Mapping the middle ground: Exploratory surveying as distributed cognition

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Cartographic encounters, where geographical knowledge possessed by Native Americans was translated into forms understood (or misunderstood) by Euro-Americans, provided a significant contribution to the Euro-American exploration of North America. The concept of distributed cognition has been used to describe, for example, the piloting of ships and the operation of the Hubble Telescope. In this article, an exploratory survey of the Mississippi River headwaters conducted by David Thompson in 1798 is modeled as an effective instance of distributed cognition which translated internal representations of the region’s geography into external representations amenable to scientific mapping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalTerrae Incognitae
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017


  • David Thompson
  • Distributed cognition
  • Exploratory survey
  • Mississippi river
  • Ojibwe


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