Skip to main content
Mapping Cultural Space Across Eurasia

Origin Story of Origins

Group Four: the Bionics

Skype meeting of the Bionic Four: Edyta Baterka, Erin Hutchinson, Scott Hutchinson, and Jessie Labov (pictured with peyes).

Here is the story of how we came to be the Bionic Four, and think together about origins, homelands, diaspora, genomes, history, and objects that wander through time and space.


10/6/2014, Erin Hutchinson:

 One thing I was thinking about in terms of relational space is the question of visibility-invisibility. Mapping absolute space is essentially mapping visible things that can be surveyed, etc. Relational space is invisible to a surveyor's instruments, so we could say that it is invisible. In another sense, relations to space are very visible, they're just not very mappable. If we think about Harvey's example of relations to Ground Zero, we can see, read, and hear very big debates about these things happening in newspapers or around the water cooler, but it takes creativity to make them visible on a map.

I was trying to think of examples of maps of relational space. One idea I came up with was the Yelp app. By matching restaurant reviews with a map, we are able to see how people relate to specific places—restaurants.

 Another example might be a crime map, which I think someone brought up in the seminar. These maps reveal a specific type of illegal social relations. The fact that certain types of crimes happen in certain types of places says a lot about relationships to space. (Of course, if we've learned anything from The Wire, crime stats can easily be "juked" under political pressure.) These maps can then shape our own relationships to space—i.e. avoiding those neighborhoods associated with crime. (As a side note,this NPR story (Links to an external site.) shows a very interesting reaction by kids on the South Side of Chicago to media depictions of their neighborhoods.)


10/6/2014, Jessie Labov:

I've been thinking a little about bio-power and bio-politics in reference to our bio-metric genome mapping. The word "bionic" keeps coming up when I try to imagine what we are doing with space and bodies and hidden vs visible information.

 Maybe the word bionic belongs in our group name. We definitely need a group name.


10/6/2014, Edyta Materka:

 I like the idea of Bio-power, it kind of links up with what I've been thinking about homelands and how the cultural and nationalist meanings embedded in them that can help 'legitimate' land grabs like hundreds of years later. I'm wondering if homelands are a kind of heterotopia—because they don't really exist in absolute space unless people socially reproduce their cultural claim to it—and if so, then what role heterotopias play, if any, in the nation-building/state-making process.

 Like how Poland justified the annexation of eastern Germany in 1945 by claiming that it was part of the Piastyczne (Piast era) lands that constituted the birth of the Polish motherland like a millennium ago. The propaganda also almost literally connected the formation of the nation to the formation of the body—like how the new boundaries constituted a more 'natural' body for the state, etc. On the other hand, there is the German Heimat (Wikipedia definition: a German word with no English equivalent that denotes the relationship of a human being towards a certain spatial social unit). The Heimat exists outside of the state boundaries of Germany—like in northwestern Poland Germans come to revisit their old Heimat from the prewar period that could be just the territory of northwestern Poland, but it could also be something like their mother's childhood tree still growing on their old farms. Coming to their old Heimat—whatever that means to them as a family or individuals—reproduces their national and cultural 'claim' to it. So here, homelands overlap. It's fascinating to look at the propaganda maps from each side produced after the annexation that disputes the others' claim to it.

 I was also thinking about the recent annexation of Crimea and how the 'it was always ours' propaganda also brings up this idea of homeland that again 'justifies' an act of war. It is as if this is critical to the formation and expansion of nation-states themselves that leads people to erase the existence of whoever else that has obviously lived on that land for centuries or even a millennium. I think we talked about the 'erasure' of history as well last time.

 Any other examples of homeland come to mind?

 If we went forward with something like this, then we could all use the concept of homeland, heterotopias, nationalism, state, mapping—by submitting a series of maps or textual representations from our own work to contribute to the broader question of relational space and national + state space.


10/6/2014, Erin Hutchinson:

I really like the idea of homeland mapping--I can think of many ideas off the top of my head that connect to this!

My only concern is making the connection to relational space very explicit. I don't want to get marked down a grade because Kelly thinks "Hm, this is a cool project, but what does it have to do with the assignment prompt?" It seems like there is a connection but I can't quite articulate it yet.


10/6/2014, Edyta Materka:

So it looks like as a group (bionics!) we have to decide on our definition of relational space and question that we want to explore.

Harvey's (2004) definition of relational space is 'contained in objects in the sense that it exist(s) only insofar as it contains and represents within itself relationships to other objects' (pg. 2).

In his chart, the 'spaces of representation' of relational space are 'desires, frustrations, memories, dreams' (I think Nostalgia can be one of them).

'Representations of space' include: surrealism, cyberspace, metaphors of internalization...

 It would be interesting to explore within ourselves the distorted mental maps that we have been each social programmed with as children and adults (e.g. idea of Manifest Destiny in the United States). If each of us looked around our rooms, we could probably find an object that conjures up a certain feeling of Nostalgia for a real or imaginary 'homeland'—that in itself comes packaged in with a mental map of some sort in our brains. What's interesting about the homeland is that you do not really have to 'physically be there' in order to experience feelings toward it expressed within an object, but we are taught to internalize them as 'good' citizens, students, etc.


10/6/2014, Edyta Materka:

 the politics of relational space

 Another offbeat idea is along the theme of mapping invisible spaces and bodies that we discussed at our last meeting. I know we still have to figure out what our definition is of relational space, but I’m just putting it out there before I forget.

 MapKibera ( and the MissingMaps projects ( are interesting ways to get involved in political cartography—using mapping or invisible spaces to reflect your personal or national politics (but also ethically questionable I think). Building on Jenia’s walking/writing map, rather than mapping ourselves (although we could do that too) we could locate an ‘invisible’ space as a group or individually and attempt to map it using a GPS logger (I have one). I think GPS-ing informally employed workers would be interesting. Then we could explore the ethical questions surrounding mapping invisible spaces.

 Another idea is that my colleague in Colombia bought a drone and has been using it to record his family land that is being threatened by mining endeavours, etc.

Maybe we could talk to him about a mini mapping exercise as well.


Notes from meeting 10/6/2014:

Working Project Title: “Mapping Homelands”


how do we relate to our homeland — or origin?

how does homeland relate to origin?

[home as privileged space]

1) genomic — absurdity and distortion

2) greater "fill in the blank" -- political and state-sponsored (or state-oppositional)

3) linguistic maps –- etymologies — hidden and denied etymologies as well

4) object-based —food, clothes, Amie Siegel video, antiquity statues

 origins and home — when has it mattered for whom





10/6/2014, Erin Hutchinson:

 Some maps for starters! I am going to organize them by our number scheme for clarity.

 2) Story on cool map of Native American homelands on NPR Code Switch blog:

PDF of the map itself:

[This doesn't exactly fit into our "Greater Wherever" topic, but seems related.]

 Abstract of article (in Russian) about the use of "ideal homeland" maps in the countries of the South Caucasus:

 The article by Sergei Rumiantsev explores the relationship between con-temporary political conflicts and the production and reproduction of maps of the ideal national homeland in public discourse and history textbooks in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. He argues that the map of ideal national homeland is an important symbolic instrument for inculcating a sense of nationhood in the post-Soviet South Caucasus. The analyzed maps are invariably based on a primordial understanding of nationality that serves to collate relevant pieces of historical geography. These maps are used by politicians and official experts to legitimize present-day conflicts and contest present-day political boundaries. The author then traces the historical evo-lution of the territorial sense of nationhood from the moment of the rise of modern national movements in the South Caucasus, and demonstrates how the modern national imagination and imperial map- and boundary-making exercise laid the groundwork for contemporary iconic images of the territorial nationhood of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and their respective ideal national homelands.  

 Sergei Rumiantsev, "Национализм и конструирование карт ‘исторических территорий’: обучение национальным историям в странах Южного Кавказа," Ab Imperio no. 4 (2010), pp. 415-461.

 Map of Greater Romania

 Diaspora Maps

 I thought diaspora could be an interesting subset of homeland maps. What are the differences between maps of diasporas and maps of Greater Wherever? The emphasis in some of these maps of diaspora seems to be dispersion and movement instead of a stable homeland.

 Map of Atlantic Slave Trade

 A more detailed map of African Diaspora

 Map of Armenian Diaspora

 Webmap of Jewish Diaspora

  1. Dialect mapping website that went viral last year

This is my (freakily accurate) map. As you can tell from the map, I am from Mesa, Arizona:

 Such a great procrastination website and also a cool example of mapping origins/homeland.

 Cool series of articles from Jewish Daily Forward on the origins of Yiddish

 Jessie probably already knew this, but the origins of Yiddish are hotly contested. At the root of these arguments seems to be whether or not we can consider Yiddish to be just as 'indigenous" to Eastern Europe as any other language currently spoken there, which certainly would challenge long-held perceptions of Jews as "outsiders" in the region.


10/7/2014, Edyta Materka:

 [see dropbox for images]

 Attached is a word doc of my take on homelands + objects + linguistics in a rough narrative form. I began with the Polish/German homeland idea that I wrote about in the blog thread. There are 9 Figures in all so please scroll down even if you see some blank space—some images are just too large to fit on the same page. I find it interesting that homelands, objects, linguistics can all be assembled into single narrative that adds dimension and sense of fluidity to a given space. I'll look around for some stuff outside of my research area if I have some extra time before Wednesday. Please let me know if you have any questions/comments.

 This map from 1937 depicts German Heimat ‘homeland’ across Eastern Europe:

Figure 1: German Heimat, 1937


After Poland annexed Eastern Germany (Ostpreußen, Pommern, Schlesien) in 1945, Polish propaganda depicted it as ‘Piast Lands’ (dark orange line, Figure 2) that were ruled by Polish dynasty from 800AD:

Figure 2: Piast Lands, 1974

Gerard Labuda, ‘Polska granica zachodnia, tysiąc lat dziejów politycznych’, Poznań 1974. Online:

Western Germany disputed the boundary in the postwar period and both sides entered into a political tug-of-war over the border. The propaganda poster (postwar, undated) below shows Poland’s depiction of a rabid German dog with casualties engraved on its chain, emphasizing that the land were reparations for all of the atrocities Germany inflicted on Poland during the Second World War:

Figure 3: Example of Poland’s postwar propaganda about the new border:,35771,7123648,Pocztowki_w_sluzbie_powojennej_propagandy.html


The last two posters from the 1949 election in Western Germany show the ‘barbaric east’ taking over Western Europe and also a total rejection of the annexation depicting pre-1945 Germany still intact.


Figure 4: Christian Democratic Union’s propagandistic portrayal of the ‘eastern’ barbarian and Eastern threat. ‘No: that's CDU’. Election poster of the CDU in 1949 for the federal elections.

Figure 5: ‘With the SPD from Bonn over Berlin for a free, social and united Germany’ includes the ‘Recovered Territories’ as German territory in 1949 elections.



While on a national scale the homelands were depicted as ‘us versus ‘them’ through racist and xenophobic imagery, on an everyday scale the lands had been shared by both the Germans who were expelled and the Polish/Slavic pioneers who had settled them in the post war period. While in some respect the propaganda from both sides worked in that most Poles living on the lands will say that it ‘has always been ours’ and Germans will come visit their old Heimat lands, the landscape is layered with ‘German-era’ and ‘Polish-era’ objects. These German-era objects called gotyki (gothics, or ‘memories’) can be found hanging all around the Polish homes. I took photographs of them below. Sometimes a gotyk can be a ‘room in the house’ for the German family that had been expelled in the 1940s or a childhood tree, etc. Often, the German families left a ‘gift’ for the Polish families who moved into their home as a peaceful ‘hand over’ of their property.

Figures 5-8: Gotyki from my fieldwork in northwestern Poland, 2008-2009.

 On the subject of linguistics/text, I find it fascinating how text is used to ‘rewrite’ a homeland. Here is an example of Nazi government paper being recycled to ‘write’ the law of the new Polish state on the annexed German lands.

 Figure 9 Nazi administrative paper recycled by the new Polish state found in gmina archives. (Nr. 5, 1945/1946, pgs. 20-21).


10/7/2014, Scott Valentine:

 Here is this idea related to object.  I have lots more related to the other areas too that i will email in a day or so.


10/9/2014, Jessie Labov:

 On the origins of Yiddish: the first day of class my Yiddish teacher announced that saying Yiddish is descended from German is like saying we are descended from monkeys. He sort of waited for a while, letting that sink in, while I wondered silently if he was both an observant Jew and a creationist. But then he explained that modern German and Yiddish are derived from the same older form of high German, just like we share some common ancestors with monkeys. Even more entertaining than the actual analogy was the fact that he felt the need to share this on the first day of class (to the 'hotly contested' point).

 I've been spending a lot of my stroller-pushing time wondering about the distinction of homeland and origin. I decided that for people in diaspora, they might be more or less the same (let's leave Jews out of it for a sec b/c they do not map onto anything I'm claiming). But people who are living in their homeland might be more inclined to look for origins elsewhere. Does that seem right to you guys?

Also, while homeland definitely has a political element to it, a state-driven character, origin does not necessarily. Origins are politicized, no question, but they often seem to stretch back in time before our modern concept of nation-state, therefore get anchored in other things (language, territory, mountain ranges, migrations, wars, events). Para-state activities, if you will.

 Ok, those are just thoughts. I've collected some stuff, too.

 [see dropbox for files]

 1) two articles about the origin myths of the Pacific Islanders. Both seem to rest at the intersection of subjective, cultural primary source and social scientific objectivity. Relational space, as I sort of understand it. I think they would fit under category #3 or #4. Of course I haven't read the long one, just looked at it. I did read most of the shorter one (Nunn about tectonics and geology) just because it was so interesting I couldn't help myself.

 2) a greater Hungary montage: the actual map with the political boundaries, and then a series of reproductions of it in unlikely places. I collected these images for a PPT for one of my classes…always gets some titters from the students.

 3) some of my own maps: the distribution of authors, letter-writers, and funders of the Polish emigre journal Kultura (1947-1989). I have a lot more like this, but you get at least a rough idea of what it is all about from these maps. I know it has something to do with homeland and relational space, but I don't know what yet.

10/9/2014, Scott Valentine:

 I was doing some researching and began to think about social diasporas such as migrant workers for example.  Thought about the rust belt and how the depopulation of these cities was a direct result of global out-sourcing, now these once skilled workers are on the move, attempting to salvage what they can of there once 'corporate' unionized identities.  Also, the migrant workers in the west and southwest from Central America.  How language becomes territorial and draws invisible borders.

 A great literary book I read a few years back but I find relevant here is The People of Paper by Salvador Placencia.  It is a a magical realistic tale of migrant workers, how in order to remain themselves they block out the 'others' white noise.  Which could be read as hanging on to their homeland.    Additionally, here are some interesting maps thinking about land mass objects and how over time their boundaries, there relational space ebbs and flows, making us see other hidden social and environmental implications.

 [see embedded maps in dropbox]


10/11/2014, Erin Hutchinson:

 Some cool maps from the Census Bureau of all places related to migration within the U.S.

 Migration from the Rust Belt to California (and from California to the Sun Belt):

 The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North (1910-1940 and 1940-1970):

 Location of Hispanic Populations in the U.S. (you can toggle by country of origin):

10/11/2014, Scott Valentine:

 So, I keep circling the internet and the what keeps getting my goat is how mathematics and computer science invade my idea of mapping provenance of objects.  But then I started to think about math as a language and how it seems to be the invisible mapping used to explain complex systems…. Don’t read all of this, the abstract will do…..

10/11/2014, Edyta Materka:

 Scott, I like this idea. What about relational databases (collection of data sources that relate to one another)? Maybe we can use it to visualize the homeland idea (or any other idea) on Neatline. Like, if we wanted to show how a certain city has multiple names because it had belonged to different states during different time periods of occupation, we could plug that into a relational database/excel sheet and then ATTEMPT to visualize that through one of those temporal scales on Neatline. We could try plugging that into a map and then 'scroll' across the timeline to show when that city's name changed over time. I attached a very rough example. We could keep it simple too and just focus on like 1 city name. WE could ask Meghan to help us with the logistics.

 [see attached file in dropbox]


 10/11/2014, Scott Valentine:




Origin Story of Origins