People whose livelihoods depend on the natural environment have detailed knowledge of the lands and waters surrounding their communities. This paper presents research on the traditional geographic knowledge of fish harvesters in Change Islands, Newfoundland. Our findings, based on “kitchen table mapping” and other ethnographic methods, demonstrate that residents of coastal communities have extensive geographic knowledge associated with a way of life centred on fishing. This knowledge is reflected in a “namescape” that includes hundreds of toponyms that are not present on existing maps and that reflect meaningful connections with local history and cultural heritage. Fish harvesters also have distinctive ways of conceptualizing the landscape and the seascape, which is reflected in the geographic terminology they use. Overall, their way of looking at the environment, in contrast to the bird's-eye perspective that prevails in western cartography, can be characterized as a “boat perspective”. Their geographic knowledge has practical value for improving existing cartographic information and developing sustainable resource use strategies. At a broader level, their distinctive ways of interpreting the “earthscape” provide alternative ways of understanding space and place, and can help us identify our assumptions about how we define geographic features and represent them on maps.

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Keywords coastal communities, earthscape, fishing peoples, local knowledge, Newfoundland, toponyms
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Journal Journal of Cultural Geography
Smith, D, Woodrow, M. (Maureen), & Vodden, K. (Kelly). (2016). A boat perspective: local geographic knowledge of fish harvesters in Change Islands, Newfoundland. Journal of Cultural Geography, 33(1), 1–26. doi:10.1080/08873631.2015.1060689