The Surveyor’s Eye: Topographic Mapping and the Contest for Empire in Eighteenth-Century British America – NEH-SHARP Living American History in Primary Documents Lecture

Date: 5 June 2023
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Dome Room, UVA Rotunda
Lecturer: S. Max Edelson - Professor of History, University of Virginia

In the second half of the eighteenth century, mapmakers came to North America and the West Indies in unprecedented numbers. They produced striking new maps that pictured American geography in high resolution. In the 1750s, they created comprehensive new maps of continental regions that stretched from the settled coastal plain into the Indigenous interior. Surveyors rendered the visible landscape with crisp lines and keen attention to terrain, waterways, and coastlines. Their hand-drawn images of forts and frontiers provided strategic knowledge that helped win the French and Indian War for Great Britain. After the Peace of Paris in 1763, London publishers commemorated Britain’s great victory over France by engraving them on copper and printing them for mass consumption. During the 1760s and early 1770s, peacetime surveyors journeyed to newly acquired territories, mapping them so they could be more effectively colonized. The American Revolution shattered this vision of development. British surveyors, once tasked to promote an expansive American empire, now applied their knowledge to make war on American colonists. S. Max Edelson will describe the importance of survey knowledge in maps from empire to independence.