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A historical atlas in narrative form.


"Consult an atlas, find your fact (fast), reshelve the atlas. Do not read it, certainly do not read it cover to cover like a novel. What an amusing idea, reading an atlas, with its forbidding style of clipped sentences devoid of anecdotes, elaborations, and by-the-ways. Just the facts, ma'am. Please answer the question, yes or no. As though anything were ever so simple." (Wood 2010: 9)

The atlas has long been confined by its reputation as a mere reference text, a place of dull facts. What if the atlas were rethought as a space capable of creatively illuminating stories of the past? A completely new type of historical atlas might emerge, one that, instead of merely presenting facts of the past, would mediate humanity and creatively illuminate individual relationship with space (Harley 1989).

Recent decades have changed the way we view cartographic representations and have allowed us to approach them in more creative and informed ways. In particular, historical cartography, which, in the past, has done little to convey experiences or the multiple truths of history, has been completely revitalized through narrative approaches to cartographic language (Pearce and Hermann 2010). These narrative techniques have proven successful for the representation of sense of place in the map, which is central to historical cartography, and have thus reshaped maps as spaces capable of creatively visualizing historical geographic subjects (Pearce 2008; Pearce and Hermann 2010). However, despite these advances in historic symbolization within the individual map, little attention has been paid to the atlas and its potential as a narrative form. Though the specific criteria for what constitutes a narrative atlas are yet to be clearly defined, Denis Wood has suggested a narrative could take shape through the mere sequencing of maps allowing the atlas to be read as a novel; in this use, each map would play a role in producing the narrative like paragraphs in text (Wood 1987; Wood 2010). It was these ideas of narrative cartographic technique and atlas structure I sought to bring to life as I went about creating a narrative atlas illuminating the story of the Gunnison-Beckwith Survey for the Pacific Railroad, the subject of this article.

With this project I intended to break traditional conceptions of the atlas as a location of dull scientific fact and reshape it instead as a space capable of presenting engaging graphical narratives that can be used creatively to illuminate stories of the past. In so doing, I sought to demonstrate the use of a narrative approach, to both the atlas and the cartographic language within each map, as a viable technique for representing historical subjects, and that such an atlas could be created without sacrificing the data-rich quality of a reference book; the adventure tales of the explorers, and the beautiful cartographic and artistic renderings produced over the course of their expedition, are thus combined into an engaging graphic narrative told in the voice of the era.

In this article, I will first look at the historical atlas and its potential as a narrative form. Next, I review structured narratives in the map through the use of cartographic symbolization and historic cartographic techniques. Then I turn to the subject of the Pacific Railroad Survey and the nineteenth century representational barrage. Finally, I bring the above ideas together to demonstrate the use of narrative techniques both in atlas organization and cartographic symbolization within the context of the atlas I created. I conclude with a discussion of the outcomes.

Literature Review

The Atlas

According to Wood (1987) combining a set of maps into atlas form serves two purposes: the first is to keep the maps together in one safe, uniformly formatted and organized place, and the second is to produce an interrelated whole of multiple maps which will go beyond the content limitations of the single map. The aggregation of maps into atlas form can follow three principles of ordering: if the primary purpose is for the sake of neatness, maps can simply be bound randomly, without any particular organization, or maps can also be arranged according to an arbitrary scheme (for example, alphabetically by states), which is the second, and most common system. The narrative arrangement of maps, which uses a sequence of maps to shape a story or produce an argument has only been explicitly achieved recently in Wood (2010), which offers a the third and final method of organization (Wood 1987; Wood 2010).

A review of historical atlases of the United States (1) produced within the last 100 years, including expedition atlases, reveals an emphasis on organization according to theme and chronology (maps are organized according to a linear progression of events), or a combination of the two, where the organizational structure remains unclear (Wood 1987). Though these atlas formats allow a narrative reading to unfold (Harley 1989) implicitly as the reader makes connections both between the creatively arranged figures and maps within each page and between each map within the context of those surrounding it, these examples neither reveal an explicitly structured narrative nor do they promote an explicit narrative reading. Additionally, historical subjects are represented simply using image, map and text, arranged within the grid of each page spread; both layout and content (specifically map symbolization and graphic elements) lack historical design and thus lack a connection with geographic and historical visualizations of the past.

