Mapping Destiny: Cartography and Nineteenth-Century Art of the Frontier

Mary Peterson Zundo Ph.D. Candidate, Art History University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign The aim of my research has been to examine the ways in which the scientific classification of the Trans-Mississippi West and the rhetoric of westward travel shaped how many American artists and their audiences understood—visually and conceptually—their nation in terms of mapping the land for empire. Because the intellectual and scientific communities in Philadelphia, represented by such institutions as the America Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences, sponsored many of the original 19th-century expeditions to map and explore the American West, their collections were thus uniquely equipped to benefit my project. In the rare book libraries and western Americana collections at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton, I found primary sources (maps, texts, and images) produced by American frontiersmen, explorers, and government topographers (e.g., Kit Carson, John C. Fremont, and John James Abert) that underscored the multiple overlapping ways in which such travelers conceived of the expansive land simultaneously as a panoramic picture and map, while also dutifully measuring time, climate, topography, distance, flora, and fauna for their eastern audiences. At the Academy of Natural Sciences library I found perhaps the most fascinating example of the 19th-century American obsession with scientific exploration and cartographic innovation: the original hollow globe specially crafted for John Cleves Symmes in the 1820s, the decade that witnessed the birth of a “golden age” in American cartography. After attaining the rank of captain in the War of 1812, Symmes used this globe to try to convince the intellectual community and Congress to fund an expedition to find a hole at the pole, which he believed led to another realm of animal and plant life in the center of the earth. I am especially grateful to the Library Company, a PACHS member institution, for allowing me to stay at the Cassatt House, an ideal location for convenient access to most of the research institutions in the city. There I was able to meet other fellows working on American historical topics, including the related subjects of early road construction and travel. I also wish to extend my thanks to the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library (John Pollack, librarian) for allowing digital photography, which is a tremendous aid to the researcher who studies visual culture. My only regret is that the wealth of resources at each of the PACHS institutions could have easily warranted many more months of study. I am, therefore, very much looking forward to returning in the future, and I am grateful to PACHS for offering me this fellowship opportunity and facilitating my entry into these wonderful collections.