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What did Oklahoma look like in 1492?
How did the Dawes Commission appropriate land among the tribes? Where did the original 10 blocks of homes in Midwest City sit? What would Guthrie look like from the vantage point of a hill?
No matter the question, there’s a map for that.
The Oklahoma Historical Society houses thousands upon thousands of historic maps related to the Sooner State in its archives at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, but began reproducing some of them about five years ago, according to Chad Williams, deputy director of the research division.
“We have all these original maps, and of course, they’re getting old,” Williams says.
To preserve them for the ages, the staff is scanning them, one by painstaking one.
“It feels like we’ll never get them all scanned,” he says, “but it just takes time and computers that don’t lock up.”
The scanning effort is both valiant and important, as the maps show Oklahoma how it used to be, at different points of time. Williams likens our changing landscape to a volcano’s lava reshaping its surroundings.
“They’re cool. Half the streets may be the same as they are today, but you can go there and be reminded of the history,” he says, noting that we take such details for granted. “I like how we can look at how something was in 1850 and then, 20 years later, a different map shows the change and transformation of the land and the culture. You can see it from the way they create the maps.”
Geological, historic, street scenes, even fire insurance maps — all kinds
comprise the society’s massive collection. While Williams and his staff take great care with handling these documents during scanning, they don’t use Adobe Photoshop to mask the maps’ faults. From tears to pieces of tape — or even a thumbprint on an original negative — all flaws remain to ensure the maps’ authenticity.
Reproductions of several are for sale through okhistory.org, and a few dozen can be viewed at the society’s Flickr site, flickr.com/photos/ oklahomahistory.
“It’s amazing what sells,” Williams says.
Photo by Mark Hancock