Fisk and Coe

When we think about maps, it is easy to think of them in two layers—the static physical features of the terrain and the changing cultural features we place on top.

Harold Fisk and Dan Coe are two cartographers who have challenged our conception of physical terrain as static and immutable.

In 1944, Fisk produced a series of maps depicting the course of the Mississippi River in recent millennia. From southern Illinois to southern Louisiana, he used arial photographs to trace the former paths of the river. Fisk used color and patterns to differentiate distinct routes. It is complicated and not easy to read, but it is worth spending time with to see the incredible ways the river has changed course.

Harold Fisk

Dan Coe undertook a similar project with the Willamette River in Oregon. Instead of arial photographs, Coe used more advanced lidar technology to map the elevation changes in the river. With Coe’s map it is impossible to find distinct paths, but his use of white on a dark blue background brings to mind a ghost-like presence that has left its imprint on the area surrounding it.

Dan Coe

Larger version of Fisk’s maps can be seen at Radial Cartography and Coe’s map can be downloaded at