The binary of savage versus civilized was deeply embedded in the structure of early American society and the consciousness of early generations of colonizers, codified through multiple methods of inscribing meaning upon native land. Thomas Jefferson, in his pseudo-scientific Notes on the State of Virginia, taxonomizes life in native America using maps, charts, and textual descriptions for the purpose of consolidating an American identity premised on superiority over native people and black slaves. In contrast, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca maps native America purely through language, constructing the illusory infallibility of European colonizers while crafting an overall narrative of native hyper-violence and susceptibility to subordination. I argue that Cabeza de Vaca and Jefferson share a first step in their map-making processes, beginning not with acts of creation, but acts of destruction. The foundation of their ideal colonial societies is genocide framed as the inexplicable diminishment of native populations. Such commonalities between Cabeza de Vaca and Jefferson’s work bridge the temporal gap between them, expressing how certain aspects of colonization processes remain consistent over time. While Jefferson and Cabeza de Vaca differently utilize pictorial and textual cartography, they both meticulously deepen colonization beyond physical conquest by othering native people and rousing a shared sense of selfhood among European colonizers.
Doebel, Monica, "Discursive Mapping: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and Thomas Jefferson’s Construction of Selfhood and Otherness" (2017). Undergraduate Research Awards. 35.