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Beyond the Big DitchPolitics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal$
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Ashley Carse

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262028110

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028110.001.0001

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Frank Robinson’s Map

Frank Robinson’s Map

4 (p.59) Frank Robinson’s Map
Beyond the Big Ditch

Ashley Carse

The MIT Press

This chapter explores the role of cartography in stabilizing new regions as coherent geographic units with recognizable environmental problems.Focusing on narratives of deforestation in the Panama Canal watershed, itexamines howthe use and interpretation of historical land cover maps shapescontemporary environmental management.Even though thecanal watershed’s boundaries basically followed the physical contours of the Chagres River basin, the watershed region never existed as a social or political spacebefore the late twentieth century. Frank Robinson, an employee of the Panama Canal Section of Meteorology and Hydrology, created a watershed forest map in 1952 thatbecame the baseline for subsequent analyses of regional deforestationand management interventions. The chapter analyses how administrators’ use of the map as a baseline encouragedmisreadings of environmental history by separating the watershed from its political, geographical, and historical context andsimplifying nonlinear processes of land cover changein the transit zone.

Keywords:   cartography, deforestation, environmental history, hydrology, land cover change, maps, narrative, Panama Canal watershed, region-making, space

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