Historical Atlas of Maine

Review of Historical Atlas of Maine

Edited by Stephen J. Hornsby and Richard W. Judd, cartographic design by Michael J. Hermann.

The University of Maine Press, 2015.

208 pages, with 76 two-page illustrated color plates. $75.00, hardcover.

ISBN 978-0-89101-125-5

Review by: Lisa Sutton

Historical Atlas of Maine

The Historical Atlas of Maine is a solid book, weighing in at over five pounds. It is handsome and well made, printed on heavyweight paper that feels good in the hand. It would make a gorgeous coffee-table book, but it has much more to offer as well.

The Historical Atlas of Maine is divided into four parts: From Ice Age to Borderland, 13,000 BP–1790; Shaping Maine, 1790–1850; Industrial Maine, 1850–1910; and Maine in the Modern Era, 1910–2000. Each part begins with an essay summarizing the period, and continues with 14–24 plates that illustrate specific slices of the history of each era. Each plate is a two-page spread offering information in many forms: details of historical maps, photographs, charts, and multiple maps showing a variety of information, as well as a few paragraphs of text.

Part I (From Ice Age to Borderland, 13,000 BP–1790) begins with several plates covering the glaciation and prehistoric periods of Maine, including tools and archeological sites from early human settlement. Early European exploration of Maine is next, as well as contact between Europeans and native groups, with maps and charts showing the drastic changes in native populations. Early trading and European settlement, charting and interior exploration, and the Revolutionary period are all covered as well.

Part II (Shaping Maine, 1790–1850) examines the War of 1812, Maine’s new statehood, disputes over Maine’s international (northeast) border, and surveys of the interior. This section also takes a look at human migration, with plates covering native spaces and treaty areas, migration from within New England, Irish migration, Shaker communities, and the expansion of settled areas. Plates covering the economic development of the time period include the development of agriculture, farming the salt marsh, lumbering, wooden shipbuilding, deep-sea fisheries, maritime trade, port towns, and the mercantile area of Portland. The final plate covers Maine in 1850.

Part III (Industrial Maine, 1850–1910) begins with plates on bird’s-eye view maps, county atlases, and maps created by the native Wabanaki people, and then moves on to scientific surveys, population changes, and French-Canadian immigration. Most of the plates in this section deal with various forms of industrialization: railroads, electrification, mills, textiles, leather goods, pulp and paper, granite and ice, and sardine canneries. Plates looking at agricultural issues include agricultural specialization, potatoes, connected farm buildings, and rural decline. This section winds down with plates on Maine’s natural areas: Thoreau’s travels in Maine, artists in the mountains and coasts, summer cottages, hunting and fishing, and changing native homelands. The section concludes with a plate on Maine in 1910.

Part IV (Maine in the Modern Era, 1910–2000) looks at changes in Maine over most of the last century. Beginning with a plate on the shift to a more urban population, it then moves on to state highways, metropolitan Portland, changes in manufacturing, specialization in agriculture, canning corn, the shift from moving logs on rivers to moving them on roads, and lobster fisheries. Plates on tourist maps, the promotion of Maine as a tourist destination, and public lands examine recreational activities in Maine. The section ends with plates on environmental problems, native land claims, and Maine in 2000.

This atlas does a fine job of exploring many details of Maine’s history. The essays which introduce each part are well written and concise, neatly summarizing the main events and changes taking place over the given time period. Within each essay are references to each plate in that section, so that while reading the essay, the reader can easily flip to a plate that explores a given topic in greater detail. The inclusion in each part of a final plate showing the population and a map of the state at the end of that time period offers the reader a nice time-lapse view of Maine.

The data visualization is exquisite, with visually simple maps and graphics that convey the needed information gracefully. The color choices are excellent, with graphs and charts that use colors that coordinate beautifully with other images on each plate. This kind of attention to detail is a large part of the reason that this atlas is such a pleasure to read. Despite the abundance of information on each plate, the layout allows the eye to move easily across the page, and it never feels cluttered or busy.

The nature of the layout is such that some of the historic maps and photographs are reproduced at a rather small scale. One gets a good overview of the image, but can’t always look closely at details. Though the reader might like to look more closely at some of these images, that is not really the purpose of this book, and the images are used appropriately to illustrate the points being made. Besides, the atlas includes an extensive list of sources at the end, so that if one really wanted to track down a particular map or image, one could do so.

Overall, the Historical Atlas of Maine is an excellent work, providing a graceful historic tour of Maine. The liberal use of historical maps gives the book an authentic historic flavor, which enhances the reader’s experience of this trip into Maine history. The atlas’s format of plates on various topics makes it easy to flip through and find topics of interest, and the combination of historical maps and documents with modern mapping to illustrate some of the points being made is quite masterful. This book is well constructed and well conceived, both informative and engaging. It would be a fine addition to the collection of anyone who has an interest in Maine history.


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