From the sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, Spain, then Mexico, and finally the United States took ownership of the land from the Gulf Coast of Texas and Mexico to the Pacific Coast of Alta and Baja California-today's American Southwest. Each country faced the challenge of holding on to territory that was poorly known and sparsely settled, and each responded by sending out military mapping expeditions to set boundaries and chart topographical features. All three countries recognized that turning terra incognita into clearly delineated political units was a key step in empire building, as vital to their national interest as the activities of the missionaries, civilian officials, settlers, and adventurers who followed in the footsteps of the soldier-engineers.
With essays by eight leading historians, this book offers the most current and comprehensive overview of the processes by which Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. soldier-engineers mapped the southwestern frontier, as well as the local and even geopolitical consequences of their mapping. Three essays focus on Spanish efforts to map the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, to chart the inland Southwest, and to define and defend its boundaries against English, French, Russian, and American incursions. Subsequent essays investigate the role that mapping played both in Mexico's attempts to maintain control of its northern territory and in the United States' push to expand its political boundary to the Pacific Ocean. The concluding essay draws connections between mapping in the Southwest and the geopolitical history of the Americas and Europe.