“The Want of Accurate Maps”: On Using Period Maps in Research for the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse
This paper presents an analysis of period military maps associated with the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, and in so doing, encourages researchers of such maps to consult the perspective of the mapmaker and the context surrounding the document. Modernity tends to consider maps as accurate, objective portrayals of events, and modern scholars are overly critical or dismissive of historic maps when divergent or inaccurate features are presented. This mindset may not be appropriate; period maps should not be thought of as merely historic versions of today’s satellite images, but rather as depicting the perspective of the draftsman or commissioner of the map, which of itself may harbor important insights to discover.
In examining this point, American, French, British, and Hessian maps developed in the aftermath of the battle were consulted, focusing on the important features of each illustration, the backgrounds of the relevant draftsmen and/or commissioners, and their possible motivations and objectives in making the maps. The ultimate goal emphasized by this piece is that the wise historical researcher of military maps from this period should remember that the depiction of positions and events should be perceived through the eyes of the individuals responsible for the map’s creation, and not taken at face value.
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