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Pixels replacing pages on the map

by Evan | Mar 31, 2017

Editor's Note:  As You Like It began publishing content in 2011.  That's six years of awesomeness!  Here's a look back at a post we originally published March 18, 2015.

Growing up far from Civil War battlefields, my first visualization of them came via a book: The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. Its painted two-page bird’s-eye views — complete with tiny soldiers marching across golden fields and green forests and firing tiny cannons — engrossed my 10-year-old imagination and spurred me toward the many battlefield visits I have taken. It also fueled my lifelong fascination with maps.

This month, as I plan a vacation and work on a hobby project, I am absorbed by maps; some are in books and some are on the Internet. Although each has advantages, I wonder whether in another computer generation, map books — despite all their beauty and utility — will become unprofitable. Many online map images still load slowly or are hard to read, but Mapquest, Google Maps, and the like are amazingly helpful, and the slickest websites can give you views of old maps that rival the experience of holding the original documents in your hands.

For instance, we have a book called Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War that features Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil Warmaps made during that time. It’s a large book, and the images of the maps  are somewhat  readable.

But take a look at this set of old Civil War maps on the Digital Public Library of America website. The DPLA is a large collection of images from libraries, archives and museums across the country. It’s still in its toddlerhood and can be awkward to use, but when you get to this kind of good stuff, it impresses. In the lower right corner is an icon that enlarges the image to your full screen, and you can use your mouse roller to easily zoom in or out. The upshot is that you can comfortably see details that you’d have to put your nose on a paper map to equal.

Battle Maps of the Civil WarI expect map books to be available as long as I’ll want them, but it’s easy to imagine that my grandchildren will never open one as adults. Assuming Internet speeds improve, the color, detail and utility of maps on a tablet or comparable device will just be too good, and too easy to find. (If you think, however, that I’m wrong, I’d be interested in reading why in a comment below.)

By the way, our copy of the old American Heritage book can’t be checked out of the library, but there’s a newer title, which appears to have the same illustrations, that can. It’s called American Heritage: Battle Maps of the Civil War.

EvanEvan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.
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