HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

Assignment Sandbox


for your major assignments, you again have a choice from three options.

are to choose from one of two assignments for your major project. Note "major project" - this assignment is worth 25 per cent of your final grade, a big chunk in a full-year course. These two assignments are very different, but both are designed both to draw together elements from across the course and to elevate your your skills in particular areas. 

The first assignment builds on the skills practiced in our fall-term mapping assignment while also asking you to integrate additional primary and secondary sources. It focuses on a small corner of a big story: British plans for the French settlers of Nova Scotia/Acadia in the 1750s. The second assignment has no specific topic, but a specific form of presentation: video. Make a video presenting a topic from of our second-term course lessons. 

These are very different assignments, but they both require the use of basic historical thinking practices. In both cases, these are exercises in using evidence, reading sources critically, organising that evidence, and presenting an argument. Think about your sources, both primary and secondary, and their perspectives. Both assignments also emphasise critical thinking about images. In the mapping option, you need to think about how to read and evaluate the maps (though also how to present them in your essay), in the video you need to think about how to present images effectively (though also how to evaluate them).

How to choose which one? That's hard for us to say. Obviously the second allows more creativity, but also demands that you have (or can develop) some technical skills. The first lays more out for you, but requires you to synthesize a fair bit of information.  Both will require a fair bit of time - neither assignment should be tackled at the last minute. 

Option #1. Cartography and Empire

On the eve of the Seven Years War, Britain expelled thousands of French settlers, Acadians, from the territory that is today called Nova Scotia. How can a series of historical maps help us to understand that story?

Historical background

The Seven Years War was one of the most important wars in modern world history. It shifted colonial relations across the globe, most notably marking the ascendancy of Great Britain as the most powerful country on the planet. In North America, it shifted the basic political arrangement, effectively removing France from the continent and compelling Indigenous nations to seek peace with their former enemy.

Nowhere was the human cost more evident than in Acadia/Nova Scotia where the British expelled the resident French population, over 12,000 people. Most lost their land (often land that had been worked for generations); most lost any wealth they possessed (cash, cattle, houses, farm buidlings); many lost their lives (at least 2000 drowned or died of ship-born diseases as they were moved around the North Atlantic world).

Acadia - roughly the modern Maritime provinces of Canada, plus sections of Maine and Quebec - had been a French colony located in Mi'kma'ki, the land of the Mi'kmaq. Over the course of the 17th and early 18th centuries, French settlers had built farms and a small resident fishery in what is today southern and southwestern Nova Scotia. In a war between Britain and France between 1710 and 1713, the British captured Acadia. The subsequent peace treaty - the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713 - carved up Acadia into two sections, one comprising what is today the mainland of Nova Scotia (which Britain kept) and the other comprising the "islands of the Gulf of St Lawrence", i.e. modern day Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island (which the French kept). That treaty, as was almost always the case, did not mention the Mi'kmaq. You, however, here you might recall our discussion of the Treaty of Peace in Friendship from 1752 that we read in our lesson on Settler-Indigenous Treaties. The treaty was one of several the British negotiated with various northeastern Indigenous peoples in the 1740s and 50s - clearly the Mi'kmaq were on British officials' minds.

Hint: When we look at the maps for the assignment, the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) explains why these maps, unlike most other maps of the region, focus only on what today is the mainland of Nova Scotia - i.e. they're focussing on British territory.  In other words, these maps reflect political divisions, not the physical geography of the region. Most maps do that in some wya or another; the trick is to understand the perspective.

