Cover image for The geographical imagination in America, 1880-1950
The geographical imagination in America, 1880-1950
Schulten, Susan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 319 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Geographic Term:

Format :


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Material Type
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G96 .S36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this rich and fascinating history, Susan Schulten tells a story of Americans beginning to see the world around them, tracing U.S. attitudes toward world geography from the end of nineteenth-century exploration to the explosion of geographic interest before the dawn of the Cold War. Focusing her examination on four influential institutions--maps and atlases, the National Geographic Society, the American university, and public schools--Schulten provides an engaging study of geography, cartography, and their place in popular culture, politics, and education.

Author Notes

Susan Schulten is an assistant professor of history at the University of Denver.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

University of Denver historian Schulten offers a well-documented account of how politics, history and culture influenced the study and presentation of geography from 1880, when maps first became widely available, to 1950, the beginning of the Cold War. She focuses on four distinct presences within America's geographical community: university geographers, primary and secondary school geographers, the National Geographic and its editors, and commercial producers of maps and atlases. More academician than storyteller, Schulten writes unadorned prose; this style is effective, however, as she argues her major theme, that geography over this period directly reflected political and cultural ideology. Schulten's chronicle of the rise of the National Geographic under visionary editor Gilbert Grosvenor is insightful, especially when discussing the paradox created by Grosvenor's editorial policy of presenting readers "pleasant information," designed to provide "mental relaxation without emotional stimulus." This policy led the magazine to depict favorably what it designated as the "progressive" changes in Italy and Germany in the 1930s. Equally interesting is the discussion of the power of maps, "the silent arbiter(s) of power." Specifically, her analysis of the symbolic message embedded in the Mercator projection, that flat world map familiar to schoolchildren past and present picturing the United States safely centered between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, far from the mysterious East and troubling West, brings new perspective to the latent political statements maps make by their design. Another strength of this book is the richness of the historical and political record Schulten utilizes to explicate her major themes. Theory is wisely balanced by a hodgepodge of odd and interesting facts about maps, politics and American cultural trends. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The thesis of this work, as stated in its excellent introduction, is to weave together commercially produced maps, the work of the National Geographic Society, and academic and K-12 geography in an attempt to figure out how each has informed the U.S. public's idea of the world. Schulten (history, Univ. of Denver) discusses the place of geography in education as well as in popular culture and politics during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century and looks at how cartography turned from an elite craft into a mass-market production. Her focus on historical perspective rather than cartography means that occasionally her statements don't concur with a map librarian's view (e.g., her comment that most maps are found in atlases is incorrect unless she means that this is where most general users see maps). Recommended for public and academic libraries. Mary L. Larsgaard, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Schulten (history, Univ. of Denver) has attempted to trace the rise of geographic learning in the US essentially through the study of maps and atlases, geography in the public schools and universities, and the National Geographic Society. Particular attention is given to the map--its production, consumption, and role in shaping the geographical imagination in America circa 1880-1950. The histories of the Rand McNally Company and the National Geographic Society and its magazine are studied with special reference to cartography. Considerable attention is given to cartographic design and accomplishment, the relationship of map projections to the mind, and the realities of WW II, which are still within the living memory of many readers. Swift but not hurried movement of the narrative makes for readability. Notes, bibliography, index, and illustrations are helpful additions to the narrative. Academic collections. G. J. Martin emeritus, Southern Connecticut State University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Introduction
Part One Making Geography Modern
2 Maps for the Masses, 1880-1900
3 Science, Culture, and Expansionism in the Making of the National Geographic, 1888-1900
4 Creating the Science of Geography, 1880-1919
5 School Geography, the "Mother of All Sciences," 1880-1914
Part Two Geography for the American Century
6 School Geography in the Age of Internationalism, 1914-1950
7 Negotiating Success at the National Geographic, 1900-1929
8 The Map and the Territory, 1900-1939
9 War and the Re-creation of the World, 1939-1950