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[Detail] An accurate map of North America.

Languages of Empire

The languages used on the maps in The American Revolution and Its Era can be used as clues to the imperial powers that explored and claimed various sections of North America and the Caribbean.

Using the feature that allows you to browse the collection by Geographic Location, find at least three maps of each of the following areas: the Caribbean and West Indies, Florida, New England, the Middle Atlantic colonies, the Southern Atlantic colonies, Canada, and Louisiana and Texas.

  • What languages are used on the maps of each area?
  • What language is used on the largest number of maps for each area? What does this suggest about who colonized that area? Are these languages still spoken in the areas shown?
  • What languages that were spoken in North America and the Caribbean are not reflected in the maps? What does this suggest about the mapped information available to us about this area? How might knowing this influence the way we interpret the maps available?
  • Using a modern atlas, find place names in each area that reflect the languages used in the 18th-century maps.
  • Write a paragraph summarizing your thoughts on how the languages of empire mark the maps of the present. Test your idea against another area that was colonized in the 18th or 19th century (South or Southeast Asia, Africa, South America). Does your idea seem to apply equally to the second area you analyzed? Why or why not?