Many of the first European maps of the Americas included warnings of cannibalism, despite no proof of such activity. James Walker’s “From Alterity to Allegory: Depictions of Cannibalism on Early European Maps of the New World,” published earlier this year as Occasional Paper Number 9 from the Philip Lee Phillips Map Society of the Library of Congress, examines how and why the macabre myth endured.
“The act of naming something is a powerful element of mapmaking that often contributes both a descriptive and possessive understanding of the person, place or thing being named,” Walker writes. “In this case, the word cannibal was unusual, because it incorporated three meanings or concepts — a people, a practice, and a place.”
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