Even with the best of technology and intentions, early mapmakers didn’t always get it right. Browsing through the map collection a few weeks ago, I noticed that the shape of one of Brooklyn’s most iconic features, Coney Island, appears drastically different from one map to another. While it’s easy to think of maps as authoritative, scientific representations of geographic space, looking at these helps me to remember that maps are also interpretative. As such, they are affected by the historical context in which they were created and may reflect biases or contain inaccuracies. Either that, or Coney Island has done some pretty incredible shape-shifting!
First up, an image of “Cunny” Island from a map published ca. 1770s. Please note that this is the 3rd state of the map, which was originally published in 1732.
Next, an image from ca. 1763:
Then an image from 1778:
Followed by a map from ca. 1794:
Then a map from 1869:
And finally, a map from 1976 showing the Coney Island we all recognize: