Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad: Giving Some Love for the Hand-Drawn Map

Who doesn’t love the artistry of a hand-drawn map? I’ve been looking at some fine examples lately and wanted to share a few of my personal favorites.

I’m starting with Elbie Bentley’s “Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad” because it represents a mastery of hand-drawn cartographic technique – particularly hachuring – seldom seen today. I’m also a big fan of multi-media when it comes to mapping, and Elbie seems to effortlessly merge her hand-drawn maps and digital cartography with much artistry and clarity.

Akin to the fine tradition in architectural drawing, combining hand-drawn techniques with digital should (in my opinion) be more common practice in modern cartography. I was first introduced to Elbie’s work this fall at NACIS. Elbie was kind enough afterward to share more of her work with me. This talented young cartographer has produced an integrated narrative piece of expedition through a beautilfully illustrated, self-published, “Atlas of Explorations for the Pacific Railroad” (see a preview of the Atlas on sale at Blurb). Okay, I’ve been officially sucked-in by the multi-media maps and narrative approach of the Atlas. I find it refreshing and inspiring, not only by the well designed content and articulation of the narrative, but also the craftsmanship and technique employed.

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Here is a summary from the Blurb website: “The Gunnison-Beckwith expedition for the Pacific Railroad (1853-1854) produced a particularly intriguing report containing adventure, illustration, and topographic presentation. The intensity of the stories and the beauty of the artistic products contained within the reports remain, however, largely unknown. This atlas represents this significant historical event in an a set of maps organized to be read like a novel. The cartographic language of the nineteenth century topographic explorers is also mimicked in each map to recreate their world of incorporated illustrations, observation, and text.” Elbie is a recent graduate of Ohio University – Department of Geography.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Web Maps

A classical challenge for the cartographer is how to present and clearly communicate large quantities of information to their intended audience. Web mapping has opened new possibilities for creative solutions, but arguably effective presentation techniques are still few and far between. Watersheds present a perfect example of data intensive landscapes paired with the need to convey vast amounts of information to the general public.

In 2003, Chesapeake Bay “Watershed Profiles” was an effective interactive map for general public exploration.  While some may consider it less sophisticated by todays web-map standards, there are features I still love and rarely see incorporated in interactive maps today. For example, as the user drills down, the maps change in detail and scale, and the well selected graphs and charts are automatically updated to reflect the sub-watershed view. Users can navigate among tabs to explore landscape, demographics, water quality, and more. The map view/scale remains consistent when users navigates among the tabs.

Its a good example for creators of interactive maps in which a lot of data need to be conveyed to a public audience.

While the Watershed Profiles is not currently available, I managed to find a screen shot of the site from my own archives.