Most of the French colonists lived in what became the British-held portion and so for a good part of the period between 1713 and the Seven Years War (over 40 years), the British were reluctant to take a firm stand on what to do with these alien (French, Catholic) people. That story is long and complex, but the short version is that the British allowed the Acadians to stay, to continue to farm, and to continue to practice their faith. It wasn't so much tolerance as neglect, as Britain simply put few resources into its new possession. Indeed, the British did very little outside a few miles surrounding the capital [Annapolis Royal, what the French had called Port Royal], and the Acadian settlements prospered in their effective independence; trade with New England thrived, and their population tripled in the period of British rule. British neglect enabled Acadian communities to prosper, and the Acadians negotiated a kind of neutrality with their former enemies. Acadian farms fed British soldiers; fishing boats and traders from New England sought Acadian wheat and cattle; Acadians purchased British goods. If based mostly in Britain's parsimonious neglect, it was a good relationship. If British officials grumbled about their French Catholic subjects, circumstances meant that they were also content to keep them.

But it was precarious. Britain and France were at war almost continuously in these years and tensions would push Britain to seek ways to consolidate control over its territory. France tried to woo back the support of its former subjects and most Acadians felt pulled in very different directions. Most stayed in their villages, and continued to farm and trade. While some relocated to Ile Royale (Cape Breton) and Isle St-Jean (Prince Edward Island), most attempted to maintain their neutral place in the British colony. By the early 1750s, the French, the Mi'kmaq, and the British were all pressuring the Acadians to break their neutrality and align more clearly with one side or the other. The British threatened, as they had before, to expel the Acadians, and while most believed the British would back down increasing numbers sought security in French territory. Between 1752 and the beginning of the expulsion in June 1755 the population of Isle St-Jean more than tripled from about 1500 to about 5000 as refugees fled into French territory.

It's in this moment, just before the expulsion began, that our documents are based. Your primary evidence consists of three maps of Nova Scotia, each was British but made just before (1755) and just after (1765) the Expulsion of the Acadians, plus the report of the mapmaker, Charles Morris. Individually, each might be seen as simple cartographic illustrations of people and places. But, taken together and placed in their proper historical context, they can be seen to illustrate a kind cartographic illustration of the ethnic cleansing of Nova Scotia.

Quick theory bit via Harley: Maps are rarely neutral or objective. They tell stories; they are made to tell stories, to help construct narratives, to plan and thus to aid policies.  

Basic question: how do these maps help us to understand the actions of the British and colonial governments in mid-18th-century Nova Scotia/Acadie? 

This assignment asks you to use the following primary and secondary sources. You're free to make use of course materials as you see fit, but no additional research is required. 

Tip: the heart of this assignment is the maps. I want you to think about the meaning of the maps, and their value in helping us understand this story. The major events here - the Seven Years War, the Conquest of Acadia, the Expulsion of the Acadians - will be important in framing your essay, but they are not the subject of your essays. The subject should be the maps and their value as sources. 

3000 words (approx. 10 pages) - use proper Chicago-style references, and a bibliography. 

Maps and other primary documents (you should use the high-resolution versions available by clicking on the links - the details will be critical to understanding what's going on).

Your sources are listed here. Remember: you have several primary and secondary textual sources, but the heart of this assignment is figuring out how the maps help us to understand the story.

Jacques-Nicolas Bellin [attributed], n.n. ca. 1745, Unnamed [Acadie, Isle Saint Jean et une partie de l'Isle Royale avec la Baye Françoise], Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center.

This is a map drawn by a French mapmaker of territory that was once a French colony, was still mostly populated by Mi'kmaw and French people, but held since 1713 by the British. 

Morris, Charles, (Surveyor), "A Chart of the Sea Coasts of the Peninsula of Nova Scotia", 1755.  Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center.

Same, but this time drawn by a British cartographer. Here, just before the Seven Years War and the Expulsion of the Acadians. 

Morris, Charles. "A chart of the peninsula of Nova Scotia", [1761], Library of Congress.

Same mapmaker, but after the Expulsion and just before the end of the Seven Years War. Six years apart, but showing a very different world - there's a story there! Think about the people on the ground, what they were doing, who they were, and how and why the British wanted to change that.

[Charles Morris], "Description and State of the New Settlements in Nova Scotia in 1761 by the Crown Surveyor", transcribed in Report on Canadian Archives, 1904 (Ottawa, Dept of Agriculture, 1904), 289-301.

There are also some maps in this report that offer additional information, but they're really hard to read in the digital text. I couldn't in Covid-era conditions get these digitised properly but include here some crude images (made on my camera!!) that allow you to see some details of the first map and two of the second map. Given the dates, these maps are probably preliminary, or ancillary, maps to the finished version above dated 1761. You might use these as supplements to that map.

Jonathan Fowler and Earle Lockerby, eds., "Operations at Fort Beauséjour and Grand-Pré in 1755: A Soldier’s Diary", Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society 12 (2009) - the introduction is useful, but the diary excerpt of most interest begins on p.153.

Bancroft was an ordinary soldier, an ensign, in the Massachusetts militia. He was recruited from his home in Reading, Massachusetts in March 1755. His regiment sailed in April to Fort Cumberland in Beaubassin, at the head of what is now the Bay of Fundy. The Seven Years War didn't begin, officially, until 1756, but this action, along with General Braddock's incursion against Indigenous and French positions in western Pennsylvania, were efforts by the the Governors of New York, Massachusetts and Nova Scotia to strike early blows in a war they believed imminent. Bancroft's diary records two major events: the attack on Fort Beausejour in the late spring and early summer of 1755 and the beginning of the removal of the Acadian population from the area around Grand-Pré in August and September. Your excerpt is of the second period.

An Act for the Quieting of Possessions to the Protestant Grantees of the Lands formerly occuppied by the French Inhabitants, and for preventing vexatious Actions relating to the same. (Nova Scotia, George II, 33, 1759).

Secondary sources

Barry M. Moody, ˜Delivered from all your distresses: The Fall of Quebec and the Remaking of Nova Scotia", in Phillip A. Buckner and John, G. Reid,, eds, Revisiting 1759: The Conquest of Canada in Historical Perspective (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012). 

Jonathan Fowler, "From Acadians to Planters in the Grand-Pré: an archaeological perspective", in Stephen Henderson and Wendy Robicheau, eds., The Nova Scotia Planters in the Atlantic World (Fredericton NB, Acadiensis Press, 2012),

Geoffrey Plank, An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign Against the Peoples of Acadia (Philadelphia, University Of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 122-39.

Jeffers Lennox, “Nova Scotia Lost and Found: The Acadian Boundary Negotiation and Imperial Envisioning, 1750-1755”, Acadiensis (Fredericton) 40, 2 (2011), 3–31.

J.B. Harley, "New England Cartography and the Native Americans", in EmersonW. Baker, et al, eds., American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Geography in the Land of Norumbega (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 286-313.

Some biographies of notable people you may encounter in the story:

Charles Morris

Jacques-Nicholas Bellin

Alexander McNutt

Some questions: 

What did conquest and the expulsion of the Acadians mean for Nova Scotia? Why had it it taken the British 40 years to actually expel the Acadians? Why in 1755 was it important for the British to expel the Acadians? To erase Acadia? To erase Mi'kma'ki? Look at the pre-expulsion maps: what was being destroyed? Compare with the post expulsion map: much has changed - there's a story there. How do maps, both historical and contemporary, help/hinder our abilities to understand those layers of history. Does this exercise help us think about imperial history? About Canadian history? What about Indigenous history? Can we see Indigenous history here? (Hint: you can, but you need to look and think carefully.) There are lots of geographical, or what we might call environmental, information in these maps. How does the landscape/environment help us to understand the history?  

To be clear you are NOT expected to answer all these questions. They're simply prompts. As you write, you'll see that some are connected, and some not - it depends on the tact you choose. There's no checklist - use your judgement.

                                                                                          - - - - - - - - 

Option #2. Mini-documentary

Make a short documentary-style video based on a second-term topic.

