Revolution : Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783
by Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen

Overview -

Historians of the Revolutionary War in America have been fortunate in their resources: few wars in history have such a rich literary and cartographic heritage. The high skills of the surveyors, artists, and engravers who delineated the topography and fields of battle allow us to observe the unfolding of events that ultimately defined the United States.  Read more...

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More About Revolution by Richard H. Brown; Paul E. Cohen

Historians of the Revolutionary War in America have been fortunate in their resources: few wars in history have such a rich literary and cartographic heritage. The high skills of the surveyors, artists, and engravers who delineated the topography and fields of battle allow us to observe the unfolding of events that ultimately defined the United States.

When warfare erupted between Britain and her colonists in 1775, maps provided graphic news about military matters. A number of the best examples are reproduced here, including some from the personal collections of King George III, the Duke of Northumberland, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Other maps from institutional and private collections are being published for the first time. In all, sixty significant and beautiful cartographic works from 1755 to 1783 illustrate this intriguing era.

Most books about the Revolution begin with Lexington and Concord and progress to the British surrender at Yorktown, but in this rich collection the authors lay the groundwork for the war by also taking into account key events of the antecedent conflict. The seeds of revolution were planted during the French and Indian War (1755-1763), and it was then that a good number of the participants, both British and rebel, cut their teeth. George Washington took his first command during this war, alongside the future British commanding General Thomas Gage.

At the Treaty of Paris, the French and Indian War ended, and King George III gained clear title to more territory than had ever been exchanged in any other war before or since. The British military employed its best-trained artists and engineers to map the richest prize in its Empire. They would need those maps for the fratricidal war that would begin twelve years later. Their maps and many others make up the contents of this fascinating and beautiful book.

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  • ISBN-13: 9780393060324
  • ISBN-10: 0393060322
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publish Date: October 2015
  • Page Count: 160
  • Dimensions: 12.6 x 11.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds

Related Categories

Books > History > United States - Colonial Period (1600-1775)
Books > History > United States - Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)

BookPage Reviews

Stunning maps tell humanity's story

Who among us hasn’t used Google Maps to get a detailed aerial survey of our neighborhood, right down to the tricycle in the driveway? We no longer need anything as old-fashioned as a map to navigate our world. Or do we? We may think we’re getting the whole story with our digital access to up-to-the-minute street scenes, but no satellite image delivers the artistic elegance and historical context of the maps reproduced in these four gorgeous collections. 

If you think of maps as antiquated and utilitarian, maybe even boring, prepare to reconsider. Map: Exploring the World, an attention-grabbing collection of more than 300 maps, brings the art of cartography to life with meticulously reproduced, full-color maps ranging from a Catalan atlas manuscript on parchment to modern digital data maps that trace airline flight paths with light trails. The editors play with the expectation that maps are historical documents, and thus should be presented from earliest to latest. Instead, they follow a gold-highlighted 1547 map of Java la Grande from the Vallard Atlas with a 1997 painting of the sacred Baltaltjara site by Australian aboriginal artist Estelle Hogan. Turn the page and you’re in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie-the-Pooh, courtesy of Ernest H. Shepard’s 1926 drawing. A new scene unfolds on each page, accompanied by just enough text to give context, while encouraging readers to make their own connections between art and history.

Jeremy Black, University of Exeter history professor and author of more than 80 books, sheds a different kind of light on humankind’s history as it is reflected in our mapmaking ventures. In Metropolis: Mapping the City, Black focuses on a single subject of cartography: the cityscape. Noting that as civilization developed, so did the human desire to control and organize the rapid pace of change, Black suggests that maps are perhaps the perfect tool for urban planning, allowing people to measure, navigate, plan and protect their newly organized cities. A mapmaker’s vision could affect an entire culture, as evidenced by examples like side-by-side planning maps of New York City in 1815 and 1867. The former shows a relatively featureless grid of streets, while the latter allows the lush, green space of Central Park to dominate, a factor that shapes the settlement of the city to this day. Black’s maps range from bird’s-eye views and panoramas to skyline profiles and schematics, giving readers multiple visual perspectives along with his ample and authoritative text describing each map in its historical context.

Focusing the historical lens even more closely than Black are Richard H. Brown and Paul E. Cohen in Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783. This unique collection illuminates the battles—physical and political—that defined America’s fight for independence. Brown and Cohen carefully curated this collection, scouring sources from the King George III collection at the British Library to the archives of Revolutionary War map printer William Faden and previously undiscovered family collections. Many of the maps are published here for the first time, with full-page reproductions and enlarged insets providing astonishingly detailed accounts of each battle. The 1777 “Plan of New York Island,” for instance, allows readers to see the “carefully placed British forces, twenty-one-thousand strong,” as they “attacked the poorly organized and ill-equipped rebels.” The authors’ lively commentary runs throughout the book, but as they take pains to note, the maps are the focus. Where other history books might use maps to support the narrative, Revolution uses narrative to support the maps themselves.

A "Map of Video Websites" from Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps, courtesy of Martin Vargic.

The maps are the narrative in the wildly original Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps: Mapping the Modern World, in which 17-year-old Slovakian artist Martin Vargic reimagines our planet not just geographically, but culturally, too. Famous for his viral “Map of the Internet,” which remapped the world in terms of website popularity (countries like Facebook and Google dominate North America, for example), Vargic takes his near-obsessive attention to detail to new heights with atlas-style maps that contain vast alternative vocabularies for describing the globe, with thousands of words in each entry. Vargic’s meticulousness was not always obvious when huge pieces like his “Map of Stereotypes” made their way around the Internet. Here, though, full-page, two-page and even foldout maps, along with insets, allow us to see every word he has imposed upon our previously well-ordered vision of the globe. Do you recognize the island relabeled with words like Cigars, Vintage Cars and Uncle Fidel? Would you sail on the Jack Sparrow sea? There’s a sly sense of humor to everything Vargic does, which lets us laugh at ourselves a bit while we contemplate the larger truths he’s telling.


This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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