After the Civil War, the United States government funded several large-scale topographical surveys of the West. The surveys were viewed as "scientific" inventories of the land, rather than explorations of routes to the Pacific. Native Americans are virtually absent from these maps. The first passage describes the authors and funding of the four main projects. The second passage is one historian’s interpretation of the surveys.
In 1870, [George Montague Wheeler] proposed a scheme to map the entire American West (defined as the area west of the 100th meridian) in ninety-five map sheets at a scale of four miles to one inch. The Army seized on the project as appropriate work for a peacetime force and likely to garner public support; in the summer of 1871, Wheeler commenced his first field season in Arizona. . . .
But a disdain for the military in peacetime was already a common theme in the American body politic, and there were other agencies vying for access to the public trough. In 1867 the Interior Department sent geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, with a large budget and support from civilian scientists, to explore and map the northern plains. . . .
As its name indicates, the main concern of Hayden’s survey was with the geology of the region. Also under the Interior department was John Wesley Powell’s Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region. . . . Finally, there was Clarence King’s Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, funded by the Army and staffed by civilians. . . .
The fact that these four official government bodies were engaged in exploration and survey in the American West struck many observers as wasteful. . . . Congress finally voted in 1879 to terminate the surveys of Wheeler, Hayden, and Powell (King had completed his work the previous year). In their place, they set up the U.S. Geological Survey, which, from its home in the Interior Department, has been [the United States’] primary topographical mapping agency ever since.
Source: Karrow, Robert. “The Wheeler Survey.’‘ In Paul E. Cohen, ed. Mapping the West
. Rizzoli International Publications, 2002. 193-194.
After the Civil War, the greatest military problem facing the United States was control of the West. Settlers were moving in, and the vast spaces were filled with the competing needs of Native-American tribes and land-hungry setters. The mapping of the West was not just a matter for scientific curiosity but a question of social control, military dominance and territorial hegemony. . . .
In a comparatively short period, from 1867 to 1880, the notation of ‘unexplored’ that appeared on the [General Land Office’s] 1867 map was rendered obsolete. By the end of the 1870s, the territory had been not only explored but mapped, described and classified. The territory was represented in hachures, contour lines, geologic sequences and biotic taxonomies, photographs, paintings, illustrations, articles scientific and general, and books both technical and popular. The mapping of the territory was part embodiment and part metaphor of the incorporation of the West into national discourses of science, politics and national identity. . . .
The mapping of the West and especially the four great surveys laid the basis for the government mapping of the entire territory. From the four surveys emerged the beginnings of Big Science and, in particular, the United States Geological Survey‚—the main government organization still responsible for mapping and cartographically representing the national territory. From these nineteenth-century endeavours emerged a scientific community closely tied to government and federal policy.
Source: Short, John Rennie. Representing the Republic. London: Reaktion Books, 2001. 185, 195-196, 201.
Source: U.S. General Land Office. Map of the United States and Territories. 1867 Gov't Report Book. David Rumsey Collection.
Source: Wheeler, G.M. 1880. Progress Map Of The U.S. Geographical Surveys West Of The 100th Meridian. 1880. David Rumsey Collection.
1. Both passages discuss the same four surveys, but each author explains the role of the U.S. Geological Survey differently. How does the first author explain the formation of the USGS? How does the second author explain its formation? Which author views the work of the USGS more favorably? How can you tell?
2. What is the argument in the second passage? Do you find it convincing?