But is it really a map?

I’m a little late to the posting game this week.  My week’s are very front loaded and I spent the weekend trudging through the intellectual gulags of early Marxist theory.  By the time I made it to the History and Cartography readings, I was thrilled to read something lighter and at least slightly more colloquial.  

Anyway, there are two themes I want to bring up in today’s readings.  As I just commented on Sheri’s blog I was having a tough time wrapping my head around some of the techniques for interpreting Amerindian maps that were presented in Lewis’s chapter. Early in the piece on page 57 he quotes Catherine Delano Smith on the subject of interpretations of Rock Art.  She writes: 

“What appears to be spontaneous recognition of a map in fact involves three assumptions: that the artist’s intent was indeed to portray the relationship of objects in space; that all the constituent images are contemporaneous in execution; and that they are cartographically appropriate. In the context of prehistoric art, it is difficult to prove that all three conditions are met.” 

Lewis follows this with:

In North America there have been numerous “spontaneous recognitions” of maps in rock art, often verging on ill-considered attributions. Attempts to verify these have been negligible. 

To me, this quote highlights one of the glaring difficulties of applying the conceptualizations and rules of a certain form of map making to an object that may have never been considered a map.  Is the artifact done an injustice by interpreting it through a lens that had limited bearing on its creation?  Is it even possible to detangle conceptualizations of early spatialization when our relationship to the subject matter is fraught with a wide history of injustice and colonization?  This is not to attempt to criticize the work done by Lewis in this chapter, which is clear, concise, and wide reaching in aim.  One of my other classes focused this week on how historical methods may or may not work for students of Cultural Studies.  I think some of my questions are a remnant of this discussion, and an impulse to find ways to visualize the cultural and social movements through historical methods that may have been lost with the ephemerality of such a study.  

My second discussion for this week has to do with Mundy’s Mapping the Aztec Capital.  There are so many aspects that I loved about this piece.  Her knowledge, research and care for details just shown through every aspect.  While clearly a historical pursuit her care for interdisciplinary methods shown through.  I am really drawn to her conceptualization of the the Nuremberg map as hybrid representing both Spanish and Aztech ideologies.  From a media studies perspective, I’m a big fan of comparative analysis producing results that demonstrates use and social ideology.  Clearly this hybridity also served as a method of physical and ideological domination, but the process to which it incorporated multiple cultural voices is fascinating.

As a side sort of somewhat related question.  I am wondering if any of the class has any resources on Mundy’s later discussion on how maritime maps were controlled and protected in Seville.  While not largely apart of her argument, that one paragraph on pg 28 alludes at early issues of space, privacy, and security which I would love to explore more.  

3 thoughts on “But is it really a map?

  1. Great side question about page 28–one that really gets to the point about maps and power. I went back to one of my favorite books on Spanish colonization, Henry Kamen’s _Empire_. On pages 159 and 160, he describes Phillip II’s interest in maps because “the king was acutely conscious of the lack of orderly information on the geography and history of his realms, a situation which made it extremely hard to plan policy.” (Kamen also refers to the atlas Mundy describes, btw.) Going along with that, I also remember (but don’t have the sources at hand–I don’t think Kamen goes much into it) that Spanish officials closely guarded knowledge of the Americas. Throughout its time as an empire, Spain was perpetually weak (Kamen’s main argument). So, the extensive control of maps that Mundy describes was mostly a matter of security–geographic knowledge of the Americas, particularly the silver strikes in New Spain (Mexico) and Upper Peru (Bolivia), was essential to Spanish security (especially since the Crown was dependent on those silver flows). Spain had very little military presence in the Americas–few Spaniards, for that matter. So maps were, essentially, a state secret.

  2. Pingback: Cartography: Maps & Conquests

  3. I agreed the Mundy article was fascinating. I liked how she posited many possibilities of the validity of the source of the Aztec map, attempting to determine if it was an indigenous source with a European interpretation or just a European product.. The concept of hybrid seems plausible since many maps of the time were based on a previous work.

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