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mapping from below

If readings from the last week were more theoretical, then this week, it is only Chapter 6 from Harley’s The New Nature of Maps which is more theoretical. Here he defines the framework of the problem, as being the interactions between the colonial and the native patterns of mapping. Harley argues in favor of a new interpretation of colonial maps.

Until recently these maps have been viewed as just projections of the European imperial self on the body of the native cultures. In contrast, Harley considers some colonial maps to be influenced by the local knowledge of the indigenous people. In this sense, colonial maps cease to be purely instruments of power. Instead, they represent windows into understanding the cultures, which have been considered speechless, and thus impossible to represent. Thus, these “people without history” could regain their place in the Western historiography.

Furthermore, Mundy and Lewis illustrate Harley’s theoretical background with a series of case studies. Thus, both of them indulge in a kind of cultural archeology or to be in line with Foucault, they provide examples of how to convey “an archeology of knowledge.” Each of them pick either a particular important map such as “The 1524 Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlan” or a series of maps as in the case of Lewis who focuses on the analysis of the North American frontier encounters from 1511 to 1925.

In these accounts maps are not only illustrations to their textual arguments. In fact, maps serve as foundations or central focus of their argument. As a matter of fact, words are brought to accompany the cartographic evidence. In the same way as maps represent complex constructions of different symbols, the models for the encounters of different cultures  represent a network of power relations. Thus, it is no need for both of them to be oversimplified.

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