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Mapping the past

There are certain skill sets it is considered typical to list on an internship application. Research experience. Writing ability. Loyola student Edward Englestad listed a somewhat less typical one: “extensive military cartography experience.”

Englestad, a history major, transferred to Loyola last spring. He spent nine years on active duty in the Marines, including a six-month deployment to Iraq in 2007 as a Military Intelligence Chief for a Marine Wing Support Squadron Unit.

“You have to understand the topography,” says Englestad, who studied the Iraqi terrain to keep troops informed and prepared. “We had to be experts at maps, because they are the backbone of what we do.”

This experience, combined with a passion for history, led Englestad to his internship with Stephen Schloesser, S.J., of the history department. Schloesser, a scholar of Jesuit history, is deeply involved in research for an upcoming conference commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Jesuit Restoration, and he was interested in a side project that would complement the conference. Schloesser’s goal was to map the letter correspondences of Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Belgian missionary and the first Jesuit to establish missions in the Midwest in the 1840s.

The project expanded, however, when Schloesser realized just what Englestad could do. Now, Englestad is working on creating a modern map of Father De Smet’s entire journey across the Midwest, which covers over 4,000 miles.

“By using digital technology and mapping platforms, I’m trying to create the same kind of product that I would create for a commanding officer, but here in academia,” explains Englestad.

This modern map, based on Father De Smet’s meticulous hand-drawn (and impressively accurate) original maps, is complicated by several factors. For example, the names of many locations in the area have changed (often several times)—and, in many cases, the land itself has evolved since De Smet’s original journeys. But this is  nothing Englestad cannot overcome.

”I look for major things, like curves in rivers—that stuff isn’t going to change over a hundred years,” he says. “By looking for major evidence like that, I can look at today’s maps and figure out where these places exist today.”

De Smet supervised the establishment of the first five Catholic missions in the Midwest. Engelstad hopes that his map will be a testament to De Smet’s accomplishments.

“We want to show that this guy was able to traverse mountains and rivers on horseback and on foot with thousands of pounds of supplies,” he says.

He plans to travel the region in May and hopes to photograph the area to create a Google Streetview display of the areas De Smet traveled. His map will be prominently featured at the conference, to be hosted by Loyola in 2014.

Read more about the Jesuit Restoration and conference in upcoming issues of Loyola magazine. Visit Englestad’s blog at jean-pierredesmet.blogspot.com.

Story courtesy of Loyola magazine (Spring 2013).

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