Stanford University
Tracing The Arctic Regions
This project seeks to chart a geography of The Arctic Regions, an enormous 1873 book that represents the first photographic survey of Greenland’s western coast. 

arctic photographs

The Arctic Regions was produced by William Bradford (1823-1892), an accomplished marine painter from the maritime hub of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His project related to other mid-nineteenth-century American photographic surveys, such as Timothy O'Sullivan's documentation of the American West and Carleton Watkins' views of Yosemite. Though documenting a significant geographical expedition, The Arctic Regions was also luxury publication for art collectors, combining narrative text and 141 albumen photographs depicting glacial landscapes and native “Esquimaux” peoples. 

Curiously, though, this book contains no map, a sine qua non of effective spatial representation and the end goal of many government-sponsored surveys of the time. Why? What were the advantages and limitations of photography relative to cartography in representing the Arctic at the height of its historical interest? What role did a privately-financed journey, undertaken “solely for the purposes of art” as the book explains, have in place of state-backed projects?

Using the photographs and narrative text as data points, the project will map the 1869 itinerary of The Panther, the steamship that carried Bradford and his crew, to reveal which geographical features it privileges and which it omits. Comparing this map with the 'on-the-ice' lived experience the book seeks to convey, this project aims to reveal the cultural significance of the Arctic, its indigenous people and its glacial landscape for late-nineteenth-century Americans. 

arctic map

Top photographs courtesy of:
New Bedford Whaling Museum: "Arctic Regions: Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition to Greenland" 
Author: Bradford, William, 1823-1892. 
Photographers: John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson 
Publication: London, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1873
Collection of New Bedford Whaling Museum

Bottom map courtesy of:
Northern Regions, in Colton's Atlas Of The World, Illustrating Physical And Political Geography. Published by J.H. Colton And Co. 172 William St. New York. 1855 by J.H. Colton & Co. New York. No. XII.
David Rumsey Map Collection Cartography Associates
direct link

Spatial History