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The Luso-Hispanic World in Maps: A Selective Guide to Manuscript Maps to 1900

What is a Map?

Before continuing further with a specific introduction to the Luso-Hispanic world in maps, some definitions regarding maps and the progression in mapping over time seem desirable. First, the basic question of what is a map? In the narrowest sense, a map is frequently a two dimensional representation of a portion of the earth's surface. But the character of the map is often affected or determined by who created the map and for whom the map was intended.

Maps have changed in character over the centuries, especially since the European discoveries at the end of the fifteenth century. In the final years of the twentieth century, the most frequently used and available kind of map may well be that associated with travel, in other words the highway map. This common map is found in various conditions and editions in many houses and cars. The ubiquity of the road map is no doubt directly related to the number of cars in existence and to the number of people who travel for pleasure or for business by motorized vehicle. The readily available road map also reflects the acknowledgment on the part of official tourism entities, municipalities and other governmental bodies that the majority of people who do travel are traveling by car. By contrast, when reflecting on maps of the eighteenth century, or earlier, the primary type of travel map was not a road map but a sea chart or a coastal map with all important sailing instructions, directions, and navigational information regarding hazards, soundings, currents, and characteristics of the water bottom given. This genre of map confirms the fact that in the eighteenth century most travel, especially long distance travel, was conducted on water.

As we live in an age of technology, mass production, and disposable goods, we take for granted the vast quantity of printed materials available to us. Newspapers, magazines, books, and maps become throw-away items. The maps represented in this publication are rarer than those produced today for several reasons, not the least of which is that they are manuscript, i.e., hand-drawn, crafted by hand. Those maps drafted in earlier times came from eras when even printed materials were not considered disposable items, much less manuscript items. There were quantitatively fewer maps in existence then, and this condition persisted at least until 1850.

A map generally has a historical context in which it is created, and it expresses in various manners the social, political, economic, and cultural forces that brought it into being. To us, a map has a distinctive purpose, although that may not always be clearly revealed. We believe that maps are not passive, isolated documents existing in a vacuum. They are connected, sometimes intricately, with other maps, correspondence, documents, and printed and graphic works. Such is true with maps described in this publication, in which complementary items lying elsewhere in the Library of Congress or some other collection can supply the map its proper context and purpose(s).

Manuscript map showing the southeastern United States with a large block of text on the right
Gómes, José Luis. Descripcion geographica de la parte que los españoles poseen... 1914. Luso-Hispanic World number 831. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Knowledge of a map's creator, whether cartographer, field surveyor, private firm, corporate body, or nation, is of significance in understanding the purpose and the context of the map. Maps reveal in various ways (some subtle and some not so subtle) the interests and intentions of their creators. The importance of this information cannot be underestimated. In other words, who made the map and why, are two essential questions to raise when using maps as historical documents. In this publication, for instance, see Antonio de Arredondo's 1742 "Descripcion Geografica, de la parte que los Españoles poseen...en el Continente de la Florida...." [830, 831] This map presents the mid-eighteenth century Spanish view of their possessions, and of other European possessions in the present-day United States. By using names, expedition routes, and chronology, Arredondo systematically defined the sequence of the Spanish presence and claims to the southern United States as far north as the Chesapeake Bay at the time of increasing English incursions and settlements in the areas that the Spanish regarded as their own. The term el Continente de la Florida used in the map's title signifies for the Spanish that Florida was, at least, a vast region in North America, not merely an appendage of or peninsula attached to North America. Our publication contains other noteworthy examples of similar colonial and national claims regarding possessions in America, e.g., Spanish-English, French-English, Spanish-French, Spanish-Portuguese, United States-Spanish, United States-English, United States-Mexican.