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Editions >> Atlas >> Introduction by Lauren Coats

Uncovering the Hidden History of the Ameri[c]an Atlas

The digital publication of this atlas started with a mystery: the volume sat on the shelves of Lehigh University Libraries' special collections, with its irregular title Amerian [sic] Atlas tantalizing users but providing little information about the text's origins. Lehigh University's own archives provided no additional clues about where it came from; the records only showed that the university acquired it in the 1880s. Without the requisite bibliographic information, the atlas hadn't even been entered into the online catalog. Who purchased these maps, all sold individually by both London and American sellers, and had them bound into a single volume complete with a handwritten table of contents? When was it assembled between its pasteboard covers? Who had it bound so carefully, but not carefully enough to avoid the misspelling ("Amerian") on the leather spine?

It is with these questions in mind that Lehigh University Archivist Lois Black and I began our investigation. Through research into maps of the Revolutionary War, comparison with similar atlases, and discussions with map historians Matthew Edney and Joel Kovarsky, I confirmed that Lehigh University's Ameri[c]an Atlas consists of maps belonging to the famed late-eighteenth-century British mapseller, cartographer, and Geographer to the King, William Faden. Faden, who had taken over the business of the first Geographer to the King, Thomas Jefferys, had an extensive catalogue of maps including "33 maps and battle plans" of the Revolutionary War in North America.[1][James R. Akerman, "From Books with Maps to Books as Maps: The Editor in the Creation of the Atlas Idea," Editing Early and Historical Atlases: Papers Given at the Twenty-Ninth Annual Conference on Editorial Problems, ed. Joan Winearls (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995) pp. 3-48.] Lehigh University's Ameri[c]an Atlas consists of nineteen of these maps, with one duplicate. These nineteen, dated from 1759-1777, feature British colonies and Revolutionary War military movements in North America with a geographic focus on what is now the northeastern United States.

Identifying the individual component maps proved to be the easiest task, especially given the ample documentation of Faden's individual maps. However, many questions remain about the maps as a collection, that is, as an atlas. If it is certain that all of the maps in the Ameri[c]an Atlas are part of Faden's catalogue, what is unknown is whether or not Faden bound them together and then sold them, perhaps at some individual's request. In addition to producing proper atlases, Faden made a business of compiling atlases to order. He would put together maps from his catalog with a handwritten or printed table of contents and bind this individual collection together for sale. The atlases put together on demand by Faden may share many of the same maps and characteristics – but each is, by definition, unique. While it is known that Faden did compile atlases to order, these atlases have not been studied or compared. By bringing Lehigh's Ameri[c]an Atlas online, we hope to give scholars an opportunity to study the variants of Faden's made-to-order atlases.

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