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  • How the West Was Drawn: Mapping, Indians, and the Construction of the Trans-Mississippi West by David Bernstein
  • G. Rebecca Dobbs
How the West Was Drawn: Mapping, Indians, and the Construction of the Trans-Mississippi West. David Bernstein. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. Pp. xvi+ 303, photographs, maps, notes. $65.00, cloth, ISBN 978-0-8032-4930-1.

In How the West Was Drawn Bernstein has tackled an ambitious project at the intersection of history and geography; of cartography, science, and politics; of colonial expansion and Indian agency. His basic premise is that "Indians were central to the cartographic creation of the trans-Mississippi United States" (3). Along the way he provides considerable historical detail regarding key events and interactions, particularly for the several groups of Pawnees and for certain Euro-American expedition leaders and cartographers.

Bernstein makes six arguments in support of his premise, some more successful than others. His foundational argument is perhaps his weakest. Citing a generation of scholarship on indigenous cartography that has emphasized a fundamental difference between the spatial worldviews of indigenous peoples and those of European-based cultures, he facilely dismisses this viewpoint and presents as if new knowledge the ability of Indians to draw "accurate" maps. By this he means ones that are immediately understandable by Euro-Americans and that thus confirm a shared spatial worldview, in turn making possible spatially explicit treaties, among other things. At issue here is that this is not in fact new knowledge; examples of such "realistic" maps exist alongside examples of culturally distinct expressions of spatial knowledge. Bernstein [End Page 232] also uses the famed Notchininga map in support of his point, an odd choice since in other contexts the same map is often used to make an opposite argument, that is, what was important to its maker was not topography but topology.

Bernstein's remaining arguments work better. First, he shows that the Pawnee-US treaty of 1833 was not a one-sided colonial swindle but a solution to geopolitical problems in the Pawnees' world at that time, negotiated by the Pawnees from a position of strength. As the US neglected to fulfill Pawnee expectations following the treaty, however, it later came to appear otherwise. Bernstein's next argument shows how the choices Pawnees made as a result of this US betrayal had a series of major consequences. Essentially, the US ceased to consider the Pawnees an important tribe or a "friendly" one, excluded them from an important territorial mapping conference and related treaty at Fort Laramie in 1868, and consigned them to extermination by proxy in the context of shifting tribal power. In both of these arguments Bernstein is careful to demonstrate agency on both sides of Pawnee-US interaction, neutralizing potential naturalization of conquest.

In Part II of the book Bernstein looks more specifically at maps produced in the context of the expanding US state and its nationalist project. He shows first that "Indian Territory" became accepted as a spatial project of the US state through a combination of Euro-American political considerations and cartographic creation. The use of map messages to build an acceptance of national "truths" and identity is well known, and Bernstein effectively demonstrates this use to embed "Indian Territory" in the national consciousness. But then, as he further argues, the US state strove to incorporate its western land areas more fully into the life of the nation, which required reversing that process. This was accomplished by a new emphasis on "science" (some of it in fact very doubtful or even pseudoscience) in mapping of the West by Euro-Americans. The public discourse about scientific mapping contrasted it sharply with the "fantastical" (187) geographic knowledge of "Indian savagery" (184) and masked frontier violence with "a triumph of Enlightenment thought" (165). Yet here, and indeed throughout the book, Bernstein stresses all the ways that Indians made Euro-American mapping possible, from aids to the expeditions' survival to contributions of explicit geographic information.

For his final argument Bernstein turns to toponyms as inscribed on [End Page 233] maps of the nineteenth century. Few cartographers made consistent efforts to find out from local Indians what place names were in use, though...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2331-7523
Print ISSN
1091-6458
Pages
pp. 232-234
Launched on MUSE
2020-05-12
Open Access
No
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