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Rereading the Maps of the Columbian Encounter

J. Brian Harley
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Vol. 82, No. 3, The Americas before and after 1492: Current Geographical Research (Sep., 1992), pp. 522-536
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2563359
Page Count: 15
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Rereading the Maps of the Columbian Encounter
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Abstract

Maps of the Encounter have been judged by the agenda of a positivist geographical history seeking to reconstruct the pathways, landing places, and settlements of European explorers and discoverers. They were studied largely for their practical use as tools of navigation, as aids to wayfinding on land, as plans for new colonial fortifications and towns, or as public propaganda images to attract new settlers to America. This paper argues that Native American mapping belongs in the cartographic record of the Encounter, and that European maps of the period can be viewed as statements of territorial appropriation, cultural reproduction, or as devices by which a Native American presence could be silenced. Recent studies in anthropology, art history, and ethnohistory identify a corpus of indigenous maps that represent valid "alternative" cartographies, different from European maps, yet important in the history of spatial representation. In Mesoamerica, further decoding of cartographic elements in the pre-Conquest genealogical and historical manuscripts may well require revision of ideas about the cradles of cartographic innovation. Even in North America, where such artifacts are more fragmentary, there is a growing sense of the universal presence of mapping in a wide range of cultures. In Colonial America, Indian maps not only helped to guide the invaders, but Indian geographies were incorporated into the fabric of European maps that would become standard images of America for much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There also appears to be an ideological transformation in the indigenous use of maps as native peoples sought to resist Colonial power with the maps that were once part of their traditional culture.

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