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Creating the New Map of Empire with Max Edelson

When the British defeated the French and their allies in the Seven Years’ War, they acquired vast new territories that expanded British America. Britain’s North America Empire grew to include New Brunswick in Canada, Florida on the southern mainland, and Caribbean Islands like Dominica, among many other places.

How would the British meld these spaces – spaces that were religiously and ethnically diverse, characterized by both free and enslaved labor, and fraught with tension between indigenous peoples and white settlers – into a coherent empire?

Well, first they had to map them.

In the decade before the American Revolution, the British government embarked on a monumental effort to create new, high-resolution maps that would help it forge a new imperial landscape.

On today’s episode, Dr. Max Edelson joins us to explain how a cadre of British military engineers, surveyors, and diplomats produced maps that sought to realize a vision of empire that never came to be.

Dr. Edelson is a historian of British America at the University of Virginia, and the author of the recent book, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America Before Independence. 

Edelson and host Jim Ambuske discuss a number of maps and map collections in this episode, including:

The Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection

Maps in The New Map of Empire:

Herman Moll, A new and exact map of the dominions of the King of Great Britain on ye continent of North America, containing Newfoundland, New Scotland, New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania, Maryland, Virginia and Carolina (1715)

The Catawba Map [Map of the several nations of Indians to the Northwest of South Carolina] [c. 1724]

Samuel Holland, A map of the island of St. John in the Gulf of St. Laurence divided into counties & parishes and the lots as granted by government, (1776).

About Our Guest: 

S. Max Edelson studies the history of British America and the Atlantic world. His research examines space, place, and culture in colonial North America and the Caribbean. His first book, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Harvard, 2006) examines the relationship between planters and environment in South Carolina as the key to understanding this repressive, prosperous society and its distinctive economic culture

His second book, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America Before Independence (Harvard, 2017), describes how Britain used maps and geographic knowledge to reform its American empire in the eighteenth century.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 2016 with a focus on Scotland and America in an Age of War and Revolution. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is the co-author with Randall Flaherty of "Reading Law in the Early Republic: Legal Education in the Age of Jefferson," in The Founding of Thomas Jefferson's University ed. by John A. Rogasta, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew O'Shaughnessy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019). Ambuske is currently at work on a book entitled Emigration and Empire: America and Scotland in the Revolutionary Era, as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.