Using the materials made available to you in one of your second-term lessons, make a 15 minute mini-documentary that presents that topic. It should be (i) academically rigorous (you're historians - use good sources, well), (ii) intellectually engaging (aim at an intelligent but non-specialist audience), and (iii) visually interesting (make effective use of images/visuals, and you probably need to find some additional visual materials). 

This assignment, for obvious reasons, doesn't have any additional assigned documents. You already have them, and you can do some research to obtain more if you wish. I'm happy to offer advice and support there if it would be helpful.

Tip #1: ask a question. Don't simply present material, present the material as solving a problem. Aim for an interesting question. Think, for example, of our discussion of the agricultural revolution. An obvious question would be, what was the agricultural revolution? But as we know, a more interesting question would be, when was the agricultural revolution?

Tip #2: answer your question with an argument. Your documentary should make a point, not simply recount a tale. It should answer the question.

The video will be graded on the following criteria: effectiveness as a piece of public history (clarity, accessibility, engagement), quality of the content/research, and presentation (i.e. that it looks good!).

How you do it is up to you, but the most obvious format would be some sort of screencast (i.e.a video of images and some text with a voiceover). Suggestions and links on the technical side of how to make a video can be found in the Assignment tool in Sakai. 

Should you conduct additional research? You don't have to, but you can. But, to be clear, as indicated above, that's not the object of the assignment. The heart of your work should be the material you've been given in the course; supplement where/if you feel it necessary, but focus on presenting strong and interesting content more than a comprehensive view. At least for text: visuals will probably require some digging.

Use good quality, Open Access images, that illustrate what you're talking about. Open Access is really important is it means you're avoiding copyright issues. For most materials in our course, you're fine because our material is old. Where do you find them? Our eText has lots of image s we used and we've tried to source all ours. So, depending on your topic, good sources include museums, libraries, and archives that have digital collections. Note that we have some favourite go-to sources: the Library of Congress (US), the Leventhal Map Center (Brown University), the Nova Scotia Archives, the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), the British Library (UK) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (go to Gallica BnF). All of these provide high-quality open-access images. One way we often cheat is to simply google what we're looking for, and then fonce we idenitfy something good we find a reputable source that provides a copy. Often we'll find an image on some weird obscure website and in poor quality with no attribution. But now armed with a name, or some kind of better terms to google, we find what we're looking for. Often, too, that new good site has more to choose from.

Images, like texts, are produced by people and you should be acknowledging them. Sources your information and your arguments, as well as your images.


Option #3: Architectures/Landscapes of Slavery:

This assignment focuses on images, and in particular some landscapes and architectural drawings of buildings, associated with the slavery and the slave trade.

What can these images tell us about slavery and the slave trade? What can these images tell us about how slavery and the slave trade were represented in England? Like all historical documents, you should be asking who made it, when, why, and for whom?  Do the texts allow us to better understand the images? Do the images allow us to better understand the text? Do the images and the texts convey the same ideas, or do they suggest different interpretations/representations of the lives of slaves? What does that mean when we look at such images? What other aspect of early modern life that we've examined do you think these images tie into?  

Think too about the production of these images: why were they made? What purpose did they serve? When was the map made and by whom and for whom? i.e. who was the author? what economic or social or religious or political interests did that person serve? Think about the immediate context; think about the broader context. An image, like any document, is a product of human being thinking in some context. What're they thinking about? Was there a strategy here?

There's lots of interesting data here, both in the images themselves and in thinking about how, by whom, and what purpose they were produced.

Plan of James Fort,  Accra in Africa. Survey'd in January 1756 by Justly Watson [Accra Ghana] Source: National Archives (UK)

Cane-Grove Negroe Hospital, in the Island of St Vincent, the property of the Honourable James Wilson. Source: National Archives (UK)

George Washington's estate, Mt Vernon (originally built in ca. 1740, this plan is from 1787). Source: mountvernon.org

James Thome, Emancipation of the West Indies. A six months' tour in Antigua, Barbadoes, and Jamaica, in the year 1837 (New York, Ant-Slavery Society, 1837), 20-1 and 54-8.

