Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic (Online Exhibition)

American Philosophical Society, 105 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

In Early America, people used maps to define physical and political borders and to illustrate ideas about the world. The processes of mapmaking—surveying, drawing, engraving, and printing—could produce competing visions of the same landscape.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, maps of North America were battlegrounds on which European empires, Native American nations, and North American colonists fought for control of territory and resources. After the American Revolution, maps became part of the nation-building process.

Even as mapmakers sought to represent a connected and united citizenry, maps reinforced the exclusion of many groups from full participation in the new nation. The United States imagined by these maps continued to displace Native peoples from their lands to create spaces for westward expansion. Maps from the Early Republic (c. 1780–1816) reveal just how complicated the process of nation-building was—and continues to be today.