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Title: Native Land Digital
Authors: Native Land Digital
Runs in a web browser or as a mobile app.
I saw some discussion emerging on this in the main thread yesterday and figured I'd start a code critique thread for it.
I really like maps! As an avid hiker, I find myself looking at topological maps often, and during a hike I'll often stop and just study the map—looking out at the geographic features and where they're represented on the map—because I like to have a sense of where I am in relation to the features of the land and where they are in relation to each other (in relation to their representations on this piece of paper). It helps me feel connected to the land that I'm on.
There's a lot of information that gets encoded into maps—intentionally or not—and like code, different modes of representation communicate different things and carry different assumptions. Maps are rhetorical, and affect our understanding of space as much as they are informed by it. Some things I'm thinking about here are a recent article from Real Life on the rhetoric of digital maps, how different projections impact perceived importance of different locations cough cough mercator projection cough cough, and as a John Green fan I'm often reminded of paper towns and how the history of paper towns influenced his novel of the same name.
When I look at a new map, like this one or the one at https://thetruesize.com/, I often find myself reading it for a while like I do with trail maps for whatever rhetorical connection is being made with the land, and I just don't see very much in this map. The org's stated rhetoric for this make is for the reader to be surprised by the scale of the space occupied by native peoples and to be able to see which groups occupied various regions (which facilitates learning about the pre-settler history of the land). It does those two things well, but that's about all I got out of looking at it.
Even though they are critical of settler notions of territory it's still only readable in a settler's terms. Because the geographic data is limited, if I want to see which peoples previously occupied the lands that I currently live on, I have to use the "settler labels" overlay to be able to make sense of location (I say this as someone who's well-versed in using the geography). I think part of where this comes from, and more broadly, the technology they're using for the map itself emerged from European cartography. I was immediately reminded of a blog post written by a colleague of mine in the history department here at TTU on differences spatial and temporal rhetoric (which includes a maps), which launched me on a whole ADHD rabbit hole yesterday looking at the history of mapmaking and some different styles of maps used in various cultures around the world. Some of the especially interesting ones to me were Inuit coastline maps made from carved driftwood and the Polynesian stick charts that @yaxu mentioned already in the weekly discussion thread.
My impression is that the methods of cartography that came to inform digital maps (mainly GIS) were mostly influenced by "enlightenment-era" values surrounding their idea of scientific advancement. In particular, I'm thinking about "precision", which of course has its benefits—the reason the French government officially adopted the metric system was because it was useful to hold tax officials accountable—but it raises a question about where we run into the limitations of precision and where it turns out to be not-so-useful. Computers and modern maps are both designed with the assumption that precision is useful, so computer maps have that assumption as well. But this map of native territories and languages, it seems to me, is detrimented by the rhetoric of precision. The intent is to push back against colonial notions of borders/boundaries, which it does by rejecting the kind of "jigsaw-puzzle" composition where boundaries don't overlap, but even in the vaguely outlined regions that it denotes, there's still a hard line that precisely outlines the ends of a region. Not only does the precision obscure some of what the map wants to convey, but it also still communicates some rhetoric of borders.
Anyway, I think that's enough for a starter. I'm really curious to hear from folks who have more knowledge of indigenous modes of thought.