Roots of an Archive

When first considering how to arrange the Barbara Drake’s archive, I was focused, also maybe too compelled, on the material. I wanted to delve into the subjects, whether that was tribal history, ecology, cosmology, or curriculum, and parse them out. The collection itself is extensive. The project of sort was certainly one that would take time and patience.

What we forgot, and thankfully our project manager reminded us, was that all these materials were the research, pedagogy, and experiences of Barbara Drake. The arrangement pivoted. Now we’re arranging for her. Who was Mrs. Drake and what did she do? That’s one series. What did she research? That’s two. How to educate and what to educate students with? That’s three.

Barbara Drake, known as “Auntie Barbara” by students, faculty, and staff at Claremont Colleges, was instrumental in fostering collaboration between the local Tongva community and Claremont. I never met her, but I’ve read and heard about her boundless care, mentorship, joy, wisdom, and knowledge. Her research and pedagogy reflected her connection to the earth. To her, the natural world was the center of all life in cultural history, storytelling, tradition, and in part of holistic community.

Based off the stack of ecological materials, I lament not having got to know her and even just taking a class. The amount of knowledge compiled, just on local plants alone, is deeply inspiring. I want to continue a journey on a similar path: to understand better the people and place that I consider my home.

Under Fire

Around fire season every year, I often reflect on our California hillsides. And while over recent years the dialogue has advanced from managing foothill wildfires to climate change and unprecedented forest fires, I still get into the weeds, mulling over questions about ecological restoration, conservation, agricultural practice, and bioengineering. Today, it was a bit of synchrony coming across “The Land of the People” in A Journey to Tovangar by Mark Frank Acuna in the Drake collection.

Similar to Naomi Klein’s distinction, I’ve always separated two approaches to ecological/environmental restoration: bioengineering or letting nature heal itself. I have often erred to the side of letting nature heal itself and for human mitigation, especially around the development and practice of new technologies, to be minimal if at all. The thinking was always that nature could best heal itself over man’s hubris. This train of thought would often extend to my viewpoints that perhaps devalued the celebration of agricultural practices. I had over years lamented the idea and colonial logic that an agricultural turn signaled the progress of mankind, cleaving the civilized from the barbarian.

On reading Acuna’s paper, he offered a novel provocation to this line of thinking for me. He submitted that the California hillsides we see today would be completely unrecognizable to the Tongva and indigenous populations of the Southern California pre-twentieth century. He argues that it was not because they were more lush or wild, but that the hillsides were in fact profuse with oak trees that were cultivated and managed by indigenous tribes.

Acuna writes, “When the Spanish came through in their first years of conquering encounter, they all noted the park like vistas and the open clear Oak forests. They had not entered the wilderness but a well managed landscape. Even as late as 1844, John Fremont noted that ‘…the…groves of oaks give the appearance of orchards in an old cultivated country” (Fremont in Pavlik, 105). Somewhat similar to groves seen today, the forests were landscaped to be absent of grasses or competing tree species. They were open and “light-filled,” stretching from the mountains all the way to the sea, we individuals could walk “never having to leave the comforting shade of the Oaks” (Acuna, 17).

It is unknown exactly when this happened, but eventually indigenous tribes in the region became more and more reliant on acorns, “Kwar.” Horticulture techniques were developed between neighboring tribes and the Tongva became tenders and keepers of the Oaks (Weht). Three techniques were used in managing the vast oak forests: first, was a “careful and precise” fire to clear underbrush (which would reduce the pests and diseases often attributed to affecting forests and spur grass and forb seed production); second, they used long flexible poles to harvest acorns and prune (encouraging lateral growth to increase the size of the canopy); and lastly, methodically weeding the forests.

