The biases in history and map making

Considering how easy to place your own biases when constructing maps, borders, and visualizing countries, it is still surprising to see how much we can still get wrong in today’s modern day where everyone has access to a vast well of knowledge in the palm of their hand. You would expect the use of the hundreds of satellites out in space to accurately display the earth and the individual countries but it is still up to us, not the computers or programs, to map out these places accurately with precision and careful consideration. Mayukh Sen points out how western colonialism still exists within Google’s programs even though the company itself seems to try its best to be transparent as much as possible. While these corporations may have the best interest in heart, Sen describes how these tech companies are not just enriching the lives of the natives but are so out of touch that “they can sometimes risk working off hazy assumptions ripped from colonial-era playbooks regarding this ‘new,’ ‘unexplored’ market and its people’s imagined desires without bothering to consult them.” And how “Google Earth’s capabilities falter for some of those who may need the platform, its stories must be rendered with precision, without a glib sentimentality that covers over political divisions and geographical inequalities.” Which resonates the most with me considering how we are making strides to spread the truth about the past regarding western colonization. It is still up to us to acknowledge the past and how that may influence us now in the present day.

Yarimar Bonilla and Max Hantel’s piece about “Visualizing Sovereignty: Cartographic Queries for the Digital Age” taps into the last point on how “the map is itself a function of a foundational set of codes concerning who controls visual representation and what counts as representable in the first place.” So much has been lost but also recovered in history and this reminded me of my history professor while in undergrad where he stated that history is not just archives and papers but an argument of what truly happened in the past. These people who had the tools to shape and label a countries borders, routes, cities, and states had more power than they realized and had a duty to be as accurate as possible. It may take a while until we can truly let go of those biases but I believe that with more people reading and tapping in to history and going into academia for these subjects that it is now only a matter of time before we can build a concise model of  history and cartography.