Pacific Postcards

The Mapping of the Pacific through the European Perspective

The Pacific is made up of a rich culture with a past of its own that was often undermined, overlooked, and exploited by the colonialism and exploration of Europeans and their “dominant” knowledge, culture, and way of life. The beauty of the Pacific’s multicultural past and the clash of interest with the Europeans can be better understood and appreciated through such sources that served to contribute to these power structures. This 1700’s trade wind map created by geographer Herman Moll represents the complex cross-cultural relations Europeans shared with Native Pacific Islanders as every aspect, from the purpose of creation to the layout, to the detailing of such map further illuminates how the European perception of the Pacific forever skewed the role of these Native communities on a global scale.

The man and motive behind the creation of this map highlights how bias can alter the way in which history is perceived and concretized and how the map’s existence threatens the Pacific’s cultural preservation. As a London cartographer, Herman Moll’s background shapes the significance behind the map and contributes to the bias through which this knowledge is presented. The globe, being established through the eyes of a European addresses several aspects of the map's formatting and the purpose it served. As Damon Salesa states in his piece, The Pacific in the Indigenous Times, Europeans often utilized maps as a physical way to concretize their history and share their knowledge and culture. This contrasts the way in which many Natives passed down their history, often doing so through oral genealogy, even refraining from applying names to places as this contributed to the loss of a place’s individuality and abstractness. The manner in which the Natives historically memorialized their past or identified their home is no less credible, often approaching these globalized concepts and constructs differently from European adaptations. This cultural difference and the way in which both chose to memorialize their history, counters conflict as the Native’s knowledge and general awareness were often overlooked and belittled by the Europeans solely for differing from their own customs. The general creation of the map by a European discloses deeper issues as Coll Thrush and Ruth Ludwin’s Finding Fault analyzes the overlooked dangers behind the act of mapping, “turning indigenous territories into imperial properties” (Thrush and Ludwin 8). The European fixation on establishing their awareness through mapping reflects the belief that knowledge reflects power and to properly establish such power one must concretize it. Chaplin also analyzes the detrimental effects of mapping on the Pacific Native communities in her piece, The Pacific before Empire, as doing so stimulated European interest in further exploiting their resources. Chaplin addresses the disturbing perspective Europeans culminated of the Pacific as leaders like Francis Bacon believed “the whole trick of navigating the pacific is to find other humans and use what they produce, whether they want to give it up or not” (Chaplin 59). This claim defines the dangers that the establishment of their presence in the European world, like on maps, has as though their “discovery” entitles Europeans to hunt their resources. Once their presence on the European map was established, these islands became routine stops solely using them for the resources and safety they offered. The establishment of this map not only skews the global perspective coming from a European but reflects the conflicting cultural tendencies of both groups and threatens the individual identity of the Pacific through the belittling act of mapping such places, with no regard to their cultural significance and history.

