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Historian Susan Schulten on How Maps Provide a Special View of American History

When people use maps, they are usually seeking directions to a place they want to go.

But Susan Schulten sees much more in maps, like history, culture and art. She shares some of those findings in her book, A History of America in 100 Maps.

Schulten travels back in time, using maps of the past. Her book explores the hopes, dreams and fears of ordinary people dating back to before the United States came to be.

“There is practically no area of American history where maps don’t sort of enrich our understanding," Schulten said. “Maps record past scenarios, past situations, past relationships of power, but they also influenced people at the time in terms of future decision making.”

Schulten is a history professor at the University of Denver, in Colorado. She studies cartography, the making of maps. During her research, she became very interested in a series of maps made by American schoolgirls in the early 1800s. The detailed maps appealed to her not only for their beauty, but also because of what they taught about a little-known period in American education.

“New schools educating young women for the first time outside the home prepared a curriculum that involved teaching them not just geography but map drawing," she says. She says the girls studied technical methods of art, writing and understanding geography by creating their own maps.

The schools for girls were open for only a short time. Knowledge of them might have been lost if not for the maps they left behind.

Read entire article at Voice of America