Lehigh University Press

Editions >> Atlas >> Introduction by Lauren Coats

The atlas at Lehigh University is distinct also in its geographical focus. The identification of the Ameri[c]an Atlas as a work by Faden, or consisting of maps by Faden, was possible in part because so many library catalogs have similar holdings; even a preliminary search of a federated catalog turns up numerous examples of atlases by Faden. At the same time that we learned that the Ameri[c]an Atlas is very like atlases at the Library of Congress, the University of Delaware Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and more, we also learned that most of the Faden atlases identified as such include maps of the southeast coast of what is now the United States. In contrast, the Lehigh Atlas focuses on a smaller geographic area and has fewer maps than other Faden atlases. The Lehigh Atlas's maps show what is now the northeastern United States and southeast Canada and pays no attention to any site further south than Philadelphia (save in a large-scale map that features the whole eastern seaboard of the "British Colonies in North America"). This distinction again emphasizes the unknown user of this atlas who decided to purchase, or have made, an atlas of just this small region; it pushes us towards a cartographic history from below that considers the maps' users rather than their makers. Returning to this particular atlas factice draws attention to how maps were used and circulated, and thus their (now anonymous) users and their everyday use. Was the Ameri[c]an Atlas assembled to the specifications of someone interested in this particular region and theater of war? That it ended up in the nineteenth-century in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (when Lehigh University acquired it), in the heart of the region portrayed in the atlas, suggests a local interest behind the atlas's compilation. Was it someone who lived in the northeast who was interested in putting together an atlas that mapped his or her surroundings? Of course, there exists no evidence beyond the circumstantial to substantiate a local connection. We cannot know what drove the individual who assembled or purchased this particular atlas. There is no guarantee that the first owner of the Ameri[c]an Atlas lived in the region, in the United States, or even North America. Thus, at the same time that the Ameri[c]an Atlas tantalizes by opening up of a line of questions that brings attention to its anonymous users and owners, these owners and users remain but vague figures. If we do not get answers, the distinctiveness of the Lehigh Atlas at least opens us up to questions that can open up a cartographic history from below.

It is in the interest of posing these questions that Lehigh Library and Lehigh University Press bring Ameri[c]an Atlas to publication. Digital publication of atlases such as this one brings unique items into the public domain and thus makes them more readily available for study and examination; perhaps the atlas factice will become more widely studied as the numerous examples scattered around the world in private collections and libraries are made electronically accessible. As more variants are made widely available, the possibility of comparing them and thus of writing their history emerges. The Library of Congress recently added their version of a Faden atlas to their impressive online collection of maps and atlases (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3300m.gar00002). Lehigh University's edition builds from this first step by including digital images of the maps as well as additional scholarly information to help contextualize these maps. We hope that it will provide a foundation for further study of the atlas factice generally as well as the compiled atlases of William Faden.

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