Spatial and Cartographic Literacies in the Shifting Geographies of Empire

AHA Session 184
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Salon 10 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Ernesto Bassi, Cornell University
Geopolitical Literacies in British North America
Jacqueline Reynoso, California State University, Channel Islands
The Ethnogeographical Imaginations of Early Modern Mapmakers
Jeffrey Erbig, University of California, Santa Cruz
Mapping the Vernacular in the Early Modern British Caribbean
Mary Draper, Midwestern State University
Elena Schneider, University of California, Berkeley

Session Abstract

This panel explores the role of vernacular spatial practices in negotiating the meaning of imperial geographies. Focusing on various sites in the eighteenth-century Americas, these papers offer an expansive definition of cartographic texts and literacies, placing maps alongside colonial almanacs, pilot guides, and other textual sources as useful entry points into the imagined and lived geographies of historical actors. By adopting these approaches, the panel sheds light on particular communities and routes whose very complexity proved impossible to capture through imperial mapmaking conventions.

In the past several decades, scholars have increasingly emphasized the inherent biases that inform cartographic texts. More recently, scholars of empire have demonstrated powerful connections between the work of mapmaking and colonizing schemes of empires on indigenous space, communities, and language. This panel builds on these scholarly conversations by investigating mundane spatial practices and literacies through which historical actors, who navigated the mapped spaces, either sustained or contested imperial cartographies. Whether depicting mobile Native peoples stationary ethnonyms; presenting colonial conquests as undifferentiated, annexed territory; or failing to distinguish the uneven distances that wind patterns bestowed sea routes, imperial maps frequently obfuscated regionally- specific understandings of space. As the three papers of this panel argue, the limitations of these cartographic texts prompt scholars not only to recognize the silences embedded in imperial maps, but also to seek alternative spatial practices that better reflect the actions historical actors pursued when making meaning of shifting imperial boundaries and subjectivities. In recovering these vernacular spatial practices, this panel reveals processes by which peoples amassed, critiqued, and consumed geographic knowledge. In doing so, it also reconstructs how state and non-state actors understood their place within the contested empires and geographies of eighteenth-century America.

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