Erwin J. Raisz (1893-1968) is an American 20th century cartographer known as the founder of landform principles of cartography and as a pioneer in American cartographic education. Raisz (pronounced to sound like "rice") graduated from the Royal Polytechnicum in Budapest in 1914 with a Civil Engineering and Architecture degree. In 1923, Erwin Raisz immigrated to the United States where he worked as a map maker and at the same time attending Columbia University, where he earned his doctorate in geology in 1929 with a dissertation entitled "Scenery of Mt. Desert Island: its origin and development." In 1931 Raisz joined Harvard University's Institute of Geographical Exploration where he taught cartography and curated the map collection for decades. His 1938 book General Cartography is credited as being the first American English language text on cartography.
Raisz is perhaps best known by map collectors and students of his work for his use of line and color in hand drawn maps that explain the identity of a place in terms of its landscape. The hand drawn Raisz map "A Canoeist's Guide to New England's Rivers", 1935 bears an unusual map key decorated with two paddlers and a red canoe to explain New England rivers from a paddler's perspective: Wholly Smooth, Mostly Smooth, Very Attractive, Pleasant and Not Recommended, to name a few. The map is in bold colors. Raisz drew a "Map of Old Cambridge in the Vicinity of Harvard University" for Phillips Brooks House, with the Harvard insignia and motto "VE RI TAS" and a vignette of the Charles River Front showing Harvard's new houses (see elsewhere in General Inventory). His maps continued to be published after his death by his family under the Landforms Institute. Raisz designed maps published by others: his work appears as landforms in often bold colors in more conventional maps that were published in atlases, map series and other formats, such as those shown here.
Erwin Raisz maps and his philosophy of map making help us see the role that the landscape and landforms play in guiding the course of history, political geography and the development of civilizations. His maps also, perhaps most importantly, make the natural landscape a subject worthy of understanding.