Tag: Historical Mapping

“The Ideal Historical Atlas”

Image created by Nathaniel Ayers

Image created by Nathaniel Ayers

As we get closer to releasing the first four maps of American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History, I look back on Charles O. Paullin’s 1932 Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.  My first year at the DSL was spent collecting, formatting, organizing, and building the database for the online version of the Atlas. The Atlas contains nearly 700 unique and beautiful maps, ranging from topics such as the number of Cattle, Explorations, and Rates of Travel. I have always been awed by the craftsmanship and effectiveness of these maps which were published over eighty years ago.  Recently there has been a lot of interest in “retro” maps and recreating them with new data. The Paullin Atlas is a little different in this regard, in that we added underlying data and implemented “A Shiny New Interface for a Classic Atlas” according to National Geographic. Wright thought the maps in the atlas were limited and could be more effective if visualized as a “collection of motion-picture maps.” This is what we tried to accomplish along with being respectful of the original plates in the Atlas. Still to this day Charles O. Paullin’s Atlas is considered one of the most impressive atlases of American History. With the help of our friends at Stamen Design, I look forward to sharing American Panorama with everyone and hope to push the envelope like Wright and Paullin did when trying to create “the ideal historical atlas.”

The Fall of Confederate Richmond Envisioned Through Mapping


Damage by the Evacuation Fire of 1865

We have been diligently working on a new project for the Commemoration of the American Civil War 150th Anniversary and the Fall of the Confederacy in Richmond. More specifically, the “Richmond’s Journey in Nine Questions”- A “Pop-Up” Museum on Capitol Square. We wanted to help address questions like what was happening in Richmond on April 2nd-4th 1865? When was the evacuation fires, and how much of Richmond was burned? What better way to do this than with maps! The goal of the project was to map the events leading up to the fall of Richmond.

On the morning of Sunday April 2, 1865 Confederate lines near Petersburg broke after a nine month seige. The retreat of the army left the Confederate capital of Richmond, 25 miles to the north, defenseless. The video we created provides a visual overview of some of the most significant events of the dramatic days that followed.

Over the next three days, the Confederate government evacuated, mobs looted countless stores, fire consumed as many as a thousand buildings, the Union army occupied the city, thousands were emancipated from bondage, and President Abraham Lincoln toured the former Confederate Capital. The animated map illustrates how these momentous events unfolded in time and space.

Spatial data was created using first hand accounts of events. For instance, Lincoln’s visit relied on the detailed account provided by Michael D. Gorman’s “A Conqueror or a Peacemaker?: Abraham Lincoln in Richmond” that appeared in volume 123.1 of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Points were placed on locations mentioned in the article and a time attribute was associated if applicable. Lines were drawn between points to simulate a path and additional points were added along the line. These points fire one at a time which gives the appearance of a person moving along the streets.

For the Evacuation Fires we used historic maps detailing the extent of the fire and relied heavily on research of others. Based on historical burn extent maps we recreated the burn extent using F.W Beers footprints that were used for the 3D Richmond project. We scoured the research and found approximate times of when the fire started and when it reached certain locations. From this, I created buffers to approximate the fires’ spread. This was used to randomly distribute points within the footprints and blocks (Image above). The time attribute from the buffer analysis was joined to the points and a random start and end time was given within the time range to help the fire seem more organic and less structured.


Each event was added to CartoDB which utilized its visualization tools. Each visualization was then packaged using Leaflet’s mapping library. To read more about the project and see the video click the image below!


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