The links take you to the source files where there is additional evidence. Some are library links so you need to be signed in.

750 words, due 27/5


Compare three maps of colonial Berbice - what can these three maps (two Dutch , one British tells us about slave, trade, plantaitons, plantation life, ecology)

From Rijksmuseum

From David Rumsey:

And from Wikimedia Commons.

Paired with chapter from Randy M. Browne, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 13-43.


Option 2 - Travel and Reconnaissance:
how can travellers' accounts help us understand the colonial world?


How can travellers' accounts help us to understand the early modern world?

While silver, gold, and even fish were profitable commodities, few things were precious than good information on the colonies. How could states - both the European imperial states and the local governments in the colonies - plan their actions without a sure knowledge of their worlds? Much of what Europeans knew about North and South America came from either travellers sojourning through the Americas, missionaries, and sometimes more specialised figures like surveyors.  

Here, as in your Forum entries, you will continue to practice the analysis of primary sources. Pay particular attention to the perspectives in each document. Just as historians have different interpretations of the same questions, so too did people in the past have different interpretations of their worlds. What these writers reported on were expressions of their own peculiar interests, their backgrounds, the reasons for their being there in the first place, their audience (whose going to read these books?), on the broader interests (including prejudices) of society. Think about people’s interests, and by interests I mean both what captures their attention and what captures their attention because of who they are: are they are state officials? investors? missionaries?

How can these travel accounts and reports help us to understand the colonial era? What information do they give us? How can that help us to understand both the specific places they describe and the general context of the American in the colonial era. Think too about what they’re describing: natural features of the landscape, altered landscapes, roads, water-routes, resources. Do we see economic activities? Do we see people? Settlers? Indigenous peoples? Indications of past presences? Agriculture? 

Hint: these documents all share a basic similarity: they report on some far off colonial place for a metropolitan audience, but they're also quite different. Think about their similarities and differences.

Don’t get caught up in the details here - don’t tell me that Holland reports that Chester Cove was a place where “schooners of a middling size may ride with safety”, or whatever. Look for the types of information he’s offering; is it military? social? cultural? geographic? For what do you imagine this information was being sought? Who do these authors imagine, or know, to be their audience? And given that audience, how will that information be used? Having said that, look for patterns. We may not care that Chester Cove was a place where “schooners of a middling size may ride with safety”, but if you notice that most harbour/cove descriptions tell us about what kinds of ships can berth there, then you might start asking why that information is important. And so on.

Hint: When I say don’t get caught up in the details, I especially mean Holland’s report which is not especially long but very detailed. Think much more about patterns in his report and its general purposes. 

An Option: Use Voyant-Tools to help read these pieces

1200 words, due 11 June



Option #2: Critical Map Reading: The Seven Years War on Isle Royale


Can two historic maps help us understand differences in British and French colonial ideas/practices?

Below are two maps of what is today called Cape Breton, the large island that makes up the northeastern third of modern-day Nova Scotia. These maps were made only about 20 years apart, but reflect very different worlds and very different world-views. One is a French map of what was then French-held territory (Isle Royale); the other is a British map, produced a few years after Britain captured the territory as part of its victory in the Seven Years War.

Your instructions here are much the same as for your first map assignment. The only major differences are : (i) that we're looking at two maps made very close together in time and of a much smaller place than Africa, and (ii) that you'll be asked to bring significantly more context to your analysis through additional reading. Apply the general critical cartography questions from the first assignment again here,  but this time also bring to bear the broader knowledge you've developed this year of colonialism, the Seven Years War, and settler-Indigenous relations, as well as some readings specifically for this assignment. How do these maps add to our understanding of empire in North America? Do we see common patterns that help us think about this story? Do we see differences that suggest distinctions in the British and French empires? We've spent a lot of time highlighting Indigenous power in early modern North America, and yet the local Indigenous people - the Mi'kmaq - would seem to be absent from these maps. Or are they?

