Visions of home: 3 must-see maps of Kansas

My 2003 Rand McNally atlas spent four years binder-clipped to the Kansas spread. The five cities detailed across the bottom are Wichita, Manhattan, Topeka, Salina and — interrupted to show Highway 75 down to Bartlesville and Tulsa, Oklahoma — Lawrence.

Like many of you, I love maps. And I knew I’d need a map for No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

(For those of you who don’t quite know where Kansas is, it’s right in the middle. I’ve lived on both coasts, so I know how the states in this part of the country tend to blur together for folks who aren’t from here. Kansas is below Nebraska, to the left of Missouri, above Oklahoma and to the right of Colorado.)

When it comes to maps at the front of books, my favorite is a two-page spread illustrating the Mississippi River System at the beginning of John M. Barry’s essential Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America. I once spent hours staring at that map; it’s by Jeffrey L. Ward, who’s made lots of maps in books.

The best map of Kansas in general is from the University of Texas Library’s great Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection of freely downloadable images:

Kansas reference map from University of Texas Libraries

But my reporting trips took me to specific places that would get lost in an overview map showing the state in general: the northeast corner of the state, where the many cities in the Kansas City metro add up to a population of 2 million (about half of which is in Missouri); the state’s biggest city of Wichita (with a metro population of more than 644,000); and tiny towns such as WaKeeney (population under 2,000 and falling) and Haven (about 1,200).

After trying to draw a map myself, then ordering one from a map company, I had a couple of maps that still weren’t right. So I turned to my friend Emily Levine, the phenomenal scholar and editor of Witness: A Húŋkpapȟa Historian’s Strong-Heart Song of the Lakotas and With My Own Eyes: A Lakota Woman Tells Her People’s History. Emily has looked at more maps than anyone I know. She drew a clean and simple map that shows my reporting sites while simultaneously conveying the land’s wide-openness and, yes, what sometimes feels like its bleakness:

No Place Like Home map of Kansas by Emily Levine


I could post a lot of other maps of Kansas here, but I’ll just add one more for perspective. This Physiographic Map of Kansas, courtesy of the Kansas Geological Survey, conveys activity dating back hundreds of millions of years. Because when it comes to activism, it always helps to take the long view:

Physiographic map of Kansas_Kansas Geological Survey

Bonus! Once you click over to Washburn University’s Map of Kansas Literature, just try to pull away.

C.J. Janovy is the author of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. Follow her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

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