Despite the many atlases being produced, little research has been done on organizational structures or the design of their content; the majority of recent literature in historical cartography has been focused in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze historical subjects and how GIS functions in the production of historical map databases, geovisualization and spatial analysis (Gregory and Healey 2007).

For the production of historical atlases, the subjects of structure and content become particularly important because they will both eventually influence how effectively the data are shown in each map, as well as how the whole historical narrative will be understood by the reader. If produced effectively, atlases can not only be used as a reference material, but also to tell a story or take the reader on a journey through a landscape (Wood 1987 cited in Grossman 1998).

The explicit production of narrative in both the content and structure of an atlas has been little explored. A single example can be found in Wood (2010). Though this is not an example of a historical atlas, it is the embodiment of the original notion of the narrative atlas proposed by Wood (1987), which served as the inspiration for my project. Wood (2010), which highlights the seemingly insignificant and the previously unmapped, reveals the diverse dimensions of the Boylan Heights neighborhood of Raleigh, North Carolina by using a narrative approach. Each map tells its own stow, and linking the maps in a sequence, though a linear reading is not explicitly promoted through their content, allows a narrative to arise naturally; together they produce a story or a narrative of place. With this project, Wood uses cartography to produce the same resonance and intimate experience of place as would be produced by a poem; he is exploring the "poetics of cartography" to produce narrative (Wood 2010: 15). Though this is a beautiful and creative example of a narrative atlas, an explicitly structured narrative, either in the linear sequencing of the pages, or the symbology of each map, is neither attempted, nor implicitly achieved.

Historical Cartography

In addition to the organizational considerations for historical atlases, scholars have also examined the discourse produced by and within such atlases. (2) Harley (1989: 80) suggests that cartographers should begin to regard maps less as "objective technical representations" and more as texts connected to the "social implications of our discourse." Though cartography is seen as the "most commonly used mechanism for analyzing data and has powerfully affected the manner in which we visualize the past," it remains a largely unexamined area of scholarship in historical geography (Hamshere 1987 cited in Harley 1989: 81).

Traditionally, Harley (1989) argues, the perception of cartographic science has been as a producer of accurate and objective representations of reality. It is assumed, in this case, that "reality" is entirely knowable and can be simply expressed as a system of facts. The representation of this reality in maps is the central and largely neglected question. Cartography, however, is itself one of the primary influences responsible for the uncritical acceptance of maps as semblances of cartographic objectivity. Additionally, Harley suggests that the discipline of geography views cartography as a set of techniques used to produce objective representations, and cartographers, in turn, have come to view themselves as scientists, whose techniques are not regarded as akin to other forms of representation, for example, literary texts. As a result, we have failed to analyze the map with as much rigor as we do, for example, the syntax of the written word. Deconstructing some of the aspects of traditional historical cartography, he argues, could help us develop a better understanding of maps and use them more imaginatively so they can "mediate humanity rather than the statistical abstractions of the past" (Harley 1989: 84).

Harley (1989) also argues that the map should be viewed less as a mirror of reality and more as a text, especially in the case of historical cartography, which seeks to represent events of the past that are no longer accessible and observable. With this usage, the atlas's narrative form would produce a story driven by the topics and organizational structure as well as the content of the individual maps. Unfortunately, these notions have been resisted by the cartographer of the past, perhaps because those considering themselves scientists do not wish to be associated with the field of literature, one that cannot be proven either true or false. Maps, however, can be considered a form of text in a broader sense, as they can be seen as "constructions employing a conventional sign system" (Harley 1989: 85). The case can therefore be made that the mere presence of linguistic elements would not constitute the text, rather the act of constructing the text itself. Among other reforms to map production, a narrative cartography is called for; maps that can portray a process, tell a story, and in tandem reveal the human relationship with space (Harley 1989). The cartographer thus emerges as author.

The Atlas as a Novel

Wood (1987) states that maps are often produced exclusively to function as tools of information and facts, and are not commonly seen as a source of interest on their own. However, flipping the pages of an atlas can captivate, not with facts, but with the subject matter; and such a successful presentation in the map can engage the reader as they would be engaged in a text.

