Mapping as Rediscovery

 

The discovery of the American continent has been subject of map making, illustrations and paintings over the centuries. Some of these understandings can be applied today.

'The Mapping of New Spain' by Barbara Mundi centers on The Relaciones Geograficas maps produced in response to Philip II's inquiries during the colony. Their purpose was to bring the unknown world into the realm of the visible. These are evidence of both, the collision between civilizations and the use of maps to shape the understanding of a place as perceived by the maker. Thus, the history of their making is charged with political significance providing also evidence of social distinctions.

Mundy is successful in scrutinizing the maps as art and identifying the particular elements which prove the hybridity of these. Such are the combination of perspective with flat representations, architectural styles, the use of indigenous iconography, paired with the use of European illusionism as seen in frescoes. An aspect that is not emphasized as much, is the way most maps are framed as a reaffirmation of the natives' concentric way of perceiving.

The way these are made are an evidence of how the territory was experienced, that is by foot. The use of footsteps symbols combined with symbols of horse shoes is better explained by Rafael Lopez Guzman's book were he recognizes that this was to highlight the introduction of the horse as a mean of transportation. These schematic symbols which almost look like cartoons, feel idiosyncratic and naive as their way of life has been described a number of times.

Centuries later, 'Incidents of travel trough Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan' illustrated and publish in England by Frederick Catherwood, not only richly depicts the newly discovered ruins of pre-colombian cities, but also narrates the journey of Stephens which as is apparent in the book, was showing the value of such vestiges even to the locals. Additionaly, the numerous descriptions of simple, almost primitive, and sometimes naive way of life can be related to the way maps were created.

One of the main reasons for the exploration of new territories was in the search for resources. A prominent mural by Honduran painter Miguel Angel Ruiz Matutte shows in one of its sections the meeting between civilizations and suggests the interchange of goods that took place. However, local legends tell the story of how the indigenous were fooled by given mirrors in exchange for gold and silver.