Department of Special Collections and University Archives
McFarlin Library. University of Tulsa.  2933 E. 6th St.  Tulsa, OK.  74104-3123 (OKT - OkTU)

Maps of the American West


Special Collection's Maps of the American West
Thomas Jefferys' 1776 American Atlas
Alexander von Humboldt's 1803 Map of Kingdom of New Spain
Zebulon M.Pike's 1810 A Chart of the Internal Part of Louisiana
Stephen H. Long's 1822 Geographical, Statistical and Historical Map of Arkansas Territory (from the Carey  and Lea Atlas of 1822)
Henry S. Tanner's 1822 Map of North America
Josiah Gregg's 1844 A Map of the Indian Territory, Northern Texas and New Mexico Showing the Great Western Prairies
Augustus Mitchell's 1846 A New Map of the Texas, Oregon and California With the Regions Adjoining 

Special Collection’s
Maps of the American West

"Mapping is fundamental to the process of lending order to the world."
                                                                                 Robert Rundstrom

"A map says to you, 'Read me carefully, follow me closely, doubt me not.'  It says,
'I am the earth in the palm of your hand.  Without me, you are alone and lost.'"
                                                                                Beryl Markham

"Old maps are slippery witnesses.  But where would historians be without them?"
                                                                                J. H. Parry

The seven maps that make up this Special Collections on-line exhibit represent only a small portion of the collection awaiting students interested in the mapping of the trans-Mississippi West.  These maps are artifacts of a time when much of what would become the American West was terra incognita for virtually all Euro-Americans.  Through the study of these maps students can begin to understand how representations of a geographic void were incrementally transformed into reliable geographic knowledge.  What was once unknown becomes, through the confluence of science and art, a visual image of “what’s out there?”

Too often maps are judged solely on their accuracy.  A good map is an accurate map because it conveys topographical truth.  This kind of judgment puts a premium on correctly reconstructing the past through the outline and shape of a landscape, where all the known features are positioned precisely in space.

But old maps should be considered as more than mirrors of a geographic reality.  As J. B. Harley suggests, “maps redescribe the world - like any other document - in terms of relations of power and of cultural practices, preferences, and priorities.”  Maps understood from this perspective become text.  They have a graphic language waiting to be decoded.  Once decoded, they can reveal the cultural values and ambitions of the societies that created them.  This dual nature of maps, their “slipperiness,” allows historians an opportunity to discover new meanings and hidden agendas between their images and texts.

Maps represent some of our most basic and important historical documents.  The careful study of maps, such as those in McFarlin Library’s Special Collections, enables us to gain a greater understanding of the American West and its landscapes, moving us closer to the roots of our history.


Copyright © 2008 McFarlin Library - The University of Tulsa. All rights reserved.
Revised: 06/23/10.