Academic and Professional Portfolio

#AHA17 Poster Session


Mapping Indian Country: Culture Areas, Linguistic Stocks, and the Genealogy of a Map

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, anthropologists employed social-scientific thematic maps to help sharpen their understanding of the indigenous cultures of the Americas and to explain the American Indian past to their students and the broad populace. While anthropologists initially depended on insider knowledge drawing on a range of American Indian informants and sources to create their maps, their works ultimately generalized and schematized American Indian cultures. The maps also conveyed the cultural biases of their creators. Over time, the map depictions ascribing territory and dividing political and cultural areas become understood more as established “facts” rather than models, “research leads” or pedagogical devices. These maps continue to be utilized by historians, anthropologists, cultural and regional geographers for classroom instruction and are popular illustrations in textbooks.

But these maps are too often employed in an uncritical manner. My research traces the evolution of these ethnographic, archaeological, and linguistic maps by performing a “genealogy” of William Sturtevant’s 1967 Early Indian Tribes, Culture Areas, and Linguistic Stocks a highly influential and popular map still in use today.  Tracing the cartographic, ethnographic, and intellectual history of the map reveals a palimpsest of scholarly debate, controversies, forgotten conventions and cultural assumptions not immediately clear on the face of the map.  Individually, each map is an artifact that reveals details about its creator(s), the period and circumstance in which it was created, and its intended use/ audience.

Taken together, these maps also offer an important window onto the roots and routes of scholarship behind the mapping of American Indians. One important trend is the sustained influence on the maps from German geographic thought. The earliest ethnographic maps are part of a transatlantic dialogue regarding American Indians and are directly or indirectly influenced by Alexander Von Humboldt. By the 20th century, the maps are thoroughly infused with ideas emanating from 19th century German nationalism, exhibiting a conflation of “blood” (ethnicity), land (with defined borders), and language, influenced by Friedrich Ratzel’s Human Geography (Anthropogeografie). Anthropologist Clark Wissler’s maps (not shown on poster presentation) evidence heavy borrowing from Leo Viktor Frobenius’ culture area concept (Kulturkreis) and Alfred Kroeber’ s works are influenced by Alfred Hettner’s state/regional geography (Länderkunde) introduced by Berkeley colleague Carl O. Sauer.

Over time, these ethnographic maps became increasingly complex, and by the twentieth century became so widely utilized as to be taken as fact. But the maps are filled with numerous dominant culture suppositions and have serious consequences for Indian Country.  A close and critical examination of the maps allows for more accurate utilization of them as a heuristic device and starting point for inquiry within the fields of anthropology, history, and Native American Studies. While the research concedes the pedagogical usefulness of ethnographic mapping, it also exposes the inherent a-historicity of utilizing static maps with fixed borders and the nation-state model to explain the multiple and overlapping American Indian territorialities of the past.

Archival Sources Consulted:

American Philosophical Society
Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley
David Rumsey Map Collection
Library of Congress
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

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