Acuna writes, “Two hundred years later, these managed chaparral and hillsides would be wilder and more deadly than they had been to the Tongva” (Acuna, 18). He admonishes the California Legislature and State and Federal Forestry agencies in the 1920’s who halted woodland burning for not even trying to understand or learn from indigenous practices. Returning it to the what they’d consider an “original” landscape was informed by a legacy of the missionary policy to “civilize” the Tongva by “denaturalizing them” (Acuna, 19).

Balance, care, and respect for the land, its people, and the sacred have vital roles to play in our contemporary thinking of ecological restoration. It will be critical to listen and not fall into the trappings of modern ideals, innovations, or hubris.

Intentional Archiving

Having just finished Rundel’s collection, I now pivot to Barbara Drake’s. Once on this archival table were 17th and 18th century maps of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia produced and reproduced by colonial Europe for atlases. Now in front of me are a variety of sources, artifacts, printed matter, and ephemera of a contemporaneous indigenous America(s), specifically Tongva.

For some period of time, I’ve sat waiting for the right kind of silence to write this. My fingers hover over the keys as I stare at the tubs of folders, flyers, pictures, articles, and documents. I ruminate over the contrast and comparisons of historical discourse in both collections. What is difference in “pasts” offered in both projects? Epistemological questions and thoughts emerge with some urgency and vitality, but perhaps ontology keeps my forehead firmly pressed against my knuckles.

I must acknowledge I’m feeling the weight and responsibility in reporting my work for the Drake collection much more than with Rundel’s. In both, my position was and is etic. But, I am mestizo. Likewise, the maps were produced by Europe to help colonization efforts. They were made for biased knowledge production and consumption. Critical analysis of colonial instrumentation is a craft I have gained over time. Likewise, the material concerned my background. It was, in a sense, personal.

Drake’s collection is a unique and vulnerable experience for me, not in its processing, but in my writing about it. Because, my writing is not just about my thinking but a description of my actions. My actions will have an effect on future research. It reflects my intentionality. My writing will describe how I intend to organize, arrange, and order the material. It exposes my positionality and reflexivity–all of which are essential. How I choose to understand the sources. It concerns matters of access, language, and care.

My personal research is in ethnography and public history. I work with communities in East Los Angeles concerning matters of environmental and social justice. Not only do I try to produce new research but I participate in community activism and help build their archive. With the intersection and interspecies relations of animals, nature, and humans being my primary focus, I hope to learn a great deal from this collection.

Already, I find myself spending perhaps too long reading the articles and studying the documents on linguistics. I look forward to further working on this collection while also thinking deeply about my work.


Hundreds of maps, pages depicting detailed accounts of cultures, stories and renderings of peoples and landscapes, instructions on preservation, and receipts of transactions from a single man’s interest, all contained in the three boxes. Each box just bigger than the next, like an Olympic ceremony podium. All of it to be stowed away in the permanent storage facility of a university thousands of miles and hundreds of years away from the original pen, or gaze, or idea.

With the arranging, encapsulation, itemization, and data input into ArchiveSpace, the journey is more or less over. The sense of incompleteness combined with achievement and relief feels ecological. It is a notion, a feeling I haven’t felt since my landscaping days. You tidy up, organize, and present knowing that nothing is ever finished. The next set of eyes to look on the maps will be like a new leaf after years of dormancy. It is comforting and disconcerting too. What type of work I did could determine the productivity or ability of the researcher in the future.

I feel like a voyager in ways, sailing over these maps. Their wide expanse continually unfolding under me, landscapes appearing and waning, all interpretable before they vanish. Now that I’ve reached my destination, now that the journey is over, could go back?

I took what I measured. I took what I understood and attempt ways of representing what was there. The options were infinite, but good work has finitude. In the end, “fine” appears at the end, right before the credits roll. Fine indeed.

