Blog #6: Maps and Colonial Identity

Hello everyone. My apologies for how late I’m getting this blog post up this week. It’s been pretty hectic at work and with my other class so I’m a little behind on everything.

This weeks readings by Martin Bruckner focus on the importance of maps not only in establishing identity within a colonial or imperial society, but of how mapping became a literary form and an important staple of the learned elite. Bruckner’s focus on surveying and the growth of mapping as a art form (Bruckner mentions maps as decor in his Common-Place article) show the growing importance of mapping in early America. It can be argued that this growing interest in maps and their creation comes with the growing sense of British America, and Great Britain as a whole, as a world-spanning empire. With their victory at the end of the Seven Year War, Great Britain became the de facto ruling power in the world. Much as we study maps of Alexander’s conquests through Asia or Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean, maps give a certain sense of scale and imperial identity.

One issue that I’m curious to get feedback about was the examination of the different cartouches of maps such as those drawn by John Mitchell and Henry Popple. I can see Bruckner’s argument for the use of native figures and certain speech and oratory poses to foster a sense of submission from native peoples to British Americans. Conversely, I have some reservations about the argument. Were these cartouches really as socially and politically charged as Bruckner argues, or is he reaching to better convey his argument?

As an example, during my senior English class in high school many years ago, we were tasked with writing a paragraph using techniques of imagery. Daydreaming as I usually do, I focused on a tree outside the class window and proceeded to write a paragraph about said tree. My peers critiqued my paragraph, coming up with wonderful, psychologically stimulating reasons why I wrote what I wrote. I concurred, basking in my peer-awarded literary genius, never having the heart to tell them it was all about a simple tree.

With these cartouches, are we giving the artist too much credit? Did these men draw these scenes with political or, for lack of a better term, “imperial” motivations in mind? Were they simply images that resonated with the artist at that moment, with no larger message conveyed within them? I’m curious to study some of the footnoted sources to get a better understanding of where Bruckner’s argument originated from. I certainly was ignorant of the role of maps in social history before taking this class, so perhaps my reservations are simply an extension of this ignorance. In any event I’m curious to see what you guys think and if you’ve run across any evidence in your own studies that backs up or refutes Bruckner’s claims.

As an end note, I wanted to add a short update on my mapping work. Following the demo of Ortelius from last weeks class, I decided to go ahead and buy the full version. I must say, I am in love. I’ve been messing around with some of the practice templates for using the different tools and layers to get a feel for the software. I’m very excited and I think this will add a while new dimension to my mapping projects.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Blog #6: Maps and Colonial Identity

  1. I concur on the skepticism about the cartouches. I too wondered about them as symbols of submission, rather than simply representations of America. Early U.S.-American history (and Mexican history, for that matter) abounds with examples of Indians being used by whites as symbols of America–even as those same people marginalized, you know, actual Indians. Perhaps there is something to be read into the submissive positions, but I’m not sure it’s a position of formal submission–simply a view of Indians as passive?

  2. anneladyem says:

    Ortelius IS amazing. Glad i’m not the only one in love. I am interested in your questions regarding the cartouches. I thought this section was thought-provoking and made me think of old readings from earlier, but you’re right–what is accidental or just aesthetic?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s