Review: The Decolonial Atlas

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Book & Geospatial Resources Review of The Decolonial Atlas

By William Rafter

[Engel, Jordan], DeColonial Atlas. May 7, 2022. The Decolonial Atalas June 24, 2022. 

Screenshot of TheDeColonial Atlas’ webpage

The Decolonial Atlas website is a collection of maps that the website owners hope will “…challenge our relationships with the land, people, and state.” They suggest that cartography is not objective but has biases based on the maps’ creators. They have collected and are continuing to collect maps on a very wide variety of subjects. There is a finding aid where the maps are separated by subject and/or region.

Much of the site’s content is concerned with issues related to diversity and inclusion with a particular focus on indigenous peoples and the use of the indigenous language for the place names. Many of the maps are thought provoking and could lead to interesting explorations of the topics they represent. 

Unfortunately, I have serious reservations about some of the site’s content and how it is being obtained.  There is at least one instance where an artist has questioned the Decolonial Atlas’s use of their artwork which clearly has a copyright statement on it, but the artist says they were not asked by the site for permission to use the artwork. (image of Taskigi Mound (Alabama), 1200-1830 CE by Herb Roe and Herb Roe’s comments in the comment section of March 3, 2021 – Precolonial Cities and Villages of Abya Yala page. In addition, much of the material carries no citations as to where the source data came from, and while there is no reason to believe it is incorrect. Without citation, it is difficult to assert its accuracy. Some of the maps included have comments that make assertions that are unproven.  

I believe the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, which presided over a defamation case against the website, states it best when it says the content of the website is  “clearly hyperbolic … and readily understood as representing the author’s subjective viewpoints, not objective assertions of fact capable of being objectively proven.” (From November 10, 2021 – Updated on our Lawsuit page)

While much of the site is interesting and entertaining, overall, the Decolonial Atlas is of limited use for serious research. It might provide a starting point for research if approached with care.  Perhaps it would be most useful as a tool guiding one to other sources – I would recommend any use of maps from the site take place from the originating source of the data and not from this site itself.   

The site itself is laid out in a traditional format with thumbnails of the images which one can then click on to see the full-size image. There are pop-up ads that appear at the bottom of the page. They have the categories that the map or image falls into at the bottom of the page as well that one can click on to pull up related materials from the website. Many of the images are of limited value and not very high resolution.

Unfortunately, some links from the site to sources result in 404 errors or do not go to the listed resource and the link to the Decolonial Media License 0.1 links to a copy of that website archived on the Internet Archive WayBack Machine on Nov. 9, 2021. 

Overall, the site is an intriguing one and one that the compilers obviously feel passionately about. And finally, I do not believe that the compliers intend the site to be one of scholarly research, but perhaps simply one that would generate discussion, and, in that respect, I believe the site succeeds.     

William Rafter
University Librarian
West Virginia University

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