Newly Published Historical Atlas of Maine Culminates 15-year Humanities Project

A new geographical and historical interpretation of Maine, from the end of the last ice age to the year 2000, culminates a 15-year scholarly project led by University of Maine researchers.

The Historical Atlas of Maine, will debut in two book launch events: Dec. 10, 6–8 p.m., at Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine; and Dec. 11, 3:30–5 p.m., Buchanan Alumni House at the University of Maine.

The atlas also will be the subject of a Maine Historical Society lecture by UMaine historian Richard Judd, Dec. 9, noon–1:30 p.m., 489 Congress St., Portland.

The folio-size atlas is edited by Judd and UMaine geographer Stephen Hornsby, with cartography by Michael Hermann. University of Maine Press, a division of UMaine’s Raymond H. Fogler Library, published the volume.

Historical Atlas of Maine tells the principal stories of the many people who have lived in Maine over the past 13,000 years — the history of Native peoples, European exploration and settlement, the American Revolution, Maine statehood, agricultural and industrial development, and the rise of tourism and environmental awareness.

The 208-page atlas features 76 two-page plates with a rich array of 367 original maps, 112 original charts and 248 other images — historical maps, paintings and photos — in addition to its text. The result is a unique interpretation of Maine, a rich visual record of the state’s history, and a major achievement in humanities research.

“The atlas is beautiful and that’s important,” says Hermann, founder and lead cartographer of Purple Lizard Maps, who worked on the project for 14 years. “A lot of atlases are dry and use a cookie cutter shape of a state throughout. We wanted to get away from that format. People are going to be impressed by the atlas’ accessibility. It is scholarly research presented in a beautiful, interesting, readable way that calls you to turn to the next page — and the next.”

In 1997, UMaine Professor of English Burton Hatlen had the idea to compile an historical atlas of Maine that would showcase the mission of a land grant institution and the strength of humanities scholarship.

“I agreed with him that this could be a contribution to Maine and that we could set the bar for other state historical atlases,” says Hornsby, director of UMaine’s Canadian-American Center. “Maine could set the standard.”

Primary funding for the atlas project included $160,000 in seed money from the Maine Legislature in 1999 and a $293,500 National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2003.

Planning for the atlas began with multiple meetings and contacts with scholars — most from UMaine, with others from universities and colleges across the United States and Canada — who focused on those subject areas important to understanding Maine history. With many of the broad areas identified, preliminary research and compilation of historical information, including archival images, were methodically organized.

With Hatlen’s death in 2008, Hornsby and Judd led the final years of the scholarship, largely focused on historical geography, with significant assistance from UMaine graduate students.

Digital files of archival maps of Maine were gathered from archives from Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, D.C., to London, England, and Paris, France. Many important historical maps were made available by the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine.

The two-page, full-color illustrated plates detailing the environmental, economic, social and cultural interactions that shaped the state and the region represent the extensive scholarship of 33 contributors. The atlas is arranged in four chronological sections, starting with the arrival of hunter-gatherers as the ice sheets retreated more than 10,000 years ago and continuing into European contact in the early 16th century and the colonial period. Part II includes Maine’s statehood in 1820, agricultural settlement and the rise of its natural resource-based industries.

With the emergence of industry came urbanization. Part III explores this period of Maine history, including the 1910 federal census that first recorded that a majority of Maine people were living in urban areas. Part IV covers much of the 20th century, with declines in traditional resource-based and manufacturing industries in the state, and the growth of the service economy.

“The Historical Atlas of Maine is an articulation of Maine. The book comes from Maine’s land grant university and is meant to be a gift returned,” says Michael Alpert, director of the University of Maine Press. “It celebrates Maine.”

Three themes run through the atlas: the importance of Native peoples, Euro-American exploration of Maine, and exploitation of its natural resources and rise of environmental awareness in the state — including the shift from being a utilitarian, resource-based economy and society to today’s paired focus on tourism and environmental protection. While those threads also are found elsewhere in the history of the United States, in Maine these three themes “developed their own unique pattern in the particular geographical context of Maine and continue to shape the state,” according to Hornsby and Judd.

The Historical Atlas of Maine will change the way people look at Maine history, says Judd, UMaine’s Colonel James C. McBride Professor of History, and a nationally recognized scholar and author on environmental history. It reflects international scholarship detailing the influence of French-American culture, starting with settlement of the upper Saint John River, and little-known segments of Maine history, including 19th-century Wabanaki petitions and land treaties.

“The atlas brings history to life in a truly multidimensional way and will put Maine on the map in more ways than one,” Judd says. “This is a pioneering effort in terms of scholarship — a new form of presenting materials, and it will have an impact nationwide.”

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.374