In a Department of Conservation map produced around 1933, there's a letter from then-governor Floyd B. Olson saying: "To Everybody Seeking Happiness: We have a good time for all of you in Minnesota, whatever your inclination."
The same can be said for this handsome, engaging book from Macalester College geography professor David A. Lanegran (although the happiness part might be stretching it a bit). In little more than 200 pages, 500 years of Minnesota history unfolds in a splendid array of maps, starting from the early 16th century up to the present, accompanied by Lanegran's concise, informative prose.
The earliest maps come from information provided by French explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain. Later, in the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries, more French explorers, native guides and adventurers became primary sources.
The maps produced during this period -- many woefully inaccurate -- are beautiful, fanciful, wondrous; in the universe of early mapmaking, the less a mapmaker knew about an area, the greater the inclination to make up stuff, including fabulous landscapes, animals and people. Nevertheless, maps from this era are remarkable works, considering that the means of gathering information were far removed from the sophisticated technology of instruments and satellites available to modern cartographers.
As Europeans gained a stronghold in North America, information-gathering became more accurate. This is evident in the chapter called "Mapping and Measuring the Land," in which we encounter maps where flights of fancy are replaced by the hard-core realism of surveyors, geographers and engineers.
A dreamy gem from the book is the two fascinating maps of New Ulm, which was founded as a utopian community. One map is an 1858 manuscript map made by Christian Prignitz, commissioned by the New Ulm founders; the other, from 1875, is by H.G. Schapekahm, an architect. They present a powerful visual contrast between a never-quite-realized ideal, and an actual Minnesota town.
"Mapping the Transportation Connection" is my favorite chapter, containing a tasty sampling of those wonderful road maps produced by oil companies and other commercial enterprises during the 1920s and 30s. These were glove-box staples in the emerging world of automobile travel.
There's a lot of information packed into this terrific book. There are state maps, county maps, townships, cities and towns, all presented in bite-sized portions. The usual high standards of layout, visual presentation and production we expect from this publisher are evident on every page. (I have one caveat, however: Highly detailed maps are, of necessity, large. The originals of some maps in the book have dimensions of 30 inches or more. Serious readers will find a magnifier useful for close study.)
L.K. Hanson is a former Star Tribune staff artist and writer.