18th Nebenzahl Lectures: The War of 1812 and American Cartography

Thursday, October 24, 2013Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ruggles Hall

Center for the History of Cartography Programs
Kenneth Nebenzahl, Jr., Lecture Series

North Americans on both sides of the U.S. – Canada border are commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 in 2012-15. But while Canadians remember the war as a formative national event, Americans remember it (if at all) as a comparatively minor event in their history, easily overshadowed by the memory of the Civil War, whose sesquicentennial is also currently being commemorated.

So it is as well with the history of the cartography associated with the War of 1812. While the mapping of the American Revolution has spawned many articles, bibliographies, and monographs, the War of 1812 has barely raised a ripple in American carto-historiography. To be sure, this is partly because the war itself does not appear at first glance to have generated a large volume of manuscript or printed cartography. John Melish’s Military and Topographical Atlas of the United States, issued in 1813 and 1815 is perhaps the best known American cartographic publication specifically associated with the war. This small, but highly original atlas nevertheless is a useful starting point for consideration of the wider impact of the war in the early development of American cartography. Melish’s brief, prolific career as a cartographic publisher was triggered by the personal impact of the enmities that led to the outbreak of war. War brought his full commitment to the trade. And the war’s outcomes gave flight to a rapid expansion of Melish’s publishing ambitions (aborted by his early death), matched by the geopolitical ambitions represented by his famous 1816 map of the United States, the first to assert the nation’s identity as a transcontinental power. Melish was not, of course, the only commercial cartographer working on the American stage at this moment. His adopted home in Philadelphia had been an important center of map publication since the 1790s, and Melish’s collaborators, competitors and contemporaries, among them Samuel Lewis, and H.S. Tanner, developed similar cartographic inventories responsive to the expansive geographical thirst of the American public.

The eighteenth Nebenzahl Lectures have been organized to consider how the transformation of the geopolitical ambitions of the United States centered on the War of 1812 was linked to the history to the American mapping of this period. The decades immediately preceding and following the war, roughly encompassing the years 1800-1830, include a number of notable developments: the first explorations of the Transmississippi West sponsored by the U.S. government; the first governmental mapping devoted to the improvement of transportation and communication infrastructure; the first commercially viable maps published for travelers and migrants; the emergence of a competitive map trade; the formation of the U.S. Coast Survey (later Coast and Geodetic Survey); the beginnings of American pedagogic and historical cartography, and the establishment of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The seven invited contributors to this eighteenth series of the Nebenzahl Lectures will explore these and other themes, asking whether and in what ways the War of 1812 and its aftermath was a formative period in American cartography. At the same time, the lectures will consider how the cartography of the War of 1812 shaped American ambitions and identity during this uncertain and critical time in American history.

Program Schedule

Thursday, October 24, 2013

8 PM Welcome and Opening Remarks

8:15 PM Ann Durkin Keating, North Central College, “Preparing for War: The May 1812 Hay Map of Northern Illinois”

Light reception after

Friday, October 25, 2013

9:30 AM Martin Brückner, University of Delaware, “Cartography in Crisis: War, Panic, and the Sine Qua Non Maps of John Melish”

10:45 AM Scott Stevens, The Newberry Library, “Bounded by History: Mapping Iroquoia in the War of 1812”


1:30 PM John Cloud, NOAA, “A Survey of the Surveys of the Coast at the Time of the War of 1812”

2:45 PM Susan Schulten, University of Denver, “Cartographic Innovation in the Early Republic”

4 PM James Akerman, The Newberry Library, “Rivers, Lakes, Travel Cartography and the Frontier, 1800-1848”

5:30 PM Reception

Saturday, October 26, 2013

10 AM Imre Josef Demhardt, University of Texas at Arlington, “From the War of 1812 to the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48: The Explorative Mapping by the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers”

11:15 AM Closing Remarks: James Akerman, “The War of 1812 and Cartographic Memory”

Cost and Registration Information 

The lectures are free and open to the public, however, we do ask those planning to attend to register by sending an email to emeryk@newberry.org or calling 312-255-3657.