What is one man’s heart is another’s equal-area pseudoconic map projection

Daily, I have regular encounters with two French ghosts in the CCEPS archive. One goes by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin and the other by his successor, Rigobert Bonne. I have never seen them but their presence is certainly felt in the maps. The whimsical part of me, perhaps a state induced by a windowless room thick with time, almost believes as if they are attempting to vigil me somewhere in their maps. They ebb and flow in my temporal moments without pretext or pattern. As hydrographers, they appear mostly on the coastlines. Just as the indigenous of Terra de Fuego, the shore is the contact zone of these merging worlds. For the colonists, it was that of mooring. For me, it is the grip of a page.

Bonne is the rather quite one, though his projections, the dépôt de la guerre or modified Flamsteed, have their say in cartographic history. In other words, his work speaks for itself. The projection articulates more accurate shaping around the prime meridian and standard parallel. It is perhaps of no small note which countries that central line passes through. Everything from that Franco-Anglo focus distorts in t-shaped dimensions, in circular contortions. Really, it looks like a heart. What is one man’s heart is another’s equal-area pseudoconic map projection. In fact, the heart was invented by Claudius Ptolemy about A.D. 100 but it was Bonne who really put it on the page. With that heart comes an overabundance of Eurocentrism. In the distortions are the “false easting” and “false northing.” It probably has no intentional implications to be fair. Still every heart has its meridian.

An example of the Bonne projection

Aside from Bonne and his distortions and heart projections come discourses and identities I’d expect from French geographers in the Enlightenment. Party to the Encyclopédistes and the philosophes, Bellin was in the company of none other than the likes of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Baron d’Holbach. Over the course of his career he contributed over 994 articles. He was a man not of the heart, but of the mind. A serious enlightenment figure, his transition to a more rigorous and positivistic approach in cartography impacted far more than just mapmaking. In this time, the most influential members of a burgeoning history profession depended on and were enchanted by the developments in mapmaking. With these technologies of land order was deployed to solve conflicts such as the Sykes-Picot line. France and the United Kingdom, by their own means, divyed up “the orient” by drawing a straight line across a map. This is mine. This is yours. Surely there won’t be any conflicts resulting from it later. The maps reflected in the interpretation of land and space for historians and their celebration/formations of national identity. The scientific approach to mapmaking directly engendered culture and evidenced it. Remember, geographers like Bellin were at the employ of the King and the navy. The ink was drawn from that well. Draw the lines were they may fall, but the picture I see is a mapmaking of colonial legacy in historiography.

Least to say, our conversations muddle and froth. Ironically, Bellin often complains. He had always found his mapmaking efforts tedious and a burden. In a way, I can listen to Bellin and almost empathize with him. He was caught in the machine of the Enlightenment juggernaut. Cartography was a means of survival based on a skillset. I wonder if he ever reflected on his impact. I wonder if he questioned what his maps might do. Bonne, he’s got heart, which makes me more suspicious of him. That sort of application seems unreachable. I find it more difficult to breach his passion. But we are so thick of time here in the archives. There is little light and less windows. We ebb and flow in this space with little pretext or pattern

Making Arrangements

300 some-odd maps, articles, magazine clips, receipts, and prints later, the survey’s complete. Now I’m toiling with direction. I yoke the plans.

A few days ago I was reading several articles which placed emphasis on the accessibility of material via description and order. I tried to get inside the head of a potential researcher. Who would approach this collection and why?

There were a few possible directions I could’ve gone: mapmaker, dates, regions, language, type of map, or place of production. Ultimately, it was decided between my manager and I to divide the series into maps and printed matter.

Within maps, the subseries were based off continents: South America, Africa, Southeast Asia/Pacific Islands. From there, I will focus on regions.

I do wonder how it will translate in description. English and French are the predominant languages. Do translations bode a particular value here? Of course. I feel there is something lost in combining them by region. Who produces and for what purposes would have great value in research.

There is a somewhat ironic knot to undo in the complications of homogenizing map producers based off the heterogeneity of their production.

