From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame

From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame

From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame

From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame

Synopsis

Brassiere Hills, Alaska. Mollys Nipple, Utah. Outhouse Draw, Nevada. In the early twentieth century, it was common for towns and geographical features to have salacious, bawdy, and even derogatory names. In the age before political correctness, mapmakers readily accepted any local preference for place names, prizing accurate representation over standards of decorum. Thus, summits such as Squaw Tit- which towered above valleys in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California- found their way into the cartographic annals. Later, when sanctions prohibited local use of racially, ethnically, and scatalogically offensive toponyms, town names like Jap Valley, California, were erased from the national and cultural map forever.

From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow probes this little-known chapter in American cartographic history by considering the intersecting efforts to computerize mapmaking, standardize geographic names, and respond to public concern over ethnically offensive appellations. Interweaving cartographic history with tales of politics and power, celebrated geographer Mark Monmonier locates his story within the past and present struggles of mapmakers to create an orderly process for naming that avoids confusion, preserves history, and serves different political aims. Anchored by a diverse selection of naming controversies- in the United States, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, and Antarctica; on the ocean floor and the surface of the moon; and in other parts of our solar system- From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow richly reveals the map's role as a mediated portrait of the cultural landscape. And unlike other books that consider place names, this is the first to reflect on both the real cartographic and political imbroglios they engender.

From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow is Mark Monmonier at his finest: a learned analysis of a timely and controversial subject rendered accessible- and even entertaining- to the general reader.

Excerpt

My original title for this book, before it was changed, was “Fighting Words,” which better describes the story of inflammatory ethnic insults embedded in the cartographic labels of places and geographic features. It's also a tale of power and compromise arising from the mapmaker's pursuit of an orderly process for naming and renaming that avoids confusion, preserves history, and serves diverse political aims. Mapmakers and names scholars call this process applied toponymy—toponym means place name, and toponymy refers to the study of geographic names. As my chapters show, it's a conservative process, frustratingly slow at times, that evolved to capture local usage, resist confusing duplication and rampant commemorative naming, standardize syntax, and remove abusive nomenclature from government maps. Influenced by the standardization imperative that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century and gathered momentum as maps became more detailed, applied toponymy is an important part of map history. In addition to a significant yet largely unsung role in cartography's adoption and adaptation of electronic technology, its sometimesfretful response to increased ethnic sensitivity in the late twentieth century richly reflects the map's role as a mediated portrait of the cultural landscape.

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