the magnetic compass that reportedly dazzled America's indigenous peoples
with its free-floating needle, the surveyor's compass was used to draw
maps and to establish relations in space. On Smith's
map, the large, seemingly decorative compass draws the reader to
the map's scale, indicating the spatial relationship between the representation
and the landscape. Like the iconic sword of many an English gentleman's
portrait, the surveyor's compass becomes the de
rigueur accoutrement to the Renaissance map. The instrument can
be seen on most maps as well as in the hands of geographers, navigators,
and explorers depicted on frontispieces throughout the period. This
compass and the scale delineated beneath it function as indicators of
accuracy, thus gesturing toward the supposed technological superiority
of the Western explorers. In its capacity as a graphic mediation between
a representation of the land and the land itself, the scale informs
the reader that the land exists at a proportion larger than the representation,
and makes the map's strangeness familiar by drawing a spatial analogy:
this measurement is to be imagined as another league, for example.
the strange familiar emerges as one of the major roles of maps. The
Renaissance cartographer brought new geographies to the eyes of the
European reader, publishing large geographies and atlases in great numbers
for the first time. The brave new world was represented in cartographic
conventions that are now fairly familiar to the modern reader, but at
the time were rather new. The medieval "T-in-O" map (a tripartite
map with a "T" pattern of lines that divide space within a
circular plane) relied on a symbolic representation of space heavily
invested in a Judeo-Christian cosmography; it divided the world roughly
Africa, and Europe, which coincided with the biblical narrative
of a world parsed among the three sons of Noah.
notion of space was slowly replaced by a Ptolemaic systemgeometric
abstractwhich represented the world proportionally, including
and divisions based not on the spiritual but on such earthly concerns
as climate. The cartographer of the early modern map would begin at
"known" points and draw perpendicular axes intersecting at
this point of origin, then measure and calculate distances and relations
from that point. The medieval map's cosmographic triumvirate of God,
earth, and man is thus replaced in early modern cartography with oppositions
of known and unknown, old world and new, center and periphery, England
and new, England and America, are represented on Smith's map by the
technology of western cartography juxtaposed with the ethnographic iconography
of the Powhatans. The inclusion of the compass as a sign of technology
establishes one of the map's many narratives by suggesting the means
for delineating, describing, and declaiming the territory. The instrument
foregrounds the scientific conventions that regularize the space, a
significant move toward rendering the relationship between representation
and referent as transparent and uncontaminated. The map endeavors to
function as a representation of reality, that is, of the land itselfthe
colonial map is the territory
to the English. The map rules the realm of the rational, a rational
that obscures the many struggles involved in such practicalities as
establishing the colony, exploring the territories held by indigenous
peoples, or negotiating the disputes that emerge out of inhabitation.
At the same time, however, the surveyor's compass acts as a reflexive
sign that de-naturalizes the map, breaks the frame, and establishes
a different iconicity than that established by the map. While the icon
is representational, marking the scale of the map, it also challenges
that scale by changing its ownthe compass is not shown actual
size in relation to the landscape.
level of the territory, the map's center is not the English colony of
Jamestown but native American territory. The limits of the frame represent
knowledge that was reported by Western explorers but also gathered from
native reports. The map is thus a hybrid of knowledges and epistemologies
presented as naturalized in a single map. In some ways, then, the techniques
of mapping become an allegory of the conflicting cultural practices
and myriad anxieties of contact. The English hoped alternately to interpolate
the Indian into their world, to establish relations by creating fluid
borders over which trade and social relationships could emerge, or to
solidify boundaries, continually pushing the indigenous people back
beyond the English pale.
Suggestions For Further Reading
Bud, Robert and Deborah Jean Warner, eds.
Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopedia. New York:
Garland Publishing, 1998.
Cormack, Leslie. "'Good Fences Make Good
Neighbors': Geography as Self-Definition in Early Modern England."
Isis 82 (1991): 639-661.
Helgerson, Richard. Forms
of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Moran, Michael. Renaissance
Surveying Techniques and the Mapping of Raleigh's Virginia.
Chicago: Newberry Library, 1990.
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