FYS: The Power of Maps
Mapping for Empire: How Maps Empower the Imperialist
As part of the Imperial mindset of the empires of the past, empires worked to justify their way of life and behavior around the world. Whether that be the African Slave trade, conquest of the Americas, the genocide against Native Americans, or the exploitation of natural resources, empires have justified this behavior by controlling the cartographic record. In this way, empires and Imperialists have been able to create a memory that their greatness is to be remembered with honor and pride for the nation. This idea can be found in the works of Samul Dunn’s map “North America, As Divided Amongst the European Powers” as well as in Laguillermie’s “Amerique Septentrionale” in their depiction of the North American continent in the years 1794 and 1845.
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 immediately with a title like this creates a Eurocentric view of the continent, dismissing the Native Americans native to these lands in favor of the extension of the European continent. This is idea is continued in the borders between the European nations. Each nation has its own color to represent its claim to the continent with Britain’s territory to be red, Spain’s territory to be yellow, and France’s territory to be Turquoise. Now establishing the European powers over North America, what is important to notice is the lack of detail given to Native Americans. Tribe names may be present like Cherokees, Sioux, Apaches, and Iroquois, but they are brushed to the side as names on a blank canvas. While the boundaries of empires are demarcated, cities defined, and rivers as well as mountain ranges spanning most of the continent charted, there is barely any detail given to location, land, and homes of Native tribes. This divorces the idea that the Native Americans have an independent way of life but are just British, Spanish, or French territory ready to be taken by their countrymen.
In a similar vain as Samuel Dunn’s map, Laguillermie’s map also captures the ignorance against Native Americans. The first major detail to the map is that the names of tribes present across the continent depicted in Dunn’s map have disappeared into the physical boundaries of plains, rivers, and mountains. Surrounding Laguillermie’s map is an illustration of the variety of vegetation, animals, and biomes that inhabit the North American continent and the Caribbean islands. Also depicted in this illustration is a European woman being supported as she lays with crash crops such as cotton, pineapples, and other new world goods, thus a personification of Imperial Europe. To the left, there appears to be three men, one European, one mestizo, and one African. The European watches over these two other men as they are enslaved to support the empire with cash crops. It is important to note that the Native American is essentially left out of the map and the illustration, completely ignoring their existence and exploitation by Europeans. The only detail related to Native Americans is an ancient pyramid in the background acting as a relic of a lost people, a lost civilization at the hands of the European Empires.
Looking back at Samuel Dunn’s map in 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.
Looking back to “Amerique Septentrionale”, it is important to notice the change of the political landscape of the continent in 1845. However, let this not deceive the viewer as empires are still present in this map. In modern day Canada, the nation is labeled as “Amerique Englaise” which translated from French means English America. This implies that Canada is not independent but is still part of the British Empire which holds further imperial ambitions around the world. In what is modern day Alaska reads, “Amerique Russe” translating to Russian America. Once more, this implies that Alaska is part of the Russian Empire which like Britain, holds Imperial ambitions. Now the argument could be made that since the last map, it appears that Europe’s hold on its American territories has dwindled. The nations of Mexico and the United States are independent from the British and Spanish crowns. However, even though the Americans succeeded in their independence struggle against the tyrant King George III, the Americans kept the principles of Imperialism from the Monroe Doctrine and the emergence of Manifest Destiny. In his address to Congress in 1823, President James Monroe declared that, “…the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers” (Monroe). Monroe’s declaration gives a powerful message of anti-imperialism but at the same time, this gives the Untied States a blank check to expand without the interference of imperial competitors like Britain or Spain.
This can be seen in “Amerique Septenrionale” as the United States has already acquired the Louisiana territory from France and further expansion to the Pacific Coast into what is modern day Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Also present on the map is an independent Texas. This reflects the future imperial ambitions of the United States post-Texan Revolution. The independence of Texas would eventually lead to the American annexation of Texas. Thus, due to border disputes of Texas and Mexico, would spark the Mexican American War. A war the United States would win, expanding its borders coast to coast. This would be the beginning of the United States imperial asperations from the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War as well as its influential power throughout Central and South America.
As the Empires of Europe conquered the Americas, the cartographic record reflected how Empires justified their actions as great. The belittling and removal of Native American tribes on the map, discrediting Native American help in European exploration of America, and glorifying the exploitations of Imperialism are a few of the ways Samuel Dunn and Laguillermie have captured this Imperialist fallacy. It is important to notice these details as it destroys the goal of the “Great Empires” that they were initially crafted for. In noticing the details of the atrocities commited against Native Americans and African Americans, society can begin to move to fix the wrongs of the past to create a great society.
United States. President (1817-1825: Monroe). The Monroe Doctrine. Champaign, Ill., Project Gutenberg, 199ADAD. EBSCOhost, https://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=8569ff54-f935-48ac-99c4-d30d37971bd0%40pdc-v-sessmgr01&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=1026500&db=nlebk