Wood and Water, Lines and Sand: Indigenous Mapping


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The key contribution of local knowledge to European exploration

Using case studies such as Marshall Islands ‘stick charts’, tactile Inuit maps made of wood, and Australian song maps, this talk showcases the variety of indigenous mapping and its often overlooked contribution to European navigation and cartography.

James Cook’s Pacific voyages were celebrated as great scientific achievements in Europe. He and the surveyors, naturalists and artists who accompanied him charted vast swathes of an ocean previously little-known in Europe, collected tens of thousands of plant specimens and cultural objects, and recorded – in writing and drawing – astounding observations about the natural environments and inhabitants of the places they visited. The scientific and cultural ideas the explorers brought with them inflected the new knowledge they produced. This meant that Cook, other voyagers, and significant figures in Europe sometimes failed to acknowledge the importance of indigenous knowledge, which, in the form of geographical information, navigational skills and indigenous mapping contributed to the success of European expeditions in the Pacific and beyond.

This joint talk by Huw Rowlands (Royal Holloway, University of London and AHRC) and Joy Slappnig (Royal Holloway, University of London and RGS-IBG) explores indigenous mapping through Cook and other examples. It considers what Europeans think constitutes a map, and how we might think of mapping more broadly, showing how mapping practices and products vary widely, both physically and conceptually: they are made from many different materials such as rock, wood, sand, animal hides and even human skin; and they are entangled in an array of activities, skills, and people, taking on different functions in different places and at different times.

Image: Chart of the Society Islands by Cook after Tupaia


Name: Wood and Water, Lines and Sand: Indigenous Mapping
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Price: Full Price: £10.00
Member: £10.00
Senior 60+: £8.00
Student: £7.00
Registered Unemployed: £7.00
Under 18: £7.00
Friend of the British Library: £10.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546