S. Max Edelson

Co-Director, UVA Early American Seminar

(434) 924-6401
431 Nau Hall
Office Hours: M, 3:30-5PM and by appointment

Field & Specialties

Colonial British America
History of Cartography
Historical Geography
Slavery and Plantation Societies
Digital Humanities


Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University (1999)

M.A., Johns Hopkins University (1997)

M.Litt., University of Oxford (1994)

B.A., Cornell University (1992)

Deep Springs College, Class of 1988


S. Max Edelson studies the history of British America and the Atlantic world. His research examines space, place, and culture in colonial North America and the Caribbean.  He is currently researching and writing Ogilby's New World: Geography and Colonization in Restoration America.  This book focuses on one of the most influential work of geography published in the second half of the seventeenth century: John Ogilby's America (London, 1671).  It examines how European geographic knowledge--in text, maps, and other images--circulated among England's ambitious colonial founders as they settled and developed Jamaica, Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania.  

His first book, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Harvard, 2006) examines the relationship between planters and environment in South Carolina as the key to understanding this repressive, prosperous society and its distinctive economic culture. It shows that although plantations often represent stasis in myths of the Old South, they were in fact dynamic instruments of empire. Plantation Enterprise was awarded the George C. Rogers Prize by the South Carolina Historical Society and the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Award by the Agricultural History Society.  Harvard University Press published a paperback edition of the book in 2011.

His second book, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America Before Independence (Harvard, 2017), describes how Britain used maps and geographic knowledge to reform its American empire in the eighteenth century.  The book follows the surveyors who fanned out across frontier territories--from the frigid coasts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to tropical islands in the southeastern Caribbean--to make distant spaces legible from London. The schemes of colonial development and control that these maps envsioned, Edelson argues, helped provoke the reisstance that led to the American Revolution. The New Map of Empire features a free companion website with a dynamic digital archive of more than 257 maps and charts discussed in the book. It was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize in 2017 and received the John Lyman Book Award for U.S. Maritime History by the North American Society for Oceanic History.

Edelson and Research Professor Bill Ferster were awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Implementation Grant in 2012 to develop MapScholar at UVa's SHANTI (Sciences, Humanities, and Arts Network of Technological Initiatives).  MapScholar is a dynamic visualization tool for historic map collections.  It offers a free, open-source portal that gives scholars the ability to bring together high-resolution map images from a variety of sources, analyze them in rich geospatial contexts, and use them to illustrate new interpretations in the history of cartography.  Edelson received an American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship in 2010 to begin this digital humanities research.

Edelson and Professor Christa Dierksheide direct the UVa Early American Seminar, an ongoing research seminar jointly sponsored by the Corcoran Department of History, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, and the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.  The intellectual center of our dynamic graduate program in colonial, Revolutionary, and early national history, the EAS is a community of scholars that includes PhD students, faculty, and visiting researchers who meet regularly to share and critique works in progress.


Professor of History, University of Virginia (2018-)

Associate Professor of History, University of Virginia (2009-2018)

Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois (2007-2009)

Assistant Professor of History, University of Illinois (2001-2007)

Assistant Professor of History, College of Charleston (1998-2001)



Lee B. Wilson (2014), “Masters of Law: English Legal Culture and the Law of Slavery in Colonial South Carolina and the British Atlantic World, 1669-1783,” Associate Professor of History, Clemson University

Mary S. Draper (2016), “The Tropical Metropolis: Cities and Society in the Early Modern British Caribbean," Assistant Professor of History, Midwestern State University

Hannah K. Tucker (2021), "Masters of the Market: Ship Captaincy in the British Atlantic, 1680-1774," Assistant Professor of History, Copenhagen Business School

Nicole L. Schroeder (2021), "Incurable Defects: Medicine, Welfare, and Competing Conceptions of Disability in Philadelphia, 1730-1840," Assistant Professor of History, Kean University

Alexander Humes (2021), "Fortified Arguments: Fortifications and Competing Spatial Views of Colonial North America," Major, United States Army

Jennifer H. Levin (2023), "Material Diplomacy: Indigenous and European Networks of Exchange in French Mobile, 1699-1739," Collections Manager, George Washington Carver Museum, Austin, TX

Emily Sackett (ABD), Women and the Founding of Plantation Societies in English America

Donovan Fifield (co-advised with Alan Taylor) (ABD), Wartime Financing and Political Culture in Eighteenth-Century British North America

Alice King (co-advised with Alan Taylor) (ABD), European-Native American Relations in the Colonial Northeast

Noah Beissel (co-advised with Christa Dierksheide) (ABD), The Barbadian Diaspora in the Early Modern Atlantic World

Bethany McGlyn (co-advised with Christa Dierksheide), Enslaved Artisans in Colonial British America

Ethan Gonzales (co-advised with Christa Dierksheide), Information Politics and Political Culture in the Early Republic


Media Appearances

Public Lecture, "Mapping Carolina: Cartography and the Quest for Empire in the Colonial Southeast," Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series, April 17, 2014, Charleston, South Carolina

Public Presentation, "The Mapping of America: An Interview with Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz," Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, April 3, 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia

Public Lecture, "The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence," Mapping the Georgian World: Global Power and Maps in the Reign of George III, October 9, 2018, King's College London

Video, S. Max Edelson and Ricardo Padrón on teaching a College of Arts and Sciences Forum on "Space, Knowledge, and Power"

Podcast Interview, Ben Franklin's World: A Podcast about Early American History, "Max Edelson, The New Map of the British Empire," episode 186, 2018.

Podcast Interview, Time to Eat the Dogs: A Podcast about Science, History, and Exploration, "Episode 54: The New Map of Empire," October 15, 2018.

Podcast Interview, Professor Buzzkill: History Myths BustedThe New Map of Empire, January 21, 2019.

Podcast Interview, New Books NetworkThe New Map of Empire, May 16, 2019.




(Recent and Selected)

“Searching for Cofitachequi: How English Colonizers Mapped the Native Southeast before 1700,” XVII-XVIII, Revue de la Société D’études Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles, 78 (2021), URL: http://journals.openedition.org/1718/7383.

“An Empire of Tracts: Mapping Landscapes of Property in the British Atlantic World,” in Imperial Ireland and America: Empire, Revolution, and Sovereignty, eds. Frank Cogliano and Patrick Griffin (University of Virginia Press, 2021), 153-177.

“Changing American Geographies,” in The Cambridge History of America and the World, Volume 1, 1500-1820, eds. Eliga Gould, Paul Mapp, and Carla Gardina Pestana (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 37-59.

[Review Essay], “Landscape and Material Culture in British Plantation America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 75 (October 2018): 722-730.

The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence (Harvard University Press, 2017)

“Visualizing the Southern Frontier: Cartography and Colonization in Eighteenth-Century Georgia,” in Paul S. Sutter, ed., Coastal Nature, Coastal Culture: Environmental Histories of the Georgia Coast (University of Georgia Press, 2018)

“The Territorial Pattern of Settler Populations in North America, 1625-1790,” a MapScholar Digital Atlas, http://mapscholar.org/population, 2015.

Featured Review of A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, by Richard S. Dunn, American Historical Review 120 (2015): 1431-1434.

James P. Ambuske, Ryan Bibler, and S. Max Edelson, “Visualizing Early America: Three Maps that Reveal the New World,” A MapScholar Digital Atlas, http://www.mapscholar.org/3maps, 2014.

“Defining Carolina:  Cartography and Colonization in the North American Southeast, 1657-1733,” in Michelle LeMaster and Bradford W. Wood, eds., Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Era Histories (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2013), 27-48.

S. Max Edelson and Bill Ferster, “MapScholar: A Web Tool for Publishing Interactive Cartographic Collections,” Journal of Map & Geography Libraries: Advances in Geospatial Information, Collections & Archives 9:4 (2013), 1-2, 81-107.

Beyond ‘Black Rice’: Reconstructing Material and Cultural Contexts for Early Plantation Agriculture,” American Historical Review115:1 (2010): 125-135.

Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Harvard University Press, 2006)

Internet and Popular Press Publications

“Spaces of Violence: Charlottesville, August 11-12, 2017,” A MapScholar digital atlas, http://www.mapscholar.org/charlottesville, 2017

“Key Place in Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies,” A MapScholar digital atlas, http://www.mapscholar.org/poppies, 2017

“The New Map of Empire,” A MapScholar digital atlas, http://www.mapscholar.org/empire, 2017

“The Territorial Pattern of Settler Populations in North America, 1620-1790,” A MapScholar digital atlas, http://www.mapscholar.org/population, 2016

Current Research




Awards & Honors

(Recent and Selected)


John Lyman Book Award for U.S. Maritime History, North American Society for Oceanic History, for The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence

Finalist, 2018 George Washington Book Prize, C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience/Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History/George Washington’s Mount Vernon, for The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence

Learning Technology Incubator (LTI) grant, “Developing Effective Geo-Spatial Digital Pedagogy,” Arts and Sciences Learning Design and Technology, University of Virginia, 2017

Mellon Indigenous Arts Fellowship, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Provost’s Office, University of Virginia, 2017

Project Director, National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Implementation Grant (MapScholar), 2012-2016

ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2010

J. B. Harley Research Fellowship in the History of Cartography, 2009

Kislak Fellowship in American Studies, Library of Congress, Washington, DC , 2007-2008

Courses Taught

(Recent and Selected)


Forum:  Introduction to Space, Knowledge, and Power

Pavilion Seminar: Digital Practicum in Map History

Maps in World History

Colonial Period in American History



Colloquium in the History of Colonial British America

Economic Culture in Early America

The Colonial Caribbean

Colloquium in Atlantic History

Tutorial in Historical Digital Visualization

Master’s Essay Writing

Problems in U.S. History to 1830: Material Culture

Problems in U.S. History to 1830: Slavery and Modernity

Problems in U.S. History to 1830: Atlantic World

Problems in Comparative History: Environmental History

Spaces of Empire: Geographies of Colonization in the Atlantic World