Within the context of the novel, he suggests that the perceived distance between texts of information and texts of pleasure is essentially nonexistent. On their own, neither texts, nor their subject matter, are inherently interesting to the reader. It is, rather, the text's character, "its honesty, its excitement, its subtly, its respect for details ...," that works to bring the two together and engage the reader. This distance, which is probably a cause for relief to those who produce boring maps (it does not need to be enthralling, it was created to present facts), has dominated thought about the role and potential of map and atlas production for the last half century. As a consequence, no tradition has linked the reading of texts (for amusement) with the reading of atlases (for facts); the idea that a map or atlas could be a source of engagement, where the reader might be seduced by a map, as they perhaps would have been by a mystery novel or volume of poetry, has yet to evolve. The relation to the world we know, and the exposure of an unknown world, or a world we could not see without the author's intervention, is a commonality of map and text, and the producer of engagement for the reader of both. Both map and novel are mere representations, not the thing itself (Wood 1987).

Once readers accept that a map is not an accurate representation, its facts can be considered a fiction similar to the characters in a novel. It can thus become a member of the family of representations (paintings, photographs, movies, histories, essays) and part of their traditions, for example, permitting it to be read as a "text of pleasure" (Wood 1987). Wood thus suggests, that through the careful sequencing of maps within an atlas, and their juxtaposition as a group of interrelated pieces, a narrative can be created, just as words have been used to create narrative in a pleasurable novel or as scenes are used to produce the engaging sequence of a film. Each map plays a role in the meaning of the atlas as a whole, just as a group of paragraphs works in unison to produce a story. In such a collection of maps, each map has an explicit point, which encourages the reader to produce a narrative from their reading of the maps together in a sequence, and thus plays a part in the storytelling. "With the map being read, it will soon enough come to be narrated: it cannot be a distant prospect, the atlas as a novel" (wood 1987: 28).

Narrative Technique

Turning to the production of narrative within the individual map, Pearce (2008) has demonstrated that a narrative technique can be used to convey historical experience and produce sense of place in the map (Pearce 2008; Pearce and Hermann 2010). Within this context, the narrative is not generic, but is structured in a particular way. Just as a novelist uses letter symbols to structure the narrative of a text, cartographic symbols can been used to produce a similar narrative within the map. Narrative is not only the telling of a story, but the combination of this story and the related discourse (Abbott 2002). Thus, narratives are made up both of the events that take place, and by the way in which these events are told or presented; and the presentation of a sequence of events and the representation of those events in a particular discourse using the language and grammar of graphic variables, work together to produce narrative in the map (Pearce 2008). For example, in Pearce's map of the 1793 journey of North West Company Clerk John Macdonell (Journey Cake 2005), she uses varying hue symbolizations to convey the emotional geographies of each day (Pearce 2008; Pearce and Hermann 2010); this technique, which is only one of many she employs, works to produce quality of place found in narrative. Pearce clearly demonstrates that, instead of using historic images to convey place to the reader, for example historic photographs or illustrations, sense of place can equally as well be conveyed using the cartographic language of the map (Pearce 2008; Pearce and Hermann 2010).

Historical Cartographic Techniques

The vocabulary of graphic expression in maps is a product of the culture from which it has been developed. Mapping traditions and cartographic language, therefore, develop differently in different places, depending on the needs and tools available to the people (Pearce and Louis 2008). During the nineteenth century cartographic language in Western Europe was characterized by clear and standard line and feature representations. Perhaps the most visually unique technique developed during this era was slope hachuring, which came about with advancements in surveying technologies and the subsequent need to represent relief in plan view. Slope hachuring was explored extensively by both Swiss and German cartographers who developed a standardized method of representing slopes using thick and thin hachures allowing both the identification of slope aspect as well as the differentiation between steep and flat terrain (Imhof 2007). This system became widely used in most European topographic maps, particularly those made by the military of the era, until it was eventually replaced by half-tone shading in the second half of the century (Imhof 2007). Maps produced during this era were carefully engraved by cartographers based on sketches gathered by topographers in the field; each map was a unique depiction of the landscape as seen and experienced by the individual (U.S. War Department 1854).

