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  • Cartographic Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth-Century Americas ed. by Ernesto Capello and Julia B. Rosenbaum
  • Joseph L. Scarpaci
Ernesto Capello and Julia B. Rosenbaum (Eds.)
Cartographic Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth-Century Americas.
Routledge: New York and London, 2022. maps, photographs, ill., indices, references, xvii, 250 pp. (ISBN 9780367333263, hardback, $160.00; ISBN 9781000228793 ebook $44.05).

Spawned from an interdisciplinary symposium held in 2013, this book examines the territorial claims, scientific and artistic methodologies, and aesthetic interpretations behind the exploration of exotic places from the North Pole to the far reaches of South America. Contested and imagined spaces captured the world’s imagination through cartography, sketches, photographs, and travelogues in the nineteenth century. In this volume, art historians, a geographer, curators, and literary scholars pen eleven chapters that are parsed into three sections: Seeing and Not Seeing; Lines and Tracings; and Art and the Expeditionary Impulse. Readers from geography, art history, political science, data visualization, landscape architects, and other fields will appreciate how the reportage aboutthe western hemisphere was enhanced by visual aids.

This edited book vividly captures how explorers and artists melded science, thick description, exploration, and aesthetics to portray faraway places. Alicia Lubowski-Jahn integrates these perspectives in her review of Humboldt and landscape pictures emerging from the Prussian’s South American trips. James R. Akerman takes on scientific endeavors in the early 1800s in Yellowstone and frames them with ancillary depictions of the park’s wonders and the imprint of tourism on the park’s subsequent design. Julia B. Rosen-baum explains why critics bemoaned how Frederic Edwin Church’s drawings were too [End Page 203] accurate or because they lacked a romantic aesthetic. Rejected by some painters as well as surveyors and cartographers, Church’s work in South America and upstate New York did not lack critics.

Thick description, artistic renderings, and beauty surface in Joni L. Kinsey’s chapter about triangulation in explorations of the American west. Mirroring surveying and cartographic techniques derived from Cartesian geometry, the surveys of the pre-state-hood American west became a metaphor (e.g., rugged individualism as an example) to validate elements of the natural environment. Federal patronage of artistic renderings became a harbinger of the New Deal sponsorships some half a century later. Kinsey shows how the singularities of many outstanding western viewsheds were portrayed from multiple perspectives and technologies. Art was a strong ally of science as much as the field of data visualization today reflects that symbiosis.

Kenneth Haltman’s contribution focuses on a single map –the area drained by the lower Mississippi (1822) —and discusses what is observed and left out. In a similar vein, Katherine G. Morrissey documents bi-national efforts to place monuments on the U.S.-Mexican border, in what today would be stellar bilateral cooperation. Katherine Manthorne’s contribution on Maria Graham’s journaling and painting in pre-photographic Brazil offers insight into the rare female gaze of a western (British) woman. She debunks the myth that women travelers dwelled on just floral paintings and focused on other dimensions as well such as commerce, customs, and architecture.

Five chapters cover the tropics. They emphasize the paradisical abundance in the maps and pictures created by temperate-zone observers. This is well illustrated in the editors’ opening chapter where Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland’s Géographiqie des Plantes Equinoxiales: Tableau Physique des Andes et Pays Voisins (1805), which “privilege[d] snapshots over processes” and “individual effort over a collaborative enterprise, silencing the multitude of figures that guided Humboldt’s journey.” Said tableau “points to the difficulties, choices, and complexities that characterized efforts to compile and process materials generated by expeditions” (p. 3). Like the nearly five dozen other illustrations in this book, it also served up national legitimacy of freshly mapped and remapped landscapes.

Crisp and engaging writing highlights how paintings and sketches became visual allegories that moved fortunes, lives, and governments. Visual expressions promulgated stereotypes and ‘otherings’ of [Eskimos] and other Native Americans that still linger [still linger in the popular imagination today. Ernesto Capello traces the career of painter Albert Operti who depicted the sublime setting of light and color...


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pp. 203-205
Launched on MUSE
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