Maps

sheeyun at ix.netcom.com sheeyun at ix.netcom.com
Thu Sep 2 17:16:26 EDT 1999


Nat Case said that "It's very hard to imagine living in a world where you haven't seen a map. Or
where you don't think of the  land in terms of your understanding it on a map. It's very 
confusing and a little scary." 

I was interested to learn, a couple of years ago, that when Europeans came to explore North 
America they asked Inuits for information on northern lands-- presumably because errors there 
would be so particularly expensive. They brought the Inuit onto their ships and provided their 
informants with pens, ink and paper, and the Inuit drew maps for them.

The Inuit hadn't had paper previously. But they *were* accustomed to drawing and examining maps 
in the snow or in loose dirt, when they met other groups. 

I suspect that "thinking of the land in terms of maps" is pretty frequent among humans, so that 
we often try to construct mental maps in the absence of prepared ones to match against our 
experience. On the other hand, I can think of getting from A to B (for some As and Bs) in terms 
of narrative, and with no real spatial cognate. That's why I said "pretty frequent"-- apart from 
my innate desire to hedge, of course. :)

An interesting feature of Inuit maps is that the scale (in terms we would tend to think about) 
changes within map. Areas where hunting is good are depicted at fewer miles per inch than areas 
where animals were less abundant or accessible. This can be and has been interpreted as a 
representation of the importance of the areas with good hunting. It seems to me (and perhaps 
others-- I'm no scholar in this area!) that this variation in distance-scale may correspond to 
consistency in a duration-scale. Groups would tend to travel more slowly through areas with good 
hunting. 

(I just find it interesting how many reasonable metrics there can be....)

Idly, Mary Ann


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