Maps, Sovereignty, and Truth

I was particularly moved by Mayukh Sen’s “Dividing Lines,” as I remembered the years I spent on Google Earth trying to find my grandparent’s home in La Cumbre, Colombia. From 2007-2018, I was unable to see my grandparents in Colombia, and I often yearned for memories of them. To this day, the unpaved dirt road that leads to my family’s finca remains un-mapped on Google Earth or Maps. Entire areas of the globe continue to be marked as “unexplored,” allowing for colonialism disguised as “new development” to take place. In “Visualizing Sovereignty” by Yarimar Bonilla and Max Hantel, they mention the map as “a technology of possession… promising that those with the capacity to make such perfect representations must also have the right of territorial control.” The act of mapping is political because of the ways in which it puts forth an objective, incontestable truth by those already in power. Mapping is more about drawing the world the way it appears, and there is no denying that desires of that appearance are inevitably embedded. What powers and experiences are “necessary” to justify oneself (or a county, company, etc.) as capable of creating an “authoritative” map? When I think about maps, I think about travel – so  who has the power to travel (as dictated by passports and visas, money, etc.), and by what means is this travel allowed (by air, sea, land)? A major mode of transportation for those in La Cumbre are the “brujitas” that utilize the otherwise abandoned railroad tracks. How are these experiences of travel not recognized by corporate maps? Why are maps created by local civilians not recognized with the same credibility when they more truthfully reflect people’s lived realities? I’m really intrigued by many of the questions raised by this week’s readings, and I hope to bring more critical thinking and questioning in my engagement with maps in many different capacities.

1 thought on “Maps, Sovereignty, and Truth

  1. Theodore Daniel Manning (Han/Hanet/Hanen)

    Yeah, I really resonated with these readings too for the same reason. I don’t talk about it enough, but when I was 8 I lived in the bush of Trinidad. I can tell you we were in Couva, somewhere down the Couva River near Carli Bay, and we drove down Calcutta Rd a lot. But right where I’m pretty sure our house was, based on the proximity to the hospital, river, Hanuman Temple, and a KFC… the map just stops. Cuts off part of the river, no roads visible. I try dragging the little yellow guy over there only to be told that area isn’t viewable on Google Maps. In this area, you can only go along the main road, which is all photos supplied by one user who appears to have strapped a GoPro to their car roof. I’ll never be able to figure out where exactly we were. And at the same time, I can find our old house in Jersey City just fine- the pizza parlor, the Dunkin, grocery store and all. I really wonder the logic behind this- if Trinidad is just too small and too rural and too poor for Google to care about? Reminds me of how small languages get left behind by Unicode and similar organizations…

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