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Book on early Maps of Belize launched Print E-mail
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Thursday, 10 July 2014 00:00

A book filled with representations of the early Maps of Belize was launched last week Thursday in the Bedran Hall of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel in the Cayo District. The book which encompasses maps during a 120 year period, from 1783 to 1902, offers a startling glimpse of the dynamics involved in the early history of Belize. The launching of the book was made to a captive audience, which was set to coincide with the end of a presentation by Dr. Diane Chase at the 12 Annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium that was being held at the same venue in San Ignacio Town.

The Guardian spoke to Dr. Odile Hoffman to discover more about her Monograph entitled, British Honduras: The invention of a colonial territory. According to Dr. Hoffman, work started on the book in Belize about 4 years ago, where visits were made to the Belize Archives in Belmopan. The Geographer at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) in Paris then discovered from her visits that there were many maps that were not in Belize. Hoffman then proceeded to the well organized archives of London where she found “marvels in documentation.” Much of the cartographic archives on early Belize are also now in Spain, France and recent maps are now in the United States of America. But early and more detailed maps on Belize that are now in foreign countries are still not accessible, because they are very expensive to have rights to view them, reports Dr. Odile Hoffman. But thankfully now, both National and International researchers as well as the general readership will be able to view the early representations of Belize in Dr. Odile Hoffman’s book, published by Cubola Productions from Benque Viejo del Carmen.

The book on the Mapping and spatial knowledge in the 19th Century was product of a joint collaboration between the IRD and the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) and the University of Belize, along with the Mexican partners at the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology at the University of Quintanaroo.

In launching her book last week Thursday, Dr. Hoffman revealed that her long journey in writing the book spans from the time she was in Columbia where she had met with Afro Latin American Activists, who at the time were involved in large social movements based on black identity in the 1990’s.  The Geographer would further develop her themes in Mexico and Guatemala where she was able to observe a variety of ways Nations and people treat their diversity in the population. (In her work in Belize, Dr. Odile Hoffman would further consult with such notables as Nigel Encalada from NICH, Dr. Filiberto Penados, Joe Palacio, Assad Shoman, Cruzita Ken and other teachers.) Dr. Hoffman was particularly interested in the understanding of how access to land was regulated from historical perspectives; from Maya times to contemporary Belize.

Maps by their very nature are diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features.  In Belize’s case, early maps also showed partial representations.

“The use of cartography in British Honduras illustrates the political divisions present at the different moments of the history…maps belong primarily to the ruling class and for this reason subordinating groups were rarely mentioned,” reported Hoffman. With the exception of the first time published map of 1886, in the noted author’s new book, which show the areas in the Yucatan occupied by the different native American nations, she reported last week that “…there is no representations that offers information about society and role of its diversity…administrative maps are silent on the subject of every day territorial actors, only the settlers appear through the claim for their part of the territory, but nothing about the slaves that were present from the beginning of the European prisons, nothing about the migrants who arrived throughout the 19th Century, nothing about the Maya who have always occupied these lands.”

From Dr. Odile Hoffman’s book, it is noteworthy that the Map of 1867 was the first made by local authorities (Crown Surveyors) showing the new Colony as a whole.  In her book she also traces the techniques in cartography within a Century, from crude shaped drawings to mark the domains of the Imperial Powers; to lines, points and the polygon that would set the standards in later years. At the end of her book, Dr. Odile Hoffman asks some lingering questions. Did the establishment of technical standards that came about with the production of maps in the 20th century pave the way for the democratization of access to land and to its representations? With the retreat of British administration and their technicians in the post-Independence era, can we speak of the “nationalization” of cartography in Belize in the 20th century? With what consequences and what tangible expressions?