The John Smith Project

In 1608, Capt. John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay area, and in 1612 a map of his travels was printed. Now, nearly 400 years later, in an attempt to prove that Smith visited the site of the present-day town of Vienna, Maryland, researchers are using digital technology to cross-reference Smith’s map with modern-day maps.

“The map is drawn correct unto itself as far as he (Smith) was concerned. The problem was we were trying to overlay a 400-year-old map over new maps to see where they aligned. We found some interesting evidence when we used ‘rubber sheeting,’ where we mathematically transformed John Smith’s representation of the Nanticoke River to today’s representation. Some complicated mathematical formulas are involved, but in essence you stretch and pull Smith’s map to fit with points on maps showing today’s geography,” [Salisbury geography professor Michael] Scott said.

Comparing old maps to modern cartography is obviously tricky.