This is the first entry in yet another occasional, sure-to-be-irregular, but hopefully still important series here at the Juvenile Instructor. Since the blog’s inception in 2007, digital history projects have come a long way, and in the last couple of years, a number of really important digital databases, atlases, and other assorted projects have appeared. In “Digital Mormonists,” I plan to highlight those of potential interest and relevance to scholars of Mormonism and its history.
A month or so ago, someone I follow on twitter linked to a new digital history project called American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. A product of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond (whose other projects include the phenomenal Visualizing Emancipation and the very useful Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States), American Panorama presents a variety of interactive maps with historical data.
The project is continually expanding and being updated, but the original launch features four maps: “The Forced Migration of Enslaved People, 1810-1860,” “Foreign-Born Population, 1850-2010,” “Canals, 1820-1860,” and “The Overland Trails, 1840-1860.” Each of these is potentially useful for historians of Mormonism. When I’ve previously taught Doctrine and Covenants, Church History, and early U.S. history courses at BYU, for instance, I’ve stressed in my lectures the importance of the Erie Canal in facilitating Mormon migration from New York to Ohio, and the interactive “Canals, 1820-1860” maps will be very helpful for those lectures in the future. But the most obviously rich resource among American Panorama‘s maps to date is “The Overland Trails, 1840-1860.”
Offering a visual comparison of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, the interactive map provides a year-by-year summary of migration from 1840-1860, allows users to see the total number of migrants traveling each trail by year, and (most usefully, in my thinking) includes over 2,000 individual diary entries from 22 overland travelers. Two Mormon diarists/diaries are included in that group: Howard Egan’s 1847 diary and James G. Willie’s 1856 journal entries. Bringing their experiences directly into comparison with fellow travelers heading west with different groups for different reasons presents all sorts of interesting research and pedagogical possibilities. I hope scholars and students of Mormon history utilize this important resource, and further hope that when you do, you’ll share with us your experience.