Over eighty years after it was originally published, Charles O. Paullin’s Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States remains one of the most impressive and most useful atlases of American history. Containing nearly 700 individual maps spread across 166 plates, it addresses a broad range of issues. Beginning with a chapter consisting of 33 maps on the natural environment and a second containing 47 maps documenting the evolution of European and later American cartographic knowledge about North America, the atlas mapped an exhaustive number of historical topics: exploration and settlement of the continent, the location of colleges and churches, disputes over international and state boundaries, voting in presidential elections and in Congress, reforms from women’s suffrage to workmen’s compensation, transportation, industries, agriculture, commerce, the distribution of wealth, and military history.
From conception to publication, the atlas was three decades in the making. An outline for the atlas was first offered by John Franklin Jameson in 1902 when he proposed that the newly established Carnegie Institution of Washington should take on the task of developing “a really first rate atlas of American history.” Under the leadership of Paullin, a historian of the U.S. Navy, research for the atlas began in 1912 at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Historical Research, which Jameson directed. Work on the atlas continued there for fifteen years, and in 1929 the Carnegie Institution arranged for the American Geographic Society (AGS) to complete the atlas. The eminent geographer John K. Wright was then the AGS’s librarian. He oversaw the completion of the atlas and was credited as its editor when it was published in 1932.
Now, the maps in the atlas have been scanned, georeferenced, and georectified so that they can be overlaid consistently within the digital mapping environment. Some map series have been animated to show change. Check it out!