Map design has to be exact. But when depicting historic events, the resources sited are not. Rather, historic maps and descriptions are vague and contradictory. For year, I have been trying to understand the politics of the 17th century— the source of what became over 300 years of cyclical conflict in central Europe. These confrontations created the basis for many modern ones.
The Schmitt story that I am writing begins in 1689, which was a pivotal moment (though later overshadowed by the French Revolution 100 years later). Yet it is both an ending as well as a beginning. The Treaty of Westphalia was forty years old, but peace was far from achieved. The invading armies changed from Swedish to French domination.
My goal is to create a visual to express these changes. (Please see the combined draft at “Mapping a Pivotal Era.”) Trying to find historic maps reveal switching fluid borders, fragmented data, and imprecise maps/descriptions. Reading the biographies of those involved was more helpful— where they were when. Compared with the history of the towns, I was able to pinpoint data on events, especially the worse destruction. 1635 and 1689 (plus 1707 in Baden) were markers of complete loss. Often after weeks of being overrun by camping soldiers, the armies burned the occupied towns to the ground upon leaving.
By tracing the ten ancestral families who worked at Züscher Hammer, a windowed opened to the plight to Luxembourg— always sharing the center of swirling conflict with Trier, just to the east. Events brought together the Wallonian French-speaking Catholics with the Rhennish German-speaking Protestants. If that were not enough cultural mix, add a series of occupiers from Swedes to Spaniards, to the French.
Drawing the map is a puzzle of comparing facts. Half of the time creating it was spent on researching and assembling the facts. First, I drew the rivers, the super-highways of the past. Once I located the places, Google made finding them easy. But then matching dates, places, events, and people, corroborating through thick library books, led to Draft 1, presented here.
From my facts, those more interested in further detail will find leads. I invite historians to advise refinements.
Liane Sebastian, illustrator, writer, editor, designer, content creator