In the 19th century, it was common practice for American school children to learn geography by creating their own maps, painstakingly copying maps from existing atlases. The results are sometimes creative reinterpretations of the world's geography.
Although some students still draw maps today, map-drawing was especially popular in 19th-century schools (and especially girls' schools) thanks to the influence of education activist Emma Willard, who founded the Emma Willard School (then the Troy Female Seminary) to provide young women with the same higher educational opportunities available to men. Willard believed that map-making was a valuable method for learning geography, and a few artifacts of this period in educational history. The US maps capture a particularly optimistic period in the country's history, a time when the nation was expanding apparently inevitably west, and would stretch across the entire width of the continent.