The Historical Map Transformed
By David Rumsey and Edith M. Punt
Redlands, CA: ESRI Press, 2004
Hard back: ISBN: 1589480449 Price: $79.95
When I show rare materials to students and other groups, the maps we encounter often elicit a collective indrawn breath, a palpable focusing of attention and scrutiny. Collectors of maps have an intimate knowledge of this fascination, and David Rumsey is clearly a map collector of the first rank. His collection numbers more than 150,000 items, and he has placed 10,000 images of his maps online (www.davidrumsey. com). As part of his continuing effort to bring the wealth of his collection to the public, Rumsey has written a large-format book, Cartographica Extraordinaire: The Historical Map Transformed, co-authored with Edith Punt. It is both an exhibition catalog of highlights from his collection and a thumbnail cartographic history of the discovery, exploration, and development of the Americas from roughly 1730 to 1930.
The goal of the book is to explore how cartography as it was practiced in the past is important to the way maps are made today, specifically to geographic information systems (GIS). According to Rumsey and Punt, it is an “attempt to see the digital wizardry of GIS not as a break from the past and old mapping traditions, but intrinsically and essentially as part of those traditions, as another branch in a family tree.” This goal is definitely achieved, both in general and graphically, in the form of two digital maps. The most stunning is the “Lewis and Clark Expedition 200th Anniversary Mosaic,” created by digitally merging three maps: the central portion of Samuel Lewis’s 1814 map, based on William Clark’s original drawing; the General Land Office’s first complete land survey (circa 1870); and a map from the 1970 United States Geological Survey National Atlas. These three “layers” were then placed over Landsat satellite imagery from NASA, creating a multilayered picture of the expanding knowledge and development of the American West over the course of two centuries. Although there is some distortion (the maps are “georectified,” meaning that key geographical points are matched up and the rest stretched to fit), it is an amazing and compelling work of historical, contextual cartography.
More than 100 images of items in Rumsey’s collection are depicted in this book with a loose narrative history of the methods used in mapping and surveying America. At the end of the book, we are treated to a few pictures of Rumsey’s library on the ground floor of his home in San Francisco, including a nice panoramic view. The book is fine example of how a great collection can enhance our knowledge and understanding and is testament to the passions that objects and artifacts can inspire.