Thea Lim at Racialicious posted this travel advertisement for Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada:
How many times can one place be discovered? We’ve been asking ourselves that question for over a thousand years.
Discovery is a fearless pursuit. Certainly, this was the case when the Vikings, the first Europeans to reach the new world, landed at L’Anse aux Meadows. While it may only be a three-hour flight for you, it was a considerably longer journey a thousand years ago. But it’s a place where mystery still mingles with the light and washes over the strange, captivating landscape. A place where all sorts of discoveries still happen every day. Some, as small as North America. Others, as big as a piece of yourself.
As the recent Vancouver Olympics reminded us relentlessly, Canada was home to many peoples when the Europeans arrived. The ad sanitizes this history, turning it into “discovery.” Lim points out that “discovery” has a certain ring to it that “genocide” or “colonization” simply does not.
She quotes Ronald Wright, author of Stolen Continents, who points out how ridiculous it is to use the term “discovery” to describe what happened when Europeans arrived in North America:
…I was told by Dehatkadons, a traditional chief of the Onondaga Iroquois, “You cannot discover an inhabited land. Otherwise I could cross the Atlantic and ‘discover’ England.” That such an obvious point has eluded European consciousness for five centuries reveals that the history we have been taught is really myth… those vanquished by our civilization see that its myth of discovery has transformed historical crimes into glittering icons.
The use of the myth of discovery in advertising like this demonstrates just how deeply many of us have internalized it.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Crab — May 15, 2010
Reminds me of my partner's commentary while reading a travel brochure for Hawaii.
" '1893: monarchy overthrown,' notice they don't say by whom. '1897: annexed by US government,' didn't see that one coming!"
larry c wilson — May 15, 2010
If Dehatkadons did not know of the existence of England and then sailing east and coming to its shore, he would have discovered it.
Geo — May 15, 2010
Yeah, it seems like they're trying to frame this as a place of adventure, mystery, and exoticism which would only be the case to anyone who is not familiar with such an area. I'm from Miami, a place advertised as a tourist hot spot among other things, and there's no way they would tell the people living there "come discover Miami" because of how mundane it is to the locals. They may say "REdiscover Miami" to try and sell a place/product that is new and is trying to sell itself by seeming novel by redefining Miami culture to some degree, but it wouldn't be something as astonishing as a genuine discovery. By the way, one day I'm going to discover Europe hahaha
Diane — May 15, 2010
Personally, as a Newfoundlander i'm just happy the ad doesn't have fishermen in sou'westers plastered all over it.
swirlygrrl — May 15, 2010
I wasn't aware that the Vikings colonized that area - I thought they merely camped out for a year or two and explored it. While there were stories of European fishermen on the Grand Banks from early times, Newfoundland wasn't fully colonized or cleared of earlier inhabitants for several more centuries.
Kunoichi — May 15, 2010
I don't think the Vikings were responsible for any genocide or colonization - at least not colonization as the English, French and Spanish did it, centuries later. From what I remember, they were driven off what is now Newfoundland by a combination of climate change (which also ended their presence in Greenland) and the local population.
Either way, discovery has nothing to do with whether or not other people have been there/done that, and has everything to do with it being a new experience for the people *doing* the discovery. I've been living in our current city for 4 years, and have visited here off and on for more than a decade, but I'm still discovering it, no genocide or colonization required. There's a difference betweeen discovering something and claiming it in the name of [fill in the blank]. These are two different acts, even if they do often go together.
Willow — May 15, 2010
I'm intrigued by the framing of the statement: "We've been asking ourselves that for over a thousand years." Now, I am not a historian of North America, but apparently the earliest known human habitation in the area was nine thousand years ago...? And apparently the people living on Newfoundland when the Europeans arrived (both Vikings, and later colonizers) actually came in the first century.
*Technically* nine thousand is "over a thousand," but really--why not just go with "thousands of years"? I think the implication that "we" is European descendants is still there.
ben — May 15, 2010
Ronald Wright and Dehatkadons miss the point of discovery. We can't discover England because we already know it exists not because there are people there.
It makes perfect sense, for example, to talk about "discovering" a quaint restaurant in a big city. Obviously there are people who already know about it. You didn't. That's discovering.
The language we use to talk about (or around) historical atrocities is important, yes, but I think this is a fairly silly word to stake one's indignation on.
Newfoundland and Labrador: "Discovery" & Regional Stereotypes « CanCrit — May 15, 2010
[...] May Lisa Wade at Sociological Images and Thea Lim at Racialicious have both commented on an advertisement for tourism in Newfoundland [...]
Jeremiah — May 16, 2010
The quip about Native Americans 'discovering' England is cute, but also accidentally true.
Had Native Americans decided to cross the ocean, they too could have claimed a 'discovery' of a new land (to them), and within their own historical record, would have been accurate to describe it as such.
For us modern humans, it's impossible to imagine life *not* having seen that famous photo of Earth as seen from the Moon. To us, there's not a single inch of this planet truly 'undiscovered,' so its easy for us to say that a historical culture did/didn't find a place new to them just because someone else was living there.
That probably makes no sense.