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Mapping History: Cartography and the Construction of the San Pedro Valley

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The San Pedro Valley of North America's desert Southwest has been depicted in maps for over four centuries. These images composed by Euro-American colonialists do not merely portray a topographical reality; they also construct singular notions of place. While place-making often inspires a rich awareness of self and belonging, it is also a device of power that shapes people's desires, perceptions and experiences. Employing Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, we explore the hidden messages embedded in maps from the 1500s to 1800s to reveal the social and political ideologies that buttressed the Spanish, Mexican and American empires. These analyses illustrate that Euro-American maps do not advance in a linear evolution from simple (unknown) to complex (known) in the production of place. Rather they act to legitimize colonial rule through strategies of representation that privilege Euro-American standpoints and disregard competing claims of entitlement.
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Keywords: Colonialism; GIS; Maps; North American Southwest; Place-making

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2004

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