A small subset of cartographers has explored the reproduction of nineteenth century historical cartographic techniques in the modern mapping environment using geographic information systems (GIS). Buckley, Barnes, and Richards (2007) offer a comprehensive examination of the potential and feasibility of reproducing historic cartographic techniques, including, for example, historical typefaces, decorative ocean art and pictographic hill-signs, in the modern mapping environment) Though the reproduction of these effects clearly demonstrates the ability of modern techniques to closely replicate the look of historical maps, the maps these techniques produce still lack the intriguing aesthetic qualities of the carefully hand-rendered originals. The reproduction of automated historical hachuring styles in the modern mapping environment has proven even more elusive. Kennelly and Kimerling (2000) developed one method in the GIS environment for hachuring using oriented halftones to represent topography, and others have experimented with creating brushes in Adobe Illustrator, but none of these, though they provide more accurate and time efficient historic symbology for modern maps, yields the intricate and unique qualities of the historic hand-rendered relief representations of the pre-automated era. In general, these automated representations of historic cartographic techniques, either symbology or relief, produce essentialized representations lacking the unique, one-of-a-kind character of hand-rendered historic maps, and eliminate the personal experience of place brought to the map through the cartographic process of landscape to map translation.

The Gunnison-Beckwith Survey for the Pacific Railroad

I chose to explore ideas of narrative in both atlas and map using one of the Pacific Railroad Reports as a subject. Despite the historical importance and remarkable content of these reports, which were considered the largest source of geographical information on the West during their era, they remain largely unknown to the public today. A single plate in Goetzmann's Atlas of North American Exploration (1992), displaying the Pacific Railroad Survey Routes and accompanied by a short description of their content and purpose, is all that today represents the impressive expedition undertaken by this group of topographical engineers. The intensity of the stories and the beauty of the artistic products contained within the reports remain largely neglected.

During the Great Reconnaissance of 1848-1861, the U. S. federal government sponsored expeditions and surveys designed to gather a wide variety of information about the territories of the American West and to locate potential routes for a railroad. The Gunnison-Beckwith Survey, which was one of the six conducted, was in charge of surveying from east to west from Kansas to California roughly following thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth parallels. Captain John W. Gunnison was in charge of the initial survey until he was killed by a hostile band of Pahvant Indians (Ute) while examining Sevier Lake 130 miles south-west of Salt Lake City; Edward G. Beckwith took charge for the remainder of the expedition. After wintering with the surviving men in Salt Lake City, Beckwith continued following Gunnison's initial route along the forty-first parallel through the Sierra Nevada to the Sacramento Valley in California. The expedition party collected a wide variety of information about the country though which they passed, all of which was combined into a twelve-volume report, in the form of illustration, map, profile, table and description (U.S. War Department 1854).

While notable for the tragic events surrounding Captain Gunnison's death at the hands of Natives, this survey also produced an exceptional collection of topographic illustrations beautifully depicting the country through which the railroad would pass. The exceptional maps and illustrations of the route produced by the German topographer Baron von Egloffstein, who joined the group as artist and topographer in Salt Lake City, were seen as the most detailed and useful of those produced during that era.

In addition to their exceptional contents, the format of the reports was also remarkable, for it combined text, image, panorama and map in an interconnected presentation that contextualized each piece within the greater whole of scientific knowledge production. This report format was popularized by Alexander von Humboldt, a guiding force behind scientific exploration and data representation during this era (Krygier 1997). Instead of simply representing his observations in a table or list, Humboldt's intent was to "provide information in a form that would enhance comparability and analysis from multiple points of view" (Godlewska 1999: 245). To this end, the comprehensive reports he produced from his numerous expeditions sought to reveal the interconnectedness of natural phenomena by displaying them through multiple formats (for example, text, illustration and data) which were linked by location and then assembled in order to contextualize each piece within the greater whole (Krygier 1997). The "incorporated world" format, which had found wide acceptance by both the public and scientific community as a means of producing valid scientific knowledge during this era, was also used in the Pacific Railroad Reports to display and communicate the explorers' scientific discoveries of the west (Krygier 1997).

