FYS: The Power of Maps
Mapping for Empire: How Maps Empower the Imperialist
The human record looks to have limitless bounds of violence, pillaging, murder, and conquest littered throughout every era. From early civilizations of the Roman Empire and the Mongol Horde to the domination of European nation states around the world to the conquests of Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy in the 1930s and 40s, Imperialism has been present throughout history. To reflect this idea, Imperialist goals can be seen in the maps, “North America, As Divided Amongst the European Powers” by Samuel Dunn and “Amerique Septentrionale” by Laguillermie. Both are maps of the North American continent, Dunn’s is from 1794 while Laguillermie’s is from 1845 and both reflect Imperialist ideas within them.
Beginning with Samuel Dunn’s map, the first thing to notice is the title of the map itself, “North America, As Divided Amongst the European Powers”. It is apparent off the bat with a title like this creates a Eurocentric view of the continent, dismissing the Native Americans native to these lands in favor of how much territory each power owns across the Atlantic. This is further backed by the color of the border lines between powers. The red lines represent British territory by the fact that the thirteen colonies, Canada, Jamaica, and Caribbean Islands are encompassed by the color. The yellow lines represent Spanish territory by the fact that Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominica, and California are present inside what Spain controlled by 1794. The turquoise lines represent French territories in the Americas as France has lost its hold of Canada to Britain in the Seven Years War and the fact that the colony of Haiti is within the turquoise lines. Now establishing the European powers over North America, what is important to notice is the lack of detail given to Native Americans. Tribe names maybe present like Cherokees, Sioux, Apaches, and Iroquois, but they are brushed to the side as names on a blank canvas. They sit without any detail to them while the boundaries, cities, rivers, and mountains are charted while Native tribes are written vaguely of their location, lands, and homes. This divorces the idea that the Native Americans have an independent way of life but just British or Spanish or French territory ready to be taken by their countrymen.
Moving toward the Pacific Northwest of the continent, there is less detail political and physical of what lies there. Notes along the west coast detail discoveries made by European explorers. But as we know from the mapping of the continent earlier in European colonization of America, “…Indians made significant contributions to these regional maps…” (Harley 175). It would be safe to assume that further exploration of the west coast and its interior would rely on the help of Native Americans. But the map only states the “discoveries” made by Europeans for example: “Discoveries made by the Russians, during the last twenty years”, “Entrance found by Juan de Fuca”, “New Albion discovered by Sir Francis Drake 1578”, and “Coast discovered by Captain Bering”. Not only do these explorers take credit for their discoveries without mentioning the help from Native peoples but they credit each other for surveying land with this note saying, “The Spanish have been employed in surveying this Coast up to Latitude 45 as part of New Mexico 1776”. This continues to show the imperial attributes of conquest and ignoring and belittling the native population in favor of colonization and exploitation of the land and its resources for the empire.
Moving onto “Amerique Septentrionale” by Laguillermie which is dated to 1845. Compared to Samuel Dunn’s map, the physical and political features of the map are more well defined. But keeping with the imperialist spirit, the names and locations of Native American tribes have disappeared into the physical features of the landscape rendering them no representation in the world. Not only have the Natives been removed but the notes of the European explorers have been removed, as the empires have already made their claim for the territory from their past discoveries, replacing it with the traditional boundaries that empires have come accustomed to. The map also contains an image surrounding the map. In this image, the viewer sees the variety of landscapes and animals native to North America and the Caribbean. Besides the flora and fauna of the landscape, there are a few people who populate the space as well. In the center lays a woman with her dog with the riches of the new world. Cash crops such as pineapples and a crate of cotton support the representation of Empire. To the left of her, the viewer sees a white man talking to what appears to be his slaves, an African man and a mestizo man to collect the good for the woman. This is showing how empires build their empire through slavery and exploitation of native peoples and enslaved peoples for the benefit of the European.
By now, independence movements have taken place on the continent as Mexico, Texas, and the United States are independent on the map. But the imperial intentions still are present. Translated from French, Amerique Englaise means English America, implying Canada is still under the dominion of the British Empire. Again, translated from French, Amerique Russe means Russian America implying the Alaska territory is under the control of the Russian Empire.
Not only are the Empires of Europe being present on this map, but a newcomer is joining the table. The nation that fought the tyranny of their king over no representation, the United States of America emerges with similar intentions of conquest like its European brethren’s. The United States would pursue the policy of Manifest Destiny after deterring further imperial conquest of the Americas under the Monroe Doctrine. In the current state of the map, the United States has already acquired the Louisiana territory and further expansion to the Pacific coast. But this would only be the beginning. The presence of an independent Texas on the map indicates that this is post Texan Revolution. The independence of Texas would lead to the American annexation of Texas as well as the Mexican-America War which, the United States would take even more Mexican territory. This is would be the beginning of the United States’ Imperial conquests in America.
As European nations began their era of Imperial conquest around the world, their ideals reflected in the maps that were made. By the 18th century, the North American continent was divided among European powers as depicted by Samuel Dunn. But as the century went into the 19th century, Independence movements came and went. Colonies gained their autonomy, but the scars of empire retained. Native peoples continued to be suppressed and non-European nations now faced a de-facto Imperial force in the United States. Event though the many empires of the past have fallen, their impact can still be found in cartography and the social consequences of the borders they forged.