Here are the two maps that should be at the centre of your essay:

Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Carte de l'Isle Royale, 1744 [After Jacques L'Hermite, 1717] [HI-Res Here]

Samuel Holland, A plan of the Island of Cape Britain [Breton] reduced from the large Survey made according to the Orders and Instructions of the Right Honorable the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations (London, 1767). [HI-RES here]

Hint: use the hi-res images at the links I've provided. Each is visible there in much greater detail. Screen-grabbing some details and using them as illustrations in your essay will probably be useful (again, use the hi-res versions for this).

Additional primary sources:

D. C. Harvey, Holland’s description of Cape Breton Island and other documents (Halifax, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 1935), . 

Jacques-Nicholas Bellin, Remarques sur la carte de L'Amerique Septentrionale, comprise entre le 28 et le 72 degrees de latitude, avec un description géographique de ces parties (Paris, Didit, 1755), 27-32. [translated]

Pierre Maillard, An Account of the Customs and Manners of the Micmakis and Maricheets Savage Nations (London, S. Hooper and A. Morley, 1758).

Anon. [Thomas Pichon], Genuine letters and memoirs, relating to the natural, civil, and commercial history of the Islands of Cape Breton, and Saint John: from the first settlement there, to the taking of Louisburg by the English, in 1758 (London, J. Norse, 1760), 56-97.

William Bollan, The Importance and Advantage of Cape Breton, truly stated and impartially considered (London, 1746), 62-98.

Earle Lockerby, "Maintaining the Alliance: A French Officer’s Account of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Kennebec at Louisbourg in 1757", Native Studies Review 18, 2 (2009), pp. 1–25.

Thomas Jefferys, The Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions in North and South America (London, 1760), 119-124 [Cape Breton].

Secondary sources:

You already bring a good background on the Seven Years War in general, and Louisbourg in particular, that you should bring to bear here. We've also seen the important place of the Wabanaki Confederacy in the northeast. But for some additional material here are two essays, one on the transition from French to British control, and another on critical cartography in northeastern North America. The first essay can help you think about how colonial administrators viewed the transition; the second can offer you an example of mapping and naming in one situation, as well some good critical questions to ask. Neither of these are required; both can very useful.

Barry M. Moody, ˜Delivered from all your distresses: The Fall of Quebec and the Remaking of Nova Scotia", in Phillip A. Buckner and John, G. Reid,, eds, Revisiting 1759: The Conquest of Canada in Historical Perspective (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012). 

J.B. Harley, "New England Cartography and the Native Americans", in EmersonW. Baker, et al, eds., American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Geography in the Land of Norumbega (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 286-313.

And this modern map may be helpful.

Hint: the maps should be the focus of this essay. You should also discuss other things like context, the broader war, and so on, but the point of this exercise is to explore what the maps can tell us.

2500 words, due July 7th


First version of slave/child-lit assignment


How can children's literature help us to understand the place of slavery in the 18th and 189th centuries?

Write a short essay that examines and compares these texts designed for children/youths in the light of your abolition week readings. The subject of your essay should be these texts (including Blake) and how they discuss slavery and abolition, but you should be using your broader course reading to provide context. What would these texts teach children in this era? What does this tell us about popular understandings of slavery and abolition? What does this tell us about the broader emergence of liberal ideals about freedom and democratic governance?

These are short texts, but where possible use Voyant in your analysis (and if you don't find it useful in this case, explain why). Voyant is not required for this assignment, but it can be helpful, especially for those of you who have used it and explored it well so far.

Anon., Cuffy the negro's doggrel description of the progress of sugar (London, Wallis, 1823).

Caroline Gilman, “The Planter’s Son”, in her The Rose-Bud Wreath (Charleston SC, Babcock, 1841), 63-9.  

