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In 1804, a small teaching atlas created by the Rev. Edward Patteson was published in Surrey, England. Its most distinctive feature was what he called "Blank Duplicates" of more traditional maps, lacking labels and political boundaries. Patteson thought that their simplicity would be "very giving a much clearer view of the number and situation of the Towns, Rivers, &c. than a Map crowded with names." It can be inferred that he hoped his Blank Duplicates, "by being placed opposite to the written Map," would educate students to see the terrain first, then memorize political boundaries in terms of latitudes and natural features—rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges.

When we look at a state like Pennsylvania on the map above, three of its borders apparently have been formed by latitudes and longitudes; however, its meandering eastern border follows the Delaware River. But the state of New York owes its political boundaries mostly to water. Lakes Erie, Ontario and Champlain; the St. Lawrence, Poultney, and Delaware Rivers—all of these formed "natural" demarcations between one place and another. Or we could say instead that water isn't a dividing line but rather an organizing force of regions. Seen in this way, the land within a watershed becomes visible to us due to its water.

The "Watersheds" exhibit borrows an idea from New York State's Department of Conservation (DEC). That agency has created a map organizing terrain into seventeen major areas, each with information about its acreage, major streams and lakes, and water quality. Our exhibit here follows their spatial organization, but emphasizes instead material of interest from an historical perspective. What sorts of literature and art have foregrounded "watershed culture"? Are there descriptions from the past that would surprise us today, help to reactivate awareness of a region? The different pages follow a roughly parallel organization: there are descriptions from 19th-century gazetteers, a short poem or other literary text, and a work of visual art of interest from the standpoint of watersheds. There are two ways to navigate: either by using the menu bar at the top of each page, or clicking on the map below and following its hyperlink.

Sources Consulted

—Patteson, Rev. Edward. A General and Classical Atlas: Accompanied with a Concise Treatise on the Principles of Geography; and with a few Practical Remarks on the Application of Maps to the Purpose of Instruction. 1804. Web version available at David Rumsey Map Collection.

Credits: Cristina Morrow, Lara Mangino, Ken Cooper. Note: this OpenValley exhibit was created for a curricular initiative on sustainablity at SUNY Geneseo called the Geneseo Green Quotient, and is intended for noncommercial use; we welcome inquiries for educational purposes.