HIST2F90: Money & Power in the Atlantic World

Assignments Term 1

This page gives you an overview of the course assignments. Details about Term 1 assignment are on this page below. Term 2 assignment details will be available by the beginning of January 2024. See the "Course at a Glance" for an overview of all Term 1 activities.

In this full-year course, each of you will complete four assignments - two in the first term, and two in the second term - and you have some choices (fewer initially and more as the course progresses).

NOTE: Unless we inform you otherwise, you will submit all assignments using the Assignments Tool in Sakai.

The Overview

Assignment 1

Assignment 2


The Details!

Assignment 1:

Transcription and analysis of John Stedman’s Narrative of Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam

This assignment builds on the lesson you did in Week 05 ("Entering the Archives").

There are 5 steps to completing this assignment. You should do them in order.We will grade your work in equal parts on the accuracy of the transcription, as well as the depth of your reflection.

Assignment 2

Option 1: The Details
Text analysis: The Jesuit Relations: Early Missionaries in New France

In our forum and lesson for Week 11, we read an excerpt from Paul LeJeune; for this option you'll use Voyant Tools as a way to explore the full-text. There will be a workshop style lesson in November to give you some practice with this tool.

In this exercise, we want you to read a primary source related to colonial-era North America. It's a source by a 17th century Jesuit missionary,  Paul LeJeune that we just discussed in our forum on Missionaries.

For this assignment, you will use this specific version of the text from 1636:You can find the text by clicking the link in the title.

For the assignment we want you to read it the text a particular manner. You should already have read a short excerpt in the forum. We now want you to do three things:Are you required to do any outside research? The short answer is some, but not a lot and not fancy research. We're not giving you many outside resources to work with. What you'll need, you'll have to determine. We do expect you to use resources from HIST 2F90 lessons (look to the planning tip at the bottom of this for suggest lessons that will have useful sources for you to use!) But, to be clear, most of your discussion should focus on the text itself.

You must include visuals (screenshots/URLs) from your use of Voyant Tools to more clearly explain your pre-reading process and hypotheses that you have drawn from it. See the links below with instructions about using Voyant Tools, as well as upcoming hints from the instructor, for examples of how to use and include screenshots.

The object here is to say something analytical about the book and how how Voyant Tools might help that analysis. Have a look at this video for quick pointers from Prof. Danny Samson (who leads the course next term) on using Voyant Tools.

How to use Voyant Tools

In the coming weeks we will offer open, optional workshops plus a "Sandbox" Forum in Sakai to help you practice and to guide you through the skills of using Voyant Tools. (See SAKAI FORUMS for the "Sandbox")Planning tip: in the weeks before this is due, we'll do lessons on North American Indigenous Societies and Missionaries, two topics that will both be useful for you in thinking about The Jesuit Relations.

Option 2
Critical reading of early modern maps of Africa

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

The Rationale

We love maps, especially but not only historical maps. And while we love google maps and all the GIS-based tools we have at our fingertips these days, we also still own map books. Prof Samson still carries road atlases in his car because while Google offers great directions the broader map allows him to see more context, to have a physical sense of where we're going, where we are, where we should be, what’s nearby, how did we get lost?

Historical maps are packed with data. They give us a view of landscapes, territory, communication networks, political relationships – in short, views of the political and spatial organization of societies. The image link to this text is a detail from the Cantino planisphere, a Portuguese map made in 1502 outlining Europe, Africa, and the then newly discovered islands of the Caribbean. The detail shows Elmino castle, a large Portuguese trading centre and military installation in what is today Ghana. The size of the castle is obviously not to scale, and may never have been meant to be. Its size and style suggests it was meant to symbolize Portuguese power in Africa. But this unusual representation raises the question of what's meant to be accurate and what's meant to be symbolic - and for that matter if there's a difference. At minimum it asks us to read this map critically and carefully.

It's clear that maps can give us good, hard data. But it's also true that we tend to assume that such data are 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, but they almost always betray that they are constructions designed to support claims to truth, more than simply "true" in any objective sense.

Maps are representations of space but because they often bear a powerful resemblance to concrete geographic features of the planet, we tend to think they are factual, or true. 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. This human process of interpreting and selecting data adds complexity to how we must understand maps as sources and ask the same critical questions we'd ask of any sources. Are maps biased? Of course they are, but so is all human-produced data. 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?

There's lots to look for. Some maps have a lot of textual data in addition to the basic details of names and locations. Look carefully at the maps by Herman Moll and Emmanuel Bowen for examples of this. What are your initial impressions of these data? Are they reliable? Does it matter that this information is only partly true, or misleading at best? Would it have mattered to an eighteenth-century observer? What inferences might such an observer have about this and similar information on the map? Think too about its production. Remember that maps are authored, like any text, and are usually intended for a particular audience.There were literally 100s of maps of Africa available in this period. Why commission another one? Why one with this level of detail? Or lack of detail, like Arrowsmith? Who would have wanted such a map? Why? Why was this map produced when it was produced? What about that moment made this information important?

Look, too, beyond the geographic features of the map itself. The legend, for example, often contains important information that can be helpful in understanding the map: what it records, where, when and by whom it was made. Legends are often inside more elaborate and artistic renditions that are called a cartouche. A cartouche is usually a frame or image designed both to add additional information - often the publication information or a legend - as well as artistic embellishments. Some are more ornamental than others, but all contain potentially useful information. One can often see themes being represented in the cartouche: a kind of key to thinking about the map. The planisphere on our header was one of the first to depict the North And South America in relation to Europe and Africa. At this point, only the Portuguese were actively venturing along the western coast of Africa and thus this map presents knowledge more or less completely new to other Europeans. It's also worth noting however that Portuguese explorers had travelled as far south as modern-day Ghana, but had gone no more than a mile or two inland - the rest is pure imagination. But these images shouldn't be dismissed as mere flights of fancy. They very often offer symbolic clues to how the mapmakers understood their subjects and the purposes of these maps.

The assignment

Read chapter two from Surekha DaviesRenaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human: New Worlds, Maps and Monsters (Cambridge University Press, 2016) "Atlantic empires, map workshops and Renaissance geographical culture", to help you think about how early modern maps were made.

Write1,000 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 the early modern Atlantic World? 

Resist the urge to dismiss them as all being biased. They are, no doubt, but so are most sources. The real trick is to critically examine these 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:

You can probably think of other general questions that will help you to think about the perspective in any source. 

Are you required to do any outside research? The short answer is some, but not a lot and not fancy research. We're not giving you much outside resources to work with. What you'll need, you'll have to determine. Basic online googling will get you a fair distance: be sure to cite what you use, and choose websites that don't appear random or problematic. Wikipedia iss fine for many things. But try the library. There are lots of guides and handbooks that often contain quick high-quality information. We do expect you to use resources from HIST 2F90 lessons (look to the planning tip at the bottom of the page for suggest lessons that will have useful sources for you to use!) But, to be clear, most of your discussion should focus on the maps themselves.

Tip: the images included here are fairly high quality, but the links take you to much better high-quality scans from the Library of Congress. Close reading of some of the details on the high-quality scans may be very helpful.

Herman Moll, Map of Africa “To the Right Honourable Charles, Earl of Peterborow and Monmouth, &c This Map of Africa Is Most Humbly Dedicated”. (London, 1710) Source: Princeton University Library

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.

Emanuel Bowen, A new & accurate map of Negroland and the adjacent countries (London,1747). Source: Library of Congress.

Planning tip: in the weeks before this is due, we'll do lessons on European Expansion and Early Modern Africa, two topics that will both be useful for you in thinking about these maps and their construction. The story of these maps are very much related to their context in European expansion, early modern African politics, the slave trade, and the broader development of markets in the Atlantic World. And finally, we will be devoting a whole lesson to distant and visual reading at the beginning of Module 3, so take your cue from our workshops on which approach you wish to take for this assignment!

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