The portrayal of the globe is not only altered by the map’s creator but the details of such creation. From the titling to the layout of the map, the simplest characteristics hold the greater power to shape the general public’s perception of the globe. The title “New” indicates the purpose of the map’s creation with the intent of updating Europeans on the globe's structure. Yet, the irony of titling the map of the whole world as “New,” conflicts with the actual history of the existence of these places as these islands did not appear out of nowhere, but were only recently discovered by Europeans. Such word choice, reflects the degree of the Eurocentric mindset, entirely disregarding the history of these individual entities. Chaplin addresses the extent of European naivety regarding their knowledge of the Pacific, despite establishing their awareness of these places through maps, this knowledge was not “definitive” as they struggled to even understand how the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans coincided. The production of this artifact implies that this source and Moll’s knowledge is credible and a correct source to reference for information. This reestablishes how the European’s fixation with recording history and producing maps enforces the way in which they utilized such practice to establish the dominance of their knowledge and cultural ways. Taking advantage of the broader influence European knowledge withholds contributes to the tainting of the general public’s global perception. Salesa also discusses how the Eurocentric mindset is shaped in response to sources like this map, creating a particular depiction of the Pacific in relation to the rest of the globe, portraying it as some far-off tiny landmark as though the independent rich culture and history cultivated is overwhelmed and undermined on the global scale. Another identifier of Moll and the European perception of the Native Pacific Islanders is symbolized through the incorporation and detailing of the drawings below the map. The stereotyped representation and placement of the Native’s, towards the edges of the frame separated by soldiers from the glorified angelic figure, illuminates their centralized values, distant and wary of correlation with the Native Pacific Islanders. Their depicted irrelevance, from a European lens, once again relates to the overlooked dangers of mapping, belittling the people of the Pacific by making them feel distant and disconnected on the larger scale. As Chaplin notes, the creation of the 180th meridian forever altered and shifted the way in which society has come to innately perceive the globe, with Europe centered as it was in Moll’s mind. The division made straight through the Pacific Ocean reiterates the lack of importance European’s assigned to the role of the Pacific on the global scale. Chaplin points out that this Eurocentric mindset is reflective of the idea that the Pacific is a “natural world with no civil meaning” (72). The detailing of the map in which Moll chose to portray the Pacific holds a greater significance, directly influencing the general public’s perspective of this part of the globe and communicating the Pacific’s extraneous role in the European realm.

Aside from the map’s depiction of the Pacific on a global scale, the map serves to portray the trade winds. These winds that blow westward were named by the sailors that traveled west to across the ocean, depending on such winds for navigation. As stated in the map’s subtitle, the map depicts various arrows and lines utilized to reflect the coasting trade winds, monsoons, and shifting trade winds. Although somewhat difficult to see, the presence and noting of these details reflect the intent to better understand the globe’s function and resources as “Europeans attempted to control and comprehend the natural world” (Chaplin 65). Yet, the utilization of trade winds, to hasten oceanic voyages, demonstrates the different relationships they shared with the ocean in comparison to the Pacific islanders. This mindset minimizes the Pacific’s importance as solely something to be traversed, connecting back to Salesa’s claim that Europeans had a tendency to disregard the Pacific and its people overlooking the rich history, purpose, and culture it embodies unlike the relationship cultivated by the Native’s. Salesa quotes such perspective through Doreen Massey’s idea that the sea was “woven together out of ongoing stories”(Salesa 44). The purpose of this oceanic exploration relates to the heavy travel that occurred following the identification of these places on European maps. Beyond the colonization that occurred as Europeans moved west, several lasting effects altered the Pacific communities impacted by such exploration. Alongside the movement of people, mimicking the east to west travel of the winds, this eventually developed to the flow of goods, animals, and diseases that traveled to the Pacific. Chaplin examines the lasting impacts of European arrival, beyond exploitation, with venereal diseases having lasting impacts on not only these Native communities but permanently damaging their populations. These ideas relate back to Salesa’s argument that European colonization indefinitely transformed the landscape and state of the Pacific and their communities. Despite referencing the westward travel that occurred through this era, the map fails to fully portray or capture the significance of the lasting impacts of this westward movement.

Every aspect of this trade wind map, from its purpose to its history, further uncovers the detrimental relationship cultivated between the Europeans and the Native Pacific Islanders. Moll’s work offers direct insight into the European perspective of the Pacific while simultaneously contributing to the hierarchy of power this knowledge established over these Natives with little regard to their own identities. The role of the Pacific within a global frame is not only presented but further elucidated through Moll’s detailed map and portrayal of these cross-cultural relationships.


Works Cited

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Trade wind." Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 May. 2013, Accessed 20 September 2021.
Chaplin, Joyce. The Pacific Before Empire, c. 1500-1800.
Moll, Herman. A New Map of the Whole World with the Trade Winds According to Ye Latest and Most Exact Observations. 1750. Map.
NOAA. "What are the Trade Winds?" National Ocean Service, 2 July 2021, Accessed 6 Oct. 2021.
Salesa, Damon. The Pacific in Indigenous Time.
Thrush, Coll, and Ruth Ludwin. Finding Fault: Indigenous Seismology, Colonial Science, and the Rediscovery of Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Cascadia.


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