University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


Max Edelson

Associate Professor, History

431 Nau Hall

Research Interests: Cartography, Research Interests: Slavery and Plantation Societies, Research Interests: Digital Humanities


S. Max Edelson studies the history of colonial British America and the Atlantic world. His research seeks to describe the material as well as the cultural dimensions of new world colonization. His first book, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Harvard University Press, 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 current research focuses on the geography and cartography of North America and the Caribbean. Victories in the Seven Years’ War yielded territorial acquisitions that extended British America west to the Mississippi, north into Canada, and south to the Florida Keys and the Windward Islands. To better understand, settle, and defend this new empire, teams of surveyors fanned out across the continent and into the Caribbean Sea to map places as diverse as frigid Nova Scotia and the tropical island of Grenada. Their quest to integrate British America on the eve of the American Revolution is the subject of his current research.   The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence (Harvard University Press, 2017) features a dynamic digital archive of the original maps and charts discussed in the book.  In 2007-2008, Edelson began this research as the Kislak Fellow in American Studies at the Library of Congress.  He interprets the meanings of the Catawba Deerskin map on a recent episode of the radio show Backstory.

Max Edelson and senior scientist Bill Ferster were awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Implementation Grant in 2012 to develop MapScholar.  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 pursue this digital humanities research.

Edelson is co-director of the UVA-Monticello Early American Seminar, an ongoing research seminar devoted critiquing research in progress on colonial British America, the Ameican Revolution, and the early republic and related fields.