Samuel G. Goodrich, The tales of Peter Parley about America: with engravings (Boston, Carter, Hendee, & Babcock, 1831 [1827]), 44-55.

Noah Webster, The little reader's assistant; containing A number of stories, mostly from the history of America, and adorned with cuts. (Hartford, Nellish and Babcock, 1790), 40-3. 

J. Elizabeth Jones, The Young Abolitionists, or Conversations on Slavery (Boston, Anti-Slavery Society, 1848), 1-19. 

A useful book for consulting may be Paula T. Connolly, Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010 (Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 2013).

You should be drawing upon your course readings, especially the secondary readings related to slavery and abolition. But remember the exam dimension of this assignment and so think too about broader questions related to freedom, and economic development - and power. 

Hint: A good essay will develop one or more themes, use some effective and illustrative quotations, and draw from the knowledge you've already built in the course in our examination of slavery and abolition, as well as broader economic and political questions in the Atlantic world. 

2500 words, due July 7th, noon.



Early Modern maps of Africa


An exercise in critical cartography: maps are not neutral data - they have points of view. Explore three maps' viewpoints.

It's clear that maps can give us good, hard data. But it's also true that we tend to assume that such data is objective: that these lines and objects marking places/spaces are real and beyond any substantial degree of interpretation. Over the past few years, historians and geographers have demonstrated that in fact maps are, like most texts, social constructs and thus can be read in different ways. They typically bear a relationship to power and are thus historically situated in particular political, economic, and social worlds.

Maps, the geographer J.B. Harley reminds us, make "claims to truth" - that is, they claim to tell us "what is". But they almost always are also arguments - that is, they want you to see "what is" in a particular way. Sometimes those arguments are conscious (the author wants the audience to see it a particular way); sometimes it is unconscious (the map reflects the unconscious biases/assumptions of the author). When we "read" a map, we should be thinking about these arguments (these positions, these interpretations) as they can help us understand the politics (and assumptions!) of the time.

Here's Henry Popple's 1747 map of the British Empire. It's an amazing map, full of incredible detail. In its broad contours it look fairly accurate, but some of that incredible detail can begin to show the mapmaker made choices. If you look at.the northern boundary between New England and New France, you can notice the British claims to everything south of the St Lawrence River, a detail that would have surprised the several thousand of Canadienne farmers across the river from Quebec City and Montreal - not to mention the Mohawks, Abenaki, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaw peoples who militarily controlled most of that territory. Here, we see the map is as much a projection of reality rather than a simple geographic fact, and as such e get a clear sense that it has a perspective.  

Sometimes even the keys and cartouches are reflections not of what is, but of the European imagination of what is. Here, from the opposite corner of the same map, Popple's cartouche features naturalised and sexualised Indigenous peoples in the foreground while in the background we see the merchant-ships and traders (or, in other eyes, the plunderers) upon whose ambitions came New World conquest. We can see in this cartouche an idea, even an ideology. Thus, this is "data" just like the geographic information, but data of a worldview, not necessarily of geographic data. In the cartouche, the perspective is not French versus British - they'd no doubt agree on the "primitive" Indigenous peoples - but of a coloniser versus Indigenous perspective.

Maps have perspectives - they have points of view. As we've seen, they do contain real concrete facts. But they also contain interpretations; the map makers often made choices in what to represent and how to represent it. Almost all maps contain elements that are objective, as well as elements that are subjective. The trick is to read it carefully, and critically. How then do we "read" historical maps as data?

The assignment: Write an 750-word essay on the following early modern maps of Africa. Devote roughly half of your text to a discussion of one of the maps, and the other half comparing that map with the other two. They were produced in different times and different places and probably for different purposes. Each sought to show an audience how to see Africa: how it was shaped, who its people were, how they lived and governed themselves, and so on. And yet they also made other claims of knowledge, ones rooted more in their authors and their authors' contexts than in Africa itself. What can these maps tell us about Africa? What can these maps tell us about their authors and their authors' nations? What can these maps tell us about knowledge and knowledge production the early modern Atlantic World? 

