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Emma Willard, America’s First Female Mapmaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Emma Willard

Emma Willard

Emma Willard

At The Paris Review, historian Ted Widmer highlights the work of Emma Willard, pioneering educator and America’s first female mapmaker. Willard began her mapmaking career in the 1820s.

She used every tool available to teach young readers (and especially young women) how to see history in creative new ways. If the available textbooks were tedious (and they were), she would write better ones. If they lacked illustrations, she would provide them. If maps would help, so be it: she would fill in that gap as well. She worked with engravers and printers to get it done. She was finding her way forward in a male-dominated world, with no map to guide her. So she made one herself.

The maps for sale show North America in twelve different snapshots. I say “snapshots” because Willard was such an inventive visual thinker. On the eve of photography, she was thinking hard about how to capture a big story inside a single striking image.

Her maps are good, but what really catches my eye are her information visualizations, included at the top of this post. They are worth looking at in detail: The Temple of Time, The Chronographer of Ancient History, and The Perspective Sketch of the Course of Nations. I mean… [emoji heart eyes]

You can read more about Willard at Slate and Open Culture.

Update: Willard’s Universal History in Perspective, which contains many of her maps and infographics, is available at the Internet Archive. (thx, del)