My former colleague, Susan Schulten, whose history of geography in the United States is both fantastic and still the industry standard, recently completed an essay for a new edited collection about the history of cartography. Susan’s piece opens with a discussion of the above image: Francis Bichnell Carpenter’s First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. (It’s not snowing in the original, I don’t think. But having never seen it in person, I can’t say for certain.)

If you click on this link (I urge you to do so), you’ll be transported to the University of Chicago Press website, where you’ll be able to mess around with the map that appears on the right in Carpenter’s painting. The “slave map” is an amazing document, which, Susan suggests, “organized information in fundamentally new ways.” If people are interested in how, perhaps I can convince Susan to explain a bit more in the comments. Or, you can buy the book and read what she has to say. In the meantime, I’ll borrow some of the text from the Chicago Press’s site:

Edwin Hergesheimer’s map of Southern slavery was printed in September of 1861 and sold to raise money for sick and wounded Union soldiers. It identified the percentage of the population enslaved in each county, and the total number of slaves—four million, up from 700,000 in 1790—was a figure that could not have gone unnoticed by Americans living through such violent upheaval. By using this relatively new “choropleth” technique of shading, Hergesheimer showed Americans their country through the lens of slavery.

The “slave map” was of particular interest to President Abraham Lincoln, as illustrated in a painting by Francis Bichnell Carpenter, First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln. The artist spent six months living at the White House in order to complete this work, and in that time repeatedly observed Lincoln studying the map. To master the detail on the map for his painting, Carpenter surreptitiously borrowed it; and when the president visited the artist in his White House studio a few days later he remarked, “You have appropriated my map, have you? I have been looking all around for it.” According to Carpenter, Lincoln was once again instantly absorbed by the map and used it to trace the recent progress of Union troops through Virginia. It gave Lincoln happy news, for the areas conquered by the Union just that week were densely populated with slaves. Thus Hergesheimer’s map appears in the corner of Carpenter’s painting, a detail as meticulously chosen as the artist’s arrangement of Lincoln’s cabinet: those sympathetic to emancipation appear on the president’s right, while the more conservative members are placed at his left. The map also appealed to Carpenter for its elegant organization of information. By just a glance, one could see the proportion of blacks to whites in the Southern states, which made it impossible to deny that slavery was at the heart of the rebellion.

Susan wrote to me that: “I’m not sure this tells us anything to resolve the blog debate over the war; it certainly establishes Lincoln’s preoccupation with slavery and the military strategy behind emancipation. The more interesting (to me) story is what it says about the production of knowledge.” All of that fascinates me. But I’m especially intrigued by the way that Hergesheimer’s map grapically depicts the centrality of slavery, particularly in the so-called Black Belt, but really throughout most of the South. In an era in which maps were expensive, and access to them comparatively rare, this one must have caused quite a sensation. It certainly captured Lincoln’s fancy. My highly professional takeaway: maps rock.

Update: Eric has turned off the snow in the blog, perhaps because the map in the sidebar indicates that we’re located in Davis, California. Snow is quite rare here.