Montana Highway Maps, Heritage, and Cartographic Palimpsests, 1922-2015.

Authors: Robert Briwa*, Montana State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: Palimpsest, heritage, place identity, critical cartography, Montana
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Southdown, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the American West, history, myth, and landscape are bound together, producing deeply entrenched place identities. Place identity, or the cultural meanings attributed to place, is intimately linked to heritage, defined here as contemporary use of the past. Heritage is constructed and inscribed into place identity via the production of cultural texts, including landscape, literature, promotional materials, and, significantly, highway maps. This research explores Montana’s heritage through Montana’s Highway Commission and the Department of Transportation (DoT)’s highway map program. It reveals state institutions’ construction and conveyance of heritage through maps, and illuminates maps as cartographic palimpsests. This research traces Montana’s Highway Commission and DoT involvement in tourism promotion via heritage construction. It then employs emergent qualitative content analysis on approximately 70 maps produced by the State Highway Commission from 1922 to 2015 and pairs this analysis with archival work, thus revealing the contexts and logics underlying the maps’ production. Montanan heritage emerges as multifaceted and in flux, where monolithic Old West frontier narratives give way to more inclusive narratives highlighting diverse cultures and place-based identities within Montana’s boundaries. Examining these maps’ changing treatment and presentation of heritage over time reveals the maps as heritage palimpsests, where cartographic changes shape understandings and uses of Montana’s heritage via continual processes of naissance, accumulation, re-writing, re-inscription, and re-interpretation. Despite heritage’s continual re-imagining, previous understandings subtly persist in the maps’ ever changing texts, illustrations, and cartographies—and this persistence sheds light on the palimpsestic nature of both mapping practices and heritage construction.

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