Post #2: Maps of the ‘New’ World

The three readings this week all helped to reinforce the themes from last week regarding the political and military use of maps. The ability to quite literally “wipe someone off the map,” how this was used to devastating effect against the Native American populations, and how what a map did or did not portray influenced the colonization of the Americas. But what struck me in particular was how something as simple as changing a name could influence opinions. I suppose I had never really considered how something as simple as naming part of the country “New England” helped reinforce the ideas that the place rightfully belonged to England, no matter the opinions of those living there.

My mind made the connection between the naming of the Americas and political maps of later years, like the map mentioned last class that classified Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia as one country but refused to recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltic countries, or maps I studied in Hebrew school as a kid that classified Israel as “disputed territory.” It truly goes to show how one can never underestimate the political power inherent in something as simple as a map, and how merely changing the name or a boundary can have immense consequences for those who may disagree.

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3 thoughts on “Post #2: Maps of the ‘New’ World

  1. I agree those are great examples of how maps are political — and, following Denis Wood, how maps are propositions. Going further, of course, Wood argued that maps showing any nation were taking a political position in favor of the idea of nations existing in the first place. It’s easier to see maps as propositions when we already doubt the propositions ourselves — as in the case of disputed or unrecognized territories. As we read further on the constructed idea of maps, I wonder about the propositions that we don’t really doubt ourselves. For example, even with disputed borders we’re conceding the legitimacy of a border and the existence of two sides even if we dispute the nature of their claims. It really makes me wonder what other assumptions about the world that maps are hiding. Just the fact that we think it’s normal and appropriate to take dynamic three dimensional space and represent it on a static two dimensional map means maps are conceptually doing a lot of work — it really makes me wonder what else I’m missing.

  2. I certainly can agree with your assessment regarding the power of maps and colonization. I was particularly struck by some of the points of using mapping as a way of culturally eliminating conquered foes. Renaming previous native names to more Euro-centric names as a way to wipe native influence away from territory is certainly eye-opening. It once again shows the power of a map that I never knew existed before this class.

  3. I am in agreement with both you and the above commenter–it’s amazing to read these ideas regarding mapping, as I have never considered them before. I had never thought of cartography as a method of displaying the conquering of a people or a land, but now I can see that point very clear. It makes me want to reexamine many other maps that I have seen over the years.

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