroll down to “Old Atlas, New Functionality” for a brief clue!)
    • A georectified map has been warped to fit on top of a digital map. According to the brainiacs at Esri, “In georectification, a number of corresponding control points, such as street intersections, are marked on both the image [the 1932 map] and the [digital] map. These locations become reference points in the subsequent processing of the image.” All the maps in the new atlas can be viewed in their original, flat forms, as well as in new, georectified versions (shaped like a curved trapezoid).
  • Scroll down to look through the Table of Contents. Each selection actually brings up a collection of maps on that subject. “The ideal historical atlas,” according to one of the atlas’ original authors, “might well be a collection of motion-picture maps, if these could be displayed on the pages of a book without the paraphernalia of projector, reel, and screen.” Digital animation has helped the project inch closer to that ideal. Find an animated map. How does animation help viewers better understand the data in the map?
  • Look at another section in the table of contents. Find a clickable map. How does the click technology help viewers better understand the data in the map?
    • Being able to click on a specific view of a map or dataset allows a viewer to isolate and dig deeper into a specific piece of information. The dozens of maps in this amazing collection display the “Foreign-Born Population” in the U.S., from 1860 to 1930. Clicking on a specific map might display the dispersion of immigrants in 1860, when areas of the country with the most new immigrants were the upper midwest, Rio Grande Valley, and Northern California. Clicking on a specific region within the map gives even more detailed information. Clicking on northern Michigan generates a pop-up box that tells us in Marquette County, “1,400 people were born outside the US, 49.6% of the county’s total population.” This gives us not only the immigrant population of the county (nearly half!), but the general population of the county itself. (At about 3,000 people, pretty small!) Clicking on the 1900 map of the same area, we see Marquette County had a much larger population (more than 35,000 people), but a smaller percentage of immigrants (about 43%).

This is an awesome resource. Play around with it!

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