The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860

By Martin Brückner

384 pp., 8.5 x 9, 10 color plates., 147 halftones, 4 graphs, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3260-5
    Published: November 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3261-2
    Published: October 2017

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

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Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

2018 Fred B. Kniffen Book Award, International Society for Landscape, Place, & Material Culture

In the age of MapQuest and GPS, we take cartographic literacy for granted. We should not; the ability to find meaning in maps is the fruit of a long process of exposure and instruction. A “carto-coded” America--a nation in which maps are pervasive and meaningful--had to be created. The Social Life of Maps tracks American cartography’s spectacular rise to its unprecedented cultural influence.

Between 1750 and 1860, maps did more than communicate geographic information and political pretensions. They became affordable and intelligible to ordinary American men and women looking for their place in the world. School maps quickly entered classrooms, where they shaped reading and other cognitive exercises; giant maps drew attention in public spaces; miniature maps helped Americans chart personal experiences. In short, maps were uniquely social objects whose visual and material expressions affected commercial practices and graphic arts, theatrical performances and the communication of emotions.

This lavishly illustrated study follows popular maps from their points of creation to shops and galleries, schoolrooms and coat pockets, parlors and bookbindings. Between the decades leading up to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, early Americans bonded with maps; Martin Brückner’s comprehensive history of quotidian cartographic encounters is the first to show us how.

About the Author

Martin Brückner is professor of English and material culture studies at the University of Delaware.
For more information about Martin Brückner, visit the Author Page.


“This is a brilliantly written book about maps as material commodities.”--Communication Research Trends

“Fascinating, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated . . . Delves with panache into the disparate fields of art history, interior design, book history, print culture, fashion, consumption, theater, and education, to name just a few . . . . Necessary reading for anyone interested in cartography or print culture.”--Journal of American History

“Compelling . . . . This book is very welcome indeed and a significant addition to the cartographic literature.”--English Historical Review

The Social Life of Maps in America is a very social book. It is outgoing and connected in tone, focus, and scope, which emphasizes the nature and role of maps in multiple dimensions of American civic and personal life.”--Journal of the Early Republic

“A remarkably interdisciplinary examination of maps. . . . A treasure trove of information for scholars across the humanities.”--American Literary History

“This book is well researched and produced. . . . An important source for students interested in the broader field of material culture because a major aspect of Brückner’s interpretation is the placement of cartographic artifacts within their physical settings, both public and domestic.”--Winterthur Portfolio