tract geography

Central New York’s Military Tract townships.
Map from the original by Simeon De Witt.

10 March.
10 March 2019. This country is a land of borders, fixed by a logic of territorial claims; a country with a self-image bound to the straight line that separates what is mine from what is yours, me from you. I already commented on the country around Ithaca, a landscape resolutely and rhythmically cut up into morsels, without pardon. This lack of pardon is military; the tracts of land a compensation to the soldiers of the Independence War. The man who set the pace was also the man behind the plan of Ithaca and that of Manhattan above 14th street – Simeon De Witt – known as “modest, sensible, sober, discreet” and “esteemed a very good mathematician” (George Washington in letter).

Mathematician indeed. Modest and sensible – more doubtful. What is indisputable, though, is the tracts’ violent erasing of former lands in one sweeping gesture, reducing them to bleak yellow patches. These were lands expanding according to a completely different logic; exteriorities continuously shaped and reshaped through what would potentially be described in terms of modest, sensible, sober, discrete interaction. A different spatio-temporal materiality altogether, where borders are neither fixed nor primary; a geography of ranges, purviews, mobility and reach. It is a geography that also results in or requires a different visual expression, a different cartography, and that results in different imaginaries, exemplified in the fascinating Native Land Map that a colleague shared with me.


Native Land Map,

While native land is one of emergent and responsive boundaries, the tract is definitive, finalised in 1799 (and disputed ever since).


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