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Wednesday, August 26 2015

Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, the 1804-1806 expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was intended to map the nation’s newly acquired Louisiana territory. "Mapping the West with Lewis and Clark," a new book published by Levenger Press in association with the Library of Congress, sheds new light on their cartographic discoveries.

Drawing from period maps in the Library’s Geography and Map Division and other repositories, "Mapping the West" examines the critical role that maps played in Jefferson’s vision of a formidable republic that would no longer be eclipsed by European empires.

The book also challenges the general belief that the Corps of Discovery—as the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was called—was heading into uncharted territory as they journeyed west from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific. The maps of the day indicate otherwise.

The expedition also owed a huge debt to American Indian maps, which were often drawn in the dirt from memory for Lewis and Clark, who would then transcribe them onto paper.

Lewis and Clark succeeded in giving Americans—through the map of their route published in 1814—the first map to accurately depict the network of waterways, the extraordinary terrain and the thousands of American Indians inhabiting the continent.

"All the surveying and mapping that occurred in the American West after the Lewis and Clark expedition, which laid the foundation for its relentless expansion, the expunging of the American Indian ways of life, the exploitation of natural resources to sustain a surging population of immigrants as well as western commerce, can be traced to the maps of Lewis and Clark," says Ralph E. Ehrenberg, chief of the Library’s Geography and Map Division. Ehrenberg is the co-author, with Smithsonian Institution curator emeritus Herman J. Viola, of "Mapping the West."

How to order . . .

The book, which retails for $99, is available online exclusively from Levenger and in the Library of Congress Shop, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., 20540-4985. Credit-card orders are taken by the Library at (888) 682-3557.

"Mapping the West," an 11 inch by 14 inch hardcover, contains more than 100 images, including the 1814 map, which is presented as a centerfold. Also included are two loose, pocketed, full-color maps that unfold to 36 inches by 28 inches. One is a reproduction of Nicholas King’s 1803 composite map of the West, which the Jefferson Administration commissioned for the expedition. The other is the first major map of the West that Clark produced while camped at Fort Mandan, North Dakota. Several are new images captured by GPS that show how the 19th-century maps might be conveyed in the 21st century.

Among the maps reprinted is one by Jefferson himself—his 1787 map of Virginia. Jefferson assumed the mountains of the West—the Rockies, in particular—would be comparable to those in the East. Lewis and Clark learned otherwise. The president, who so famously could not "live without books," loved maps equally—even, or perhaps especially, when they proved him wrong.

The Library’s Preservation Research and Testing Division also analyzed certain maps using hyperspectral imaging, revealing new information about their provenance. The 1803 King map, for example, was found to have been drawn on the same paper that Jefferson used for his private correspondence.

"Mapping the West with Lewis and Clark"—a 120-page limited edition—is printed on high-grade, archival-quality paper with Smythe-sewn binding and linen cover. The book, which retails for $99, is available online exclusively from Levenger and in the Library of Congress Shop, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., 20540-4985. Credit-card orders are taken by the Library at (888) 682-3557.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s first-established federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, publications, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at

Information provided by the Library of Congress [Website]

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