Contours of Impression; Cartographies of Knowledge

I tend to dwell on the content of the maps. But today I had a revelation, one that may have a more of an impact on my archival efforts down the line. Today, I wondered about the sport, perhaps, or rather the technologies of the actual mapmaking. How are the prints differing? What are the processes and stylings of cartographic practice? I imagine their production is important for collectors. Somehow it was not for me until today. Maybe this was a form over function thing all along. In fact, if it wasn’t for the overwhelming focus on South America–particularly the Strait of Magellan–I would really question if I made a serious error in not recording the maps’ typology in this auditing process. Luckily, ancillary material indicates that my focus on the content is the correct approach to this.

But in that brief anxious episode, I went exploring. I wanted to chart mapmaking in the era of these maps’ production. The 18th century signaled a period shift in mapmaking. Gone were the salacious mermaids, fanged whales lunging out at hapless sailors, reptilian figures lurching over the shoulder of an unknown island spraying fire from their nose. Factuality was fore; flair to the cartouche and border. This was the beginning of Enlightenment remember. Maps served science. Everything did.

With industrialization dawning, technologies proliferated and cartographers gained access to more and more tools and skills. They had telescopes and this thing called a chronometer that would chart more accurately ones positions longitudinally. Most importantly though, came the beloved survey, a technique deployed all across Europe’s most stately nation-states. The precision of data becomes the veritable counters of knowledge production industrialized, manufactured to scale.

Derived from military practices, cartography remained highly specialized–if not even more. Technical planning of the maps involved choice of a counter interval (elevation separating contour lines, lines of constant elevation). Mapping step sequences, or operational phases, were determined by the most efficient technical procedures. A guide copy printed on several sheets of plastic coated with an opaque paint, usually yellow, imprinted these counters to be prepared for the negative engraving or scribing process. The scriber follows copy on the respective plates by engraving through the coating as an arc light can only pass through engraving scratches, which become the negatives for press plates.

Most finite lines, matrices, upon more grids of lines, some of which are 0.002 inches, or 0.05 millimeters wide, are intermediate contours engraved freehand. Yet heavier lines, the index contours engraved at 0.007 inch, required small tripods for perfect verticality. Boundaries and shorelines printed and etched on coated sheets, areas of woodland or water peeled off, leaving open windows for features. There, character can peek through the lines.

Despite these maps’ precision and multifarious means of production, only on a globe can maps retain fidelity. Maps, projected onto a flat surface as a method of production contain inevitable distortions. By light, impressions are guided by the choice of the engraver. With distortions comes perspective. What is my perspective? Perhaps its gnomonic, stereographic, or orthographic. I consider my projections in interpreting the material. I consider the contours of my impression of it. Archiving is a technology. All this psychodynamic cartography going on in the process of my task.

Trayendo El Fuego

As I’m nearing the completion of this audit of the Drundel collection, I’m beginning to wonder if it should be called “Maps and ephemera of Tierra del Fuego and others.”

Why Tierra del Fuego? It is the first time I’ve heard of this land, but certainly not the first I’ve heard of its associations: Strait of Magellan, Patagonia, Chile, Argentina. As with really any coastal region in the fertile, precolonial South Americas, it became an immediate site of extractive enterprises. This was of no shock.

Perhaps one of the more interesting facts I learned about the island was in the nationality of the renown colonial entrepreneur in the region, Julius Popper. I’ve seen his name mentioned on a few of the maps, but hadn’t taken great note of them. Unlike most of the conquistadors, Popper was Romanian. Originally employed as a telegrapher in Chile, he set his sites on prospecting the little known metals of the island.

In the late nineteenth century, it was here he encountered the Selk’nam tribe and sponsored a genocide that lasted almost a decade. The tribe, once 4,000 individuals, were reduced to 500.

The Selk’nam were one of three tribes on Tierra del Fuego. They were hunter-gatherers and primarily situated in the northeast region, referred to as Onas by the other tribes. In the late nineteenth century, cattle farmers, gold seekers, and farmers instigated their extermination by means as brutal as deportation, hunting of members, and alcohol (Gardini, 647). “The pen hesitates to describe this systematic extermination,” writes Austrian Ethnologist Gusinde.

