Conceptualizations of America


Since first contact between Europeans and Native Americans, maps have played a crucial role in establishing and expanding the conceptualizing North America.  I am particularly interested in how maps encouraged and helped spread ideas that legitimized the genocide of Native Americans over a period of several hundred years.  The period of 1800-1900 is of particular interest to this project as it covers the period when the US morphed from 13 colonies occupying a portion of the Eastern seaboard to its current form of 50 states.  I sought to answer how do maps reflect beliefs about national destiny, especially Manifest Destiny, as well as to perpetuate white supremacy over the Native Americans.

The main software used for this lab was TimelineJS and Google sheets, with the google sheet functioning as the database and TimelineJS as the visualization.  In this particular lab the data was rather limited as it was all manually entered and did not contain what many consider to be “standard” aspects of a dataset.  The method involved surveying maps made during a certain time period, for my purposes I used fifty year intervals in most places when the change was not as significant, while periods of great change, for example 1800-1900, went at 25 year intervals as 50 year intervals would have condensed the changes into too small of a window to properly visualize.

The evolution of America is the story of continually broken promises and treaties with the Native Americans.  Early on in American History, specifically during the 1750-1800 period a number of proclamations were made that delineated a line in the Appalachian Mountains which white settlers were forbidden to cross.  As is seen with the map, this line in the sand was ignored by colonizers and many continued to settle past the line and it does not appear that this factored into the minds of many settlers.  The continuing evolution of the limit of settling can be seen through the maps as they show the unceasing movement West from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Moving forward I would like to conduct more thorough research on the maps themselves, if possible studying them in person as the digital reproductions of the maps often eliminated small details that would provide more clues to the ideas of the time.