Sam Balistreri-Daum

French influence on US land development

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by Sam Balistreri-Daum

A couple months back, while cataloging the British Admiralty charts in our nautical charts collection, I noticed along the coast and riverbanks of Georgetown, Guyana (then British Guyana) from 1938 and 1939 a series of parallel lines running perpendicular to the shores with names written between each line.

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Georgetown, Guyana 1938 (Click on map for larger view)
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Georgetown, Guyana 1939 (Click on map for larger view)
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Georgetown, Guyana 1939 (Click on map for larger view)

The long, narrow strips of land depicted on these 20th Century British charts are actually an interesting form of human geography called “long lots” or “ribbon farms” that come from the semi-feudal seigneurial system used by the French to administer their agricultural land in the colonies of North and South America.  In this system, families would farm long narrow strips of land and pay rent under an agreement with the local seigneur or lord. The main advantage for farmers under this system was waterfront access for transportation and living in close proximity to neighboring farms while still having plenty of land.  Some long lots were a few hundred feet wide while being miles deep.  While the system was relatively outdated and was not always administratively maintained in the New World (especially once territory came under the control of another government such as the British), we can still see evidence of long lots on maps throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries and even in today’s satellite imagery.  In the AGS Library Digital Map Collection it did not take long to find examples in both New Orleans (1884) and Prairie du Chien (1820) to find more examples of long lots:

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New Orleans, Louisiana 1884 (Click on map for larger view)

 

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Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin 1820 (click on image for larger view)

Long lots are even visible today in satellite imagery near Quebec City along the St. Lawrence River.  This image was taken from Google Maps:

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(Click on map for larger view)

These maps show us just one example of the many things that maps can tell us about our world and about ourselves.  These maps and many more are available at the AGS Library and online in the digital collections.  If you’d like to read more about long lots and the seignieurial system, the following websites were useful in gathering additional information for this post:

Michigan State Univeristy: Long Lots: How they came to be:

http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/long_lots.html

Wikipeida.org: “Ribbon Farm”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribbon_farm

View the New Orleans map in the AGS Library Digital Map Collection

View the Prairie du Chien map in the AGS Library Digital Map Collection

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Cartographic Craftsmanship

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by Sam Balistreri-Daum

 

One aspect of the 19th and 20th Century nautical charts that continues to amaze me is the craftsmanship.  I am currently working on the AGS Library’s set of Argentinian charts.  Working with charts in a variety of languages means learning the various nuances of how the language is used in cartography, especially abbreviations. One abbreviation that had us scratching our heads for a little while was “dib.”, which we would see in the bottom right margin of the sheet accompanied by a name.  I later found that this stood for dubujado or drawn and was again impressed by the level of craftsmanship and precision that is involved in cartography, especially in the days before computers.

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While cataloging the Argentinian charts I came across a chart containing keys for abbreviations, signals and topographic and hydrographic symbols used in the drawing of the charts in the series.  This is a reference guide for those who would use the charts.  Note the variety of styles that were done by hand before maps were engraved and then printed (click the image for an enlarged view).

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…And now for something different but related. How did a cartographer learn the skills necessary to draw maps?  For an example of this we turn to the Practischer Entwurf eines neu zuerrichtenden Urbariums (1792).  The book contains practical illustrations of (fictional) maps meant as a “how to” guide for cartographic drawing.  This volume contains beautiful colored examples of cartography, but perhaps the most fun are the fictional places depicted on the maps.  One map features such locations as Schmaltz Aecker (lard lands), Hader Aecker (discord lands) and a section labeled Anger that despite translating to “green” is actually colored in yellow.

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French nautical charts at the AGSL

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by Sam Balistreri-Daum

I have been working as an intern here at the American Geographical Society Library for the past few months, and my work is focused on indexing and cataloging 19th and 20th Century nautical charts. These charts originate in various countries consisting of hydrographic surveys from around the globe.  This has been an amazing project to be involved with and I would like to share my progress on the French nautical charts created by the Service hydrographique de la Marine and its predecessor, the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine.

The Service hydrographique de la Marine (today the Service hydrographique et océanographique de la Marine or SHOM) is an office of the French Ministry of Defense, established in 1720.  While there are obvious military and strategic implications for the creation of detailed nautical charts, the Service Hydrographique also provided a public service by making accurate charts available to navigators sailing for business and recreation. (Wikipedia)  The collection of French nautical charts at the AGSL features charts from around the world including South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Polar Regions, the Pacific Islands and Europe as well as world maps and various tidal and atmospheric charts.

 

The charts themselves are remarkable not only in their accuracy but in the standards employed in their presentation.  The charts are printed using a method called intaglio printing, where the detail of the map itself is etched on a hard surface, such as copper, inked, and then pressed to paper.  The AGSL collections also features a guide to the design and creation of these charts entitled Dispositions Générales Relatives aux Cartes et Plans (1914).

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Dispositions Générales Relatives aux Cartes et Plans (1914).

This guide was helpful in understanding the structure and format of nautical charts from the presentation of scale, terminology and printing methods.  Here are a few formatting examples from among the many that are included in this great resource.