In the original Pacific Railroad Reports, text, illustration, data and map were published as separate elements scattered across twelve volumes intended to be read together by flipping back and forth. Though separated from each other within the organization of the reports themselves, these elements were linked by location in the accompanying series of maps, and, when viewed in context, they worked together to produce an incorporated world though the imagination of the reader) (Figure 1). Viewers were transported to the landscapes of the American West and captivated by its beauty through these original reports (Krygier 1990; 1997). Therefore, I wanted to construct an atlas that would integrate these report components with new original maps and thus combine the expedition's adventure stories and visual products with spatial and temporal elements in an integrated piece.


The Narrative Atlas

I brought these notions of cartographic narrative to life, realized in both atlas and map, in the Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad (1853-1854) (Bentley 2009a), a historical expedition atlas created to tell the story of the Gunnison-Beckwith Survey for the Pacific Railroad. Thereby, I gathered and combined a selection of original materials found in the twelve volume set of the Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, (1853-1854), particularly the volumes containing materials from the Gunnison-Beckwith Survey, to create my new original atlas. The limitations of the source materials, mainly the degraded quality and fragility of the original maps, gave me the opportunity to explore new techniques in historic symbolization by recreating the explorers' maps in the digital environment and combining these with reproductions of their original materials.


First, I set out by reviewing the original reports to determine which materials to include in the atlas. It quickly became apparent that, due to the length of the expedition route, which totaled nearly 2,000 miles, the multitude of materials the men produced, and the limited space I would have to display it in the 11x14in, pages of the atlas, I would only be able to display the most representative products from the survey materials. Thus, areas along the expedition route where the majority of materials (images, texts, observations, etc.) were produced and the most interesting events (based on my interpretation) took place, guided the space and materials chosen to be represented in each atlas plate. Using these selected materials, I then went about developing narrative form in the three components of the atlas: the cartographic language, individual plate formats and overall design.


Interpretation and Development of Narrative Form

I began by interpreting the original report materials I had chosen in order to articulate the two aspects of narrative, story (what happened) and discourse (the way in which the story is told and presented) (Abbott 2002), and structured these within the individual components of the atlas, as I will detail in the following section.

The story component of narrative, in this case the day-to-day events of the Gunnison-Beckwith Survey, was based on my interpretation of Wood's (1987) notion of the atlas as a narrative form, and on the way in which the atlas organization and cartographic language can be used as a means to this end (Pearce 2008). I first went about structuring the story component of narrative into the layout and content of the individual plates. Within each map, I summarized the original report texts, written by both Lieutenant Beckwith and Captain Gunnison, who shared command of the expedition, and used these to both narrate the events and produce the narrative voice of the expedition. In addition, each text is associated with a date and campsite location along the expedition path, reinforcing the sequence of events that took place through the cartographic language of each plate (Figure 2). Structuring story using these design techniques allows the reader to explore the landscapes of the explorers' experiences through their descriptions of both the days' events and the explorers' observations as he or she makes their way through the space of each map.


The story component was then further structured into the overall organization of the atlas' plates. To this end, the atlas combines individual expedition maps and, as Wood (1987) originally suggested, sequences them in such a way that they can be read like a novel. Thus, just as the pages of a novel are read, and then turned, as the reader makes his or her way through the text, the atlas' series of maps has been similarly designed in my presentation. Plates are to be read from right to left following the expedition path's movement from east to west across the page (Figure 3).

Similarly, the discourse component of the narrative was interpreted from the original report materials, this included an examination of modes of representation such as illustration, map and profile, and cartographic voice. The discourse component of narrative was developed from my interpretation of Humboldt's data design formats as well as the design of the Pacific Railroad Reports themselves, and the cartographic and artistic style of the original maps. To develop discourse, I focused on retaining the historic voice of the explorers' products and presenting these products in the same format, only this case, within the single map. Developing this component in the atlas demonstrates how the story was being told and presented, how the explorers recorded and presented findings to reflect their interpretation of the landscape, and how they wanted the public to view the landscapes of the West. Though I developed the discourse using many design devices throughout the atlas, I outline only a selection of techniques below.

