OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Susan Schulten

Portrait of Susan  Schulten

Susan Schulten is a professor of history at the University of Denver. Her newest book is A History of America in 100 Maps (2018), published by the British Library Press and the University of Chicago Press. She is also the author of Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America (2012), which won the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association's Norris and Carol Hundley Award, and The Geographical Imagination in America, 1880–1950 (2001). Her other recent work includes "The Civil War and the Origins of the Colorado Territory," Western Historical Quarterly (spring 2013), which was named the best article in the journal that year. With Elliott Gorn and Randy Roberts she recently edited Constructing the American Past: A Sourcebook of a People's History (2018). She teaches courses on Lincoln, the Civil War and Reconstruction, America at the turn of the century, the history of American ideas and culture, the Great Depression, the Cold War, war and the presidency, and the methods and philosophy of history. Recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship for her research on the history of cartography, she lectures widely on the Civil War, the history of maps, and American history in general. For four years she also contributed to the New York Times "Disunion" series, which commemorated the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. For more information on her newest book, visit www.america100maps.com.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

We live in a culture saturated with maps, which can be made instantly to represent virtually any type of data. Technology makes this possible, but our contemporary use of maps is rooted in a fundamental shift that took place well over a century ago. In the nineteenth century, Americans began to use maps in radically new ways, not just to represent the landscape but to investigate patterns and organize information. From maps of disease and climate to the census and slavery, this was a time when the very meaning of a map was redefined.
In the aftermath of American independence, a wave of experimentation swept through cartography. Changed national circumstances, intelligence from abroad, and new printing techniques were just some of the developments that sparked a host of new maps designed to advance the interests of a young and fragile nation.
The sectional crisis generated tremendous attention to maps, as both sides raced to gather intelligence for a military conflict. But the crisis also prompted new and creative uses of cartography, particularly in the effort to map the strength of the rebellion. Maps of cotton production and the slave population were designed to assess not just the landscape but also the population and its resources. These maps reveal much about the Union strategy in the secession crisis and the ensuing war, but they also introduced a fundamentally new approach to cartography that flourished thereafter.
In the summer and fall of 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas engaged in seven debates across Illinois in their rivalry for the U.S. Senate. Though only a statewide race, the debates captured widespread attention in a nation increasingly polarized over slavery. Lincoln lost the race, but the debates catapulted him onto the national stage, primarily due to his audacious claim that slavery was at odds with the country’s mission, and therefore could not be permitted to extend into the west. Today the debates continue to capture our attention not only as skilled oratory, but because they hinged on problems that remain central to American politics, especially the meaning and purpose of democracy.
We commonly acknowledge that the extension of slavery into the West was a primary cause of the Civil War. Yet we tend to treat these two mid-nineteenth-century narratives as geographically distinct: a battle over slavery engulfs the East while mineral rushes and migration transform the West. Here we explore the creation of the Colorado Territory as an outgrowth of both of these developments, as well as the shifting conception of American geography in the 1850s.