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Library of Congress Geography & Maps: An Illustrated Guide

Regional, National, and World Atlases

Illustration of the Grand Canyon at the foot of the Toroweap
Clarence E. Dutton. Tertiary history of the Grand cañon district, with atlas. 1882. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Panoramic view of the Grand Canyon by William H. Holmes from Capt. Clarence E. Dutton's Atlas to Accompany the Monograph on the Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District (Washington, 1882). The leading scientific illustrator of topographic and geologic phenomena for the Great Western Surveys following the Civil War, Holmes later became the first director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The prenineteenth-century practice of publishing world and regional atlases that included general reference maps of the world, continents, and individual countries proliferated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as publishers attempted to reach large, general audiences. The division's holdings are particularly strong in terms of general world atlases issued by American, British, and German nineteenth-century publishers. The United States, which did not enter the atlas publishing business until the end of the eighteenth century, is represented by Mathew Carey, Jedidiah Morse, John Melish, Henry S. Tanner, Fielding Lucas, Anthony Finley, S. Augustus Mitchell, G. Woolworth Colton, Alvin J. Johnson, George F. Cram, and Rand McNally and Company. Some of the more prominent British publishers include Aaron Arrowsmith, John Bartholomew, Alexander K. Johnston, and George Philip. German holdings include the works of Richard Andree, Ernst Debes, Heinrich Kiepert, Justus Perthes, and Adolf Stieler. In the case of the last publisher, the Library holds over thirty-five editions or variant issues of his Hand-Atlas über alle Theile der Erde (Gotha, 1816 1937), including a rare photocopy of the 1937 edition reprinted by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services after 1943.

Following the Civil War, a number of important atlases, copies of which are found in the division's holdings, were issued by various agencies of the federal government. Several of these were associated with the renewed interest in exploring, surveying, and mapping the American West. In the period from 1867 to 1879, the federal government sponsored four topographical and geological surveys of the region. Commonly referred to as the Wheeler, King, Hayden, and Powell surveys, these four great western surveys produced volumes of geologic, economic, and ethnographic information as well as the first topographic and geologic atlases of the region.

General-content map of the Republic of Georgia with physical relief emphasized
Lobrot. Carte de la Géorgie : échelle 1:3.000.000. 1920. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Although atlases of single countries or specific regions have been published periodically since the late sixteenth century, it is only within the past century that the national atlas, with an array of detailed reference and thematic maps of the country, has appeared. The publication of such atlases, most of which are represented in the division's holdings, was made possible by the extension of topographical surveys, development of new earth science disciplines, and the increase in statistical gathering techniques. One of the first to describe comprehensively a land and its people was the Atlas de Finlande (Helsinki, 1899). Consisting of thirty-two plates, printed in French, the atlas focused on Finland's physical environment, history, population, and communication network. Setting the standard for other national atlases produced in the twentieth century, it is now in its fifth edition under the title of Suomen Kartasto/Atlas over Finland/ Atlas of Finland (Helsinki, 1977). With the fall of the Chinese monarchy and the establishment of the Republic in 1911 to 1912, Wen-chiang Ting's Chung-hua min kuo hsin ti t'u [New Atlas of the Republic of China] (Shanghai, 1934) documented many geographical changes that were not previously known outside that country. Although the atlas received relatively wide distribution in Western countries, its usefulness was limited until the Geography and Map Division published a translation in 1949, A Supplementary Key to Accompany the V. K. Ting Atlas of China (Edition of 1934).

After World War II, there was an enormous increase in both the number and quality of national and regional atlases, and in the United States, France, and Canada, particularly of state and provincial atlases. While the pre-twentieth-century atlases were produced by individual cartographers, geographers, commercial publishing firms, or geographical societies, the more recent ones have been prepared by government agencies with large, skilled cartographic staffs. The contents of these atlases have evolved from the general, richly decorated early maps to the comprehensive reference works of today that include not only topographic maps but many different kinds of thematic maps using innovative graphic design. The first comprehensive and uniformly designed national atlas of the United States was the U.S. Geological Survey's National Atlas of the United States of America (Washington, D.C., 1970), which was edited by Arch C. Gerlach, Chief of the Geography and Map Division from 1950 to 1967. Representative of other national atlases published during the last thirty years is The National Atlas of Japan (Tokyo, 1977), which was issued simultaneously in Japanese and English. Outstanding examples of modern state and provincial atlases are William G. Loy's Atlas of Oregon (Eugene, 1976), which was compiled with the cooperation of state universities and colleges, and state and federal agencies, and Economic Atlas of Ontario (Toronto, 1969), which was a cooperative enterprise of the University of Toronto and the Ontario Department of Economics and Development.