In 1932, the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the American Geographical Society of New York published the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States by Charles O. Paullin. The preface describes the atlas as a composite work, the result of the efforts of many scholars who contributed to the project since it was conceived in 1903. The introduction claims it "is the first major historical atlas of the United States and probably the most comprehensive work of its kind that has yet been published for any country. Its aim is to illustrate cartographically, in manageable compass, and yet with considerable detail, essential facts of geography and of history that condition and explain the development of the United States."
The atlas, which can be found on the fifth floor of the NEHGS library, is indeed impressive. It contains 162 pages of explanatory text and nearly 700 maps that examine a variety of topics--explorers' routes, settlement, political maps, and plans of cities, to name a few. Anyone with an interest in history will be quickly drawn into the vast amount of information and thought-provoking detail. Genealogists will find some of the maps of particular interest, for instance: Colonial Grants, 1603−1732; a 1770 plan of Meredith, New Hampshire; Claims and Cessions of Western Lands, 1776−1802, by seven of the original states; Sources of Emigration to the United States; and multiple maps showing the concentrations of religious denominations and foreign-born populations.
Now an enhanced online version of the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States
has been released by the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab. A recent New York Times article, "Trove of Information From the 1930s, Animated by the Internet
," by Jennifer Schuessler, examines how the Atlas has been translated to an online platform. "The new site's digital enhancements bring that sense of movement to further life, allowing users to pull up the fine-grained data behind many maps (most of which have been georectified, or warped to align accurately with a modern digital map), or just sit back and watch as animation shows, say, the march of women's suffrage or other social reforms."
Whether you view the Atlas in book form or online, a treasure trove of information awaits you. Happy explorations!