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Reviewed by:
  • Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region
  • Barbara Belyea
Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region. David I. Macleod, ed. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2007. Pp. 448. US$69.95

This volume collects papers from a conference held in 2004 and subsequently published in the Michigan Historical Review. Mary Pedley pays tribute to Louis Karpinski's work to copy and catalogue maps of Michigan. G. Malcolm Lewis writes on three centuries of Native cartography. Keith Widder, J.P.D. Dunbabin, and Francis Carroll follow shifts of imperial control in boundary commission maps and an early proposal for colonization at Michilimackinac. Margaret Pearce and Helen Tanner trace the rapid dispossession of Native tribes to make way for the territory's first land surveys. The influx of settlers and their 'progressive' outlook, documented in sectional surveys, plats, fire insurance maps, panoramic views, and county atlases, are considered in articles by Cheryl Lyon-Jenness, David Patton, Amy Lobden, Bruce Pape, and Kenneth Lewis. State publication of highway maps to promote Michigan's automotive industry is studied in exhaustive detail by Jim Ackerman and Daniel Block. Gerald Danzer describes Michigan's distinctive geography as a Great Lakes state.

The collection aims at 'inclusive coverage' of the state's cartographic history, spanning about 350 years from contact to the present. Theoretically the essays range from considerations of accuracy and [End Page 168] form to probing for motives and effects, 'teas[ing] out new meanings, hidden agendas,' as Brian Harley recommended two decades ago. The risk for those concerned with accuracy is narrowness of conception; for the Harleians it is an emphasis on context rather than analysis.

Malcolm Lewis's paper exemplifies a conservative approach. Lewis focuses on the material composition of Native maps and their usefulness to European explorers. He is also interested in how, and how much, Native 'graphic and oral intelligence' was altered and interpreted to produce the surviving paper transcripts. Inevitably Native maps are judged according to the norms of European scientific mapping.

Most of the essays on boundaries and settlement follow Harley's revisionist direction. Diplomatic negotiations, successful businesses, and state-sponsored tourism are offered as explanations of the maps of settlement. But the Northwest Ordinance Survey was a condition of settlement, not its result. As Danzer remarks perceptively, 'Statehood would emerge as the work of surveyors rather than out of geographic circumstances or the processes of historical development.' The revolutionary, cartographically driven land-use system by which European coordinates were imposed as property lines on American ground should be a huge issue in the mapping of Michigan. Yet Danzer, like most of his fellow contributors, seems to regard it as uncontroversial and inevitable: 'Publication of separate maps of Michigan seemed to wait for the surveyors and the arrival of American ways.'

The outstanding article of the collection is Pearce's study of 'holes in the grid.' Pearce shows that the Northwest Ordinance was indeed controversial. Surveyors came on the heels of treaty negotiators who used 'threats, annuity payments, alcohol and deception' to dispossess Native inhabitants. While one group of surveyors laid down the sections, another established temporary reservations in limited consultation with Native leaders. Every attempt was made to fit the reservations into the sectional grid; Prairie Ronde, for example, was surveyed as a perfect square. Nevertheless, some of the reservation lines were offset and persist to this day on USGS topographical maps. Pearce presents the stages of dispossession as they are evidenced on a series of maps. Other contributors recount events and describe conditions in order to understand the maps. She is the only contributor to use maps as the key to understanding a historical process.

A remarkable hole in the collection is specific treatment of French maps of the region. Pedley acknowledges Karpinski's view that 'French [End Page 169] archives and repositories were intimately linked to the European . . . exploration of the Great Lakes.' Although Karpinski's photostats illustrate her article, Pedley does not discuss these maps. Danzer contrasts Guillaume Delisle's map of North America (1700) with his later map of Louisiana (1718). The first map shows the three great axes of continental penetration: Hudson Bay, the St Lawrence/Great Lakes...


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