From "Parts Unknown" (1712) to "What the Heck Is Up There?" (1999): Cartographic Mis/Representations of Nunavut, Canada

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Amanda Murphyao, Carleton University
Herman Moll’s 1712 map of North America, which includes the designation “Parts Unknown,” is one of many European maps that show the Arctic as an empty space to be filled in by those seeking the Northwest Passage to Asia. A much-needed paradigm shift is underway in scholarship on the history of cartography, best demonstrated by J.B. Harley’s widely cited “Deconstructing the Map” (1989). Various scholars challenge the hegemonic rhetoric of European discoveries, as in Edmundo O’Gorman’s The Invention of America (1961), William Boelhower’s “Inventing America” (1988), and James Blaut’s The Colonizer’s Model of the World (1993). Despite such paradigm shifts, pervasive ignorance persists about the lived Settler colonial reality of North America. Northern Canada continues to be represented as a mythical or Sublime entity in much of Canadian literature, popular culture, and media. As Sherrill Grace argues in Canada and The Idea of North (2002), “the” North is still frequently narrated as “a dangerous, hostile, female terra incognita.”

The establishment of the Canadian territory of Nunavut has been touted as a victory for Indigenous land claims movements. Cartographic evidence played a key role in the land settlement, which resulted in the extradition of Nunavut from the existing Northwest Territories. There are several initiatives by or in collaboration with Inuit communities to map their homeland, which includes the land, sky, ice, and sea beneath the ice. Many projects collect and preserve Inuit maps and oral histories of their territory through multi-faceted online atlases and other efforts, including: the 1992 Nunavut Atlas; several cybercartographic and interactive digital atlas initiatives; the Pan Inuit Trails Atlas; and “Nunatop: Inuit place names project.”

However, the “Parts Unknown” designation found on early European maps of the territory persists in contemporary southern Canadian understandings of Nunavut. As Louis-Edmond Hamelin writes, “for most Canadians the North remains an unknown quantity.” Cartoonist Graeme Mackay draws on this Canadian fixation on the North in his carto-caricature (cartographic caricature) “Nunavut: What the heck is up there?” He uses joking place names and labels like “Eskimo Pie Ice Cream Factory,” ostensibly to mock the ignorance of southern Canadians regarding the newest territory. However, Mackay’s map inadvertently exemplifies the same ignorance he seeks to ridicule.

Inuit interpretations of territory range from historical coastline maps carved onto small pieces of wood to contemporary artworks. Inuit discover, explore, and represent Nunavut visually through mapping and cartographically styled art, and their territorial (re)presentations contrast with the ignorance and fantasies of explorers and Settlers. Inuit mapping projects offer a counter-perspective to the blank spaces and narratives of ignorance on many maps. Through the ongoing (re)discovery of knowledge about the land gained from the oral histories of Elders in tandem with technological advances like sonar sea bed mapping, as well as many Inuktitut place (re)naming projects underway, Inuit communities are working to decolonize the map of Nunavut and fill in the blank spaces in the perceptions that others have of the North.

This poster presentation will offer several illustrations of the territory of Nunavut for consideration and discussion.

See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions