Session 9 Reading Responses: Hierarchies of Knowledge in the Wake of Columbus

In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and Controversy by John Parker was an obtuse attempt to sift through interpretations of Columbus's landfall in the Carribean and determine his first site of contact. What Parker fails to establish at the onset is why this investigation is significant and how knowing the 'true' landfall might impact regional politics, historiography, or tourism. The structure of this piece is also a reminder of the ways in which contemporary scholarship adheres to knowledge hierarchies. Foucault theorized that power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and 'truth'. The crediting and discrediting of experts becomes particularly important as Parker sifts through various arguments. The emphasis on source throughout the piece (referencing the Journal and names of experts and their credentials) is used to play up primary sources and discredit sources that might be biased or exaggerated.

Methodology is also weighted in this analysis. Mathematical methodologies, the use of distances and geographical markers, and systematic back-tracking are all given greater value in Parker's assessment than more qualitative readings of the literature.

It is interesting to consider this reading as we map the evolution of the public's cognitive understanding of NYC's Water Tunnel No. 3 through the exploration of labor, policy, and environment. The most interesting part of this reading is the series of maps that show the routes Columbus took as interpreted by various 'experts'. These maps become a physical testament to the changing hierarchy of knowledge and the shifting center of power in a senseless debate. These maps represent one person's interpretation of many sources of knowledge. Our challenge as we move forward in this investigation will be to represent multiple interpretations of many sources of knowledge. Recognizing the established hierarchies of knowledge in this topic will be critical in this pursuit.

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