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This year I would like to explore more unusual methods of mapmaking by a more diverse group of creators.  Throughout history, maps by powerful nations and empires have proliferated, but maps by the less powerful actors, if they exist at all, are seldom seen.  In this way, we have come to see the world through the eyes of the conquerors, but almost never through the eyes of the conquered.

In the interest of opening our eyes to new perspectives, I want to share a unique Native American map I discovered while flipping through one of the map books I received for Christmas (yes, I got more than one).  This map was drawn up by a chieftain of the Catawba tribe that resided in what would become the Southeastern United States.  At the time of the map’s creation in 1721, though, this land was being colonized by the British.  The British settlements hugged the Eastern seaboard, while the Native American tribes held territory further inland.  As the years passed, the British (and later on, the Americans) clashed with the tribes and pushed them further and further west.

But that is a story for another time.  For today, let’s take a look at the map, which the chieftain drew on a piece of deerskin at the request of Francis Nicholson, the colonial governor of South Carolina.  It shows the location of the neighboring tribes outside of South Carolina.

Photograph of the Catawba deerskin map given to South Carolina colonial Governor Francis Nicholson in 1721. (Copy available from Library of Congress, and original on file with the British Museum) (via http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/CatawbaMap1721.jpg)

On the left is the city of Charlestown, and to the right are several circles which indicate the tribes in relation to each other.  I do not recognize most of the names, but I do see “Cherrikies”, for the large Cherokee tribe that resided in the area.  The map also contains some illustrations, such as that of an Indian on a hunt outside Charlestown.  This is certainly a new perspective compared to most maps of colonial settlements in this time period, which show the boundaries of the colonies but neglect to mention the tribes that had been living there for centuries.

An article I read on the WBEZ Chicago website provided an interesting insight into how this map reveals the difference between Native American and Western mapmaking.  Apparently, the two cultures had very different ideas on how to represent three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane.  The article cites Bob Morrissey, a professor of history at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, who explained that for Native American maps, “rather than a picture or representation of the land, it’s a picture or representation of people on the land. . . . Their positions relative to one another matter as much as their positions relative to the physical space.”  To Western eyes, a Native American map might be hard to read because it doesn’t have many frames of reference, but to the mapmakers, it showed all the information it needed to.

For more on this map, and others, check out that article here (http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/finding-chicago%E2%80%99s-first-maps-101473) or the Library of Congress page (http://www.loc.gov/item/2005625337).

Happy mapping!

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