Gusinde himself, regarding them a “magnificent race,” was more than willing to ship their skulls to anthropological museums in Europe under the banner of science. But it was ultimately the cattle ranchers, favored by local authorities, who proposed and carried out the genocide with impunity.

Tierra del Fuego itself boasts surreal and enchanting geographical features. Each of the drawings and photos captured of the area portray a cinematic panorama without compare.

These astounding features being shaped by and characterized by the Andrean orogeny supplies a somewhat uncanny analogy to its cultural history and my role as a researcher. It is this idea of distance. I wonder often how distance can so readily lead to violence.

The name “Tierra del Fuego” derives purportedly from early conquistadors observing bonfires on the shoreline as they passed through the Strait of Magellan. The reports are that these indigenous tribes were staging an attack. What if it was a greeting? In fact, it probably had nothing to do with the colonizers at all. What if the the shore remained in shadow, never drawing the eye of the colonizers? There’s a melancholy in great events, both horrific and beatific, made probable when distance is brought to light.


Gardini, Walter. “Restoring the Honour of an Indian Tribe-Rescate de Una Tribu.” Anthropos 79, no. 4/6 (1984): 645–47.

Knowledge: A Map, An Island

For about 100 years, sometime after 1622, mapmakers portrayed California as an island. Among the history of cartographic errors this is always one enjoyed in US scholarship–becoming a comedic synecdoche in CA’s political history. Uniquely, and perhaps adding to the enigma of the story, the error has an origin. The culprit was Juan de la Fuca.

There is perhaps nothing entirely new in this bit of trivia. But in studying many of these maps, I am often left astounded by their detail. I fathom at the intricate and precise nature of these hand-drawn, works of art.

Without access to anything remotely similar to our cartographic technologies, how could they be done so well? I assume that many of the maps are palimpsest; or they build on a former version of the area. They are recursive. Like a sculpture fashioned over generations or by a multitude of hands, these maps arrive at a better understanding of the land through collective, historical paradox of iteration and revision.

Philosophically, this can send some into the deep end–maybe just speaking for myself. I think of simulacra in knowledge production. It seems ages and ages ago, but for over a century California was an island. That is a knowledge that would exceed my entire life. In a way, what we know, what knowledges we produce are islands. Then, over time, the map is redrawn.

Guano Crazy

After an hour of processing the Rundel collection, somehow the novelty of maps from the 18th century attenuates. In a way their forms can resemble sheep, lulling me as each one bounds across my field of vision.

That is when a print woke me from the malaise. It was an illustration of a rather impressive stone monument, not unlike the foundation of Egyptian pyramids. Even more remarkable though was the caption beneath: GUANO BEDS, CHINCHA ISLANDS–VIEW TAKEN IN 1875.

Guano? Like bat feces guano?

So I took a moment to research. The Chincha Islands did in fact indicate guano, but from sea birds. It was from guano that saltpeter had been extracted for gun powder and fertilizer. The island was not just a coincidental find nor an attraction, but a highly lucrative mining enterprise.

Also, it was Spain’s seizure over the Chincha Islands in 1865 which led to the Spanish-South American War. As the island produced nearly 60% of Peru’s annual revenue, the occupation was an effective but antagonistic measure interpreted as a Spanish attempt to recapture its former colonies.

Whatever the intent of the Spanish occupation, they left eventually after demanding the Peruvian government apologize for their treatment of Spanish immigrants. Some consider it to their interpretation of reparations.

Even with the colonial powers gone, the guano deposits were nearly exhausted by 1874.

This print, dated 1875, illustrates a massive enterprise with significant infrastructure and people still at the yolk, lugging wheelbarrows of guano here and there.

I’m still unsure about this structure and timing of this depiction. There is a lot to speculate further on these inconsistencies. But that is history for you in its multivalent ways.