The discourse component was first structured within the symbols of each map; these were produced based on my interpretation of the cartographic language of the explorers' original maps, mainly their symbolization and modes of relief representation. Symbols within each map have been re-drawn in the cartographic language of the original reports using an innovative combination of digital and hand-drawn techniques. As can be seen in Figure 4, new digital symbols, for example campsite locations or the expedition path, were created using the original reports as a stylistic referent, and these were designed to closely mimic the original historic style.



Similarly, relief was hand rendered for each map background that I have re-drawn, following the traditional hachuring style of the nineteenth century cartographer, only using current data as a guide. Automated methods were researched at the outset, but as a comparable method could not be found, the hachuring techniques for this era were researched and learned until a similar result could be produced. Using Johann Lehmann's hachuring technique (Imhof 2007) and the original survey maps as a reference, I hand hachured the landscape (21 11x14in. illustrations in total) using a slope image derived from current Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) (for a complete description of this process see Bentley 2009b) (Figure 5).

These illustrations were georeferenced, scanned, and then placed into the new map documents to serve as the relief image for each map (Figure 6). Terrain representation was seen as the most important factor in potential railroad location, so mimicking the cartographer's original historic techniques in order to produce a similar landscape was important.

The discourse aspect of narrative was further developed in the layout and content of the individual plates. The original intent of the Railroad Reports was that their contents be viewed within context of one another in order to reflect the form of the "incorporated world" of the American West. Thus, in order to maintain the historic voice of the explorers, and present the contents of the reports as they themselves would have presented them (the discourse aspect of narrative), I designed each map to resemble this original incorporated format. The original report document linked each component (map, illustration and written report) by location in order to create an integrated whole for the viewer (see examples of each component in Figure 1). I maintained this same relationship by linking text, image and observation by location so the reader can view each medium in the context of those others that accompany it, thus recreating the incorporated world within the space of each plate (Figure 7). Baron von Egloffstein's landscape illustrations and panoramas have been reproduced and linked to the location from which they were drawn, using the number system of the original reports; each image is also accompanied by descriptive captions, including location, date and significant landforms pictured, to further orient the reader within the landscape. Additional illustrations of flora and fauna associated with general locations in the original reports, for example the scary looking snake from the Rocky Mountains, were added to each map using a standard gridded format where space would allow. As mentioned above, each descriptive text is also linked to campsite location and date along the expedition path. Symbols representing scientific measurements explicitly described in the texts (for example, abundant or sparse timber resources) or found in the tables of the original survey reports (for example, elevation or bearings) are here placed directly at the location in the map where they were observed (these can be seen represented in green in Figure 7).




Once the series of 21 individual maps was complete, other complimentary elements of the atlas were produced: for example, in order to introduce the reader to the elements of the narrative atlas, a legend was included explaining and displaying the ideas behind the idea of the atlas' content, layout and design (Figure 8). A table of contents was also included to orient the readers within the expedition and show them how to follow the progression of the path within the individual pages. Finally, these were combined, along with title page and introduction, into a book.


The product of this research clearly illustrates the potential application of narrative for the production of historical expedition atlases. In order for a narrative to be produced, the traditional format of the reference atlas was broken, the idea originally envisioned by Wood (1987), and in so doing a new format emerged which allowed the expedition story and products to be read as a novel. Instead of simply arranging image, map and text within each page's grid format, I combined the atlas elements into an integrated narrative that worked to tell the story and display the products of the expedition using the historical voice of the nineteenth century surveyors. Narrative form did not come about on its own, rather it came about through the exploration of atlas design and cartographic techniques.


Structuring the atlas as a narrative resulted in an atlas that not only tells the story of the events, but also presents these events in the cartographic language of the topographic explorers. This language is known for creating an "incorporated world" of text, map, sketch and table, intended to be read together in order to tell a complete geographical story (Krygier 1997). In this atlas, rather than merely compiling these elements as separate sections, I created the idea of an incorporated world by linking observation, text and illustration by location within the spaces of the individual plates. This technique allows the viewer to see and understand each component within the context of others, reflecting the format of scientific data designs of their era.

