“A Century of Progress”: The Portrayal of Indians in American History Textbooks (cont.)


Besides an interpretive framework that may be less than satisfying, many recently published textbooks possess other problems as well.

For example, many textbook authors and publishers include maps indicating the location of Native tribes at the time of European contact. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but the maps can often be misleading. The map at right, for instance, notes the location of the Seminoles in Florida at the time of European contact even though the Seminoles did not exist as a distinct group until the late 1700s. Nor did the Crows or the Navajos.


This map is somewhat better—or at least more colorful—but it too has problems. Though difficult to make out in this small image, it describes the Sioux as being primarily west of the Mississippi 200 years before they actually entered the region.

But occasional errors are less significant than the difficulties inherent in mapping Native America. Like people throughout the world, American Indian groups did not remain stationary. The cultural landscape of the Americas changed and evolved over time—though one could not tell this from most textbook maps. This failure fosters the idea of Native people being somehow rooted in particular places and tied to the land in ways that other groups are not. In a subtle way that most students would rarely consider a problem, these maps make American Indian groups appear to be static and unchanging

For more on the topic of mapping Native America, follow this link.

Mapping chronologies poses challenges no less difficult that mapping geography. Look at this timeline from a well-respected textbook. Note the discrepancies in scale between the “prehistoric” and the “historic” periods. What are the implications of this irregular telescoping of time?


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