Systemic Misrepresentation

There is a very good reason you never saw this pre-Columbian map of the United States:

That very good reason is that it is not a pre-columbian map of the United States.

Please, I beg you, if you are going to share a meme, Google it. (To be fair, that would not have done you much good this time. I had a hard time tracking down anything about this.) But if you’re not going to Google it…maybe read it? It says on the map “Approx: 2015”. Columbus, I might remind you, sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

This looks like a decently cool thought experiment. What if the Native Nations had remained sovereign and developed national polities? I lack the requisite expertise to evaluate this particular proposal, but some of it looks plausible. Other parts—like the location of the Ojibwa polity and the consolidation of the Pacific coast tribes—look arbitrary without knowing the provenance of the map. Still, it is a neat thing to consider.

I sincerely recommend falling down the Wiki-wormhole that is reading up on all the tribes there, the people that constituted them, and the languages they spoke. Because while the meme itself is not a map of pre-contact North America—and such a map would be a Eurocentric fiction—you really did not learn enough native history from your formal education. Also, if you don’t find it down the wormhole, the Bering Strait Theory you learned in school was a lie designed to make you think the Natives were newcomers too.

So I totally support the good intentions behind sharing this meme. But pity it’s wrong.

P.S. I promise this blog won’t be all-memes-all-the-time. They will totally keep showing up because, hey, they are good fodder for bad ideas. But tomorrow I’ve got a post about something very different.


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