Retelling the expedition through Egloffstein's cartographic language was a significant part of producing narrative in the atlas and offered an excellent opportunity to explore new cartographic techniques. An aesthetically rich product emerged through the combination of digital symbology and typology with hand-drawn landscape representations. Unlike the expedition report's monochrome maps, the atlas' maps employ hue to both differentiate themes and produce visual hierarchy (Figure 9); landscape illustrations were reduced from black to light gray, while individual themes were forefronted using brown, green and gray, these together produced a visually appealing product while remaining in the historic style. Overall, the combination of technologies allowed a much richer and more compelling map to be produced that still translates the historical representation for the viewer in a new historic format.

The combination of materials, stories, and landscape representations, using the historic voice of the surveyors, produced an engaging graphic narrative for the reader. By viewing the landscape through various formats, and reading the description of events as in a novel, the narrative is allowed to unfold further in an unexpected way. In contrast to the novel, which contains only words, or the reference atlas, which does not link description to maps, the narrative atlas uses a combined representation of narrative elements to help the reader conceptualize and visualize the expedition in space.

Creating an atlas of maps sequenced in a way that allowed them to be read as a book, without losing value as a reference material, was also achieved through design and cartographic technique. The resulting atlas allows the reader to turn the pages and read the story as if they were reading a work of literature, allowing them to make their way through the sequence of events, while observing the spatial and temporal data of the map. Observations, in the form of illustration and data figures, were displayed in each map as if it were a reference map, but also to help tell the story, so the reader can then move sequentially through the narrative of multiple perspectives and data formats. Additionally, the resulting maps are equally as rich as reference, perhaps richer through their variety of representation forms. Even though the original reports were greatly condensed to produce the atlas, the individual maps are nevertheless extremely data-rich. When people think of reference maps, they think of the map being limited to the representation of a small number of themes. For example, a country map is generally limited to the representation of landforms, water bodies and feature and place names. These features, by themselves, are limited in their ability to produce narrative. The narrative arias, however, produces a variety of themes in one map, through application of narrative cartographic technique.


This research explored the arias as a narrative form; using a narrative approach, including the explicit structuring of this narrative in the atlas and map design, allowed me to create an arias in the historic voice of the era that can be read like a novel, something that had only been theorized in the past. In producing this arias, I discovered that multiple forms of representation in the map can help the viewer visualize the landforms and personalize them, which connects them with the place in the map, and thus better connecting them with history. Further, by incorporating the explorers' original materials, reflecting their visualizations and interpretations of the landscape surrounding them, I offer the viewer a window into historic understandings of place through the explorers' original data-representation format.

Atlases have long been considered as mere reference texts, they have not been viewed as sources of amusement or places to discover a narrative. This research offers us a point of departure for envisioning a totally different type of historic cartographic product: an arias capable of bringing the elements of place, space, time and narrative together to transport the viewer into the world of the explorer, thus connecting them with the past. Though perhaps not nearly as engaging as the mystery novel Denis Wood originally imagined, this atlas is a historical narrative rich with experience, illustration and data, and a demonstration of how design and technique can create historic voice in both the individual map and the atlas as a whole. Presented in a narrative form, structured to reflect the voice of the era, this atlas works to engage the reader's interest so the explorations can be read like a novel and the reader becomes engaged with the landscapes of the explorers' experiences connecting them with the past.

NOTE: An earlier shorter version of this work originally appeared as "Narrative Cartographies: Creating an Atlas as a Novel" in GLIMPSE | the art + science of seeing, issue 8, summer 2011;


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(1) The Times Atlas of World History (Barraclough 1978); Antarctica Exploration (Carleton University 2005); National Geographic Historical Atlas of the United States (Fisher and Fisher 2004); Historical Atlas of Canada (Harris et al. 1993).

(2) See for example Knowles (2008) Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History; Knowles (2008) Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS are Changing Historical Scholarship.

(3) See also Maples (2009) Classic Cartographic Techniques in ArcMap, and Barnes (2002) Using ArcGIS to Enhance Topographic Presentation.

Elbie Bentley, Department of Geography, Ohio University, Athens, OH, USA; Email: <>.

DOI: 10.1559/15230406394219
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Author:Bentley, Elbie
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Date:Oct 1, 2012
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