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[Detail] An accurate map of North America.

Interpreting Historical Fiction | Maps as Art: Ornamentation in 18th-Century Maps | Maps and Art: The Problem of Scale | Languages of Empire

Maps as Art: Ornamentation in 18th-Century Maps

Historic maps were often ornamented with elaborate borders around the title or key, as well as drawings that conveyed additional information about the subject of the map. Sometimes, areas about which little was known were filled with drawings of what the mapmaker guessed might be there.

The map detail below shows a drawing that appeared on a map titled "A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia." Examine this image closely.

  • What does the drawing convey about the area shown in the map?
  • Does the drawing add to the map's visual appeal? Why or why not?
  • Use the Title Index to find "A map of the most inhabited part of New England." How is the drawing on this map similar to or different from the drawing below?
  • Find at least one additional map in The American Revolution and Its Era collection that you believe shows evidence that map-makers in the 18th century saw their work as an art. Explain why you think the map supports that view.
  • Examine several modern atlases. Can you find any current maps that include drawings like the one below? What do you think accounts for the move away from adding such decorative details? Do modern maps provide any evidence that map-makers today are concerned about the artistic quality of their products?
  • Select a map that you think is visually appealing and then redraft it, using ornamentation and drawings that a cartographer of the 1750s might have used to embellish the work.