Resist the urge to assume they're objective; resist the urge to dismiss them all as biased. Most sources contain good hard evidence, and fuzzier interpretative angles. The real trick is to critically examine these maps as we would any texts so as to find as much useful information as possible. And what is useful information? Well, that depends on what question we're asking. If we're asking about the map's ability to convey accurate geographic information, then we head in one direction. If we're asking how the map tells more about the map makers and their societies, then that sends us in other directions. But if we think those questions are unrelated, then we may be missing a lot.

Here, as in your Forum entries, you will continue to practice the analysis of primary sources. Pay particular attention to the perspectives in each document. Just as historians have different interpretations of the same questions, so too did people in the past have different interpretations of their worlds. You can consider questions such as:

Finally, two suggestions: (i) most of you will assume that the map reflects the mapmaker's personal knowledge: that the person surveyed that territory and produced this map. Sometimes that's true (and in a map we'll look at later in the course, that is true), but usually it's not. And in the case of these African maps, it's absolutely clear that none of these mapmakers had ever been to Africa. Thus, you should think about how the mapmakers knew what they put to paper. (ii) many of you will also assume that the maps will become more accurate with time. Sometimes that's true; sometimes that's not. Just don't assume that's true.

Do you need to do additional research? Probably, yes (looking up the cartographers, or other details on the maps, for example). Wikipedia's probably fine for many things. But try Omni (the library website). There are lots of guides and handbooks that often contain quick high-quality information. But, to be clear, this is not a research paper - it's an exercise in reading sources. Talk about the sources (the maps!).

Tip #1: In past years by far the most common mistake on this kind of assignment has been forgetting (ignoring?) what you've already learned in the course, You have read about early modern Africa, you have read about early European expansion, and how these were connected. You should be using that knowledge to help you here.

Tip #2: the images included here are fairly high resolution, but the links take you to higher-quality scans from the Library of Congress. We strongly recommend you read those higher-resolution versions as close reading of some of the details can be very helpful.

The maps:

William Blaeu, Africæ nova descriptio (Amsterdam, 1635). Source: LIbrary of Congress

Herman Moll, Africa (London, ca., 1710) Source: Library of Congress.

Aaron Arrowsmith, Africa: to the committee and members of the British association discovering the interior parts of Africa this map is with their permission most respectfully inscribed. London: A. Arrowsmith, 1802. Source: Library of Congress.

Read chapter two from Surekha Davies, Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human: New Worlds, Maps and Monsters (Cambridge University Press, 2016). It's helpful in thinking about how and why maps were made.

Write a short essay, 750 words, due May 19th, no later than noon (EDT). Using the skills and knowledge you've acquired so far in the course, the Davies chapter, and the maps. No bibliography is required; all references/citations must be in Chicago-style footnotes (a good quick guide to citing LOC primary documents can be found here).

Option 3 -  Let's talk methodology

Methodology is not the sexiest of topics, but it's incredibly important. It's become even more important as historians seek innovative ways to understand historically marginalised peoples, such as the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and enslaved Africans brought to America. As we've begun to see in this course, historians' traditionally most important sources - textual documents - are rarely available for such people and so historians are compelled to seek other forms of evidence. This essay is a very good example of such innovative research. We'll see this again later in the term when we read a chapter from Lisa Brook's important and wonderfully innovative book, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Phillip's War (Yale University Press, 2019).  
Read the following essay and write a 750-word essay discussing the interdisciplinary approach of this study, in particular the very different types of evidence used. Your essay should do four things: (i) explain the authors' question/research aim, (ii) note the conclusions they draw, (iii) describe the different forms of evidence they use (and the displines from which it is drawn), and (iv) show how that evidence supports their conclusions. Due May 19th, no later than noon (EDT).


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