Dispossession in a Minute: On Shifting Perspectives

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The visualization unfolds briskly, envelops the continent with a relentlessness that shocks. Almost an entire continent consumed in a century; from Native land to a nation’s land, sped up to a minute. The continent is eaten away as if by acid, the edges crumbling like old letters long stored in an archive unable to maintain its integrity. Then, like an ember blown beyond the fire line to ignite a new blaze, splotches grow in the middle. The loss, the costs, unimaginable and incalculable, accumulate.

As effective as this visualization is, “The Invasion of America” understates the territorial losses. Within those burnt yellow patches, the lands retained, the homelands still home, include gaps. A finer-grained map would show more pockets of property carved out. So much loss in the simplest stark terms of real estate. But land loss masks something deeper. Indigenous cultures are placed-based and this map shows how much “place” was taken. The ample resilience seen among Native people today is all the more impressive with this history’s weight.

There is no good reason to be stunned by the map. It depicts the nation’s foundation that we know, even if we do not acknowledge it. Most often, nineteenth-century North America is shown as a march of the nation, a growing republic that fills in maps so to resemble today. Simply reversing the colors and shifting perspectives, this visualization forces us to exchange blank spots. Here, ceded land becomes blank, not states. It is loss depicted, not gain.

The Invasion of America is a project of Claudio Saunt. Explore the fuller map project–The Invasion of America: How the United States Took Over an Eighth of the World–that includes links to documents.

 

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