Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Mapping and Empire

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mapping and Empire
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79677-5
    Subjects: Geography, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xx)

    One of the many ironies in southwestern history relates to the changing position of Texas in the region’s history and scholarship. A poorly explored backwater during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Texas long remained terra incognita to Spain—until, that is, the French showed a strong interest in the area by the mid-1680s. And yet, compared to the dearth of interest in Texas in centuries past, the scholarship about the area has flourished in the last half century. Today Texas takes a very strong—some might say passionate—interest in the history of the entire Southwest, as evidenced by the...

  6. One Spanish Maritime Charting of the Gulf of Mexico and the California Coast
    (pp. 1-43)

    Iberia, as direct heir of Greek and Arabic geometry, algebra, astronomy, navigation, and naval architecture, initiated the development of modern cartography. Catalán, Portuguese, and Mozarabic cartographers produced increasingly precise maritime charts,portolanos, during the fifteenth century, and by its final decade, this art, coupled with knowledge of navigational sciences, resulted in Portuguese maritime expansion to Africa and India and Castilian voyaging to the New World. To a degree, Africa and India were known to Portugal from the descriptions and cartographic representations of classical and medieval travelers. Castile, however, embarked upon discovery and exploration of a virtually unknown and appropriately named New World....

  7. Two Spanish Military Engineers in the New World before 1750
    (pp. 44-56)

    The idea of the “engineer” goes back far into European history. In Latin the word wasingeniator, in Middle Englishengyneour, and in Old Frenchengigneor. All these persons would have had something to do with “engines,” which were often machines used in warfare. So the engineer was thought of in medieval times primarily as somebody skilled in the art of making and operating military machines, like those which could hurl missiles at an enemy’s walls. In the early sixteenth century, a new kind of fortification came into existence, using what was called a “bastionned trace” to defend cities against...

  8. Three Spanish Military Mapping of the Northern Borderlands after 1750
    (pp. 57-79)

    The era of the latter half of the eighteenth century to Mexican independence in 1821 was a dynamic period in the history of Spain, its New World empire, and especially the northern borderlands of the North American Greater Southwest.¹ With the occupations of Texas, Alta California, parts of Louisiana, and briefly even the western portion of Vancouver Island on Nootka Sound, the northern frontier was expanded to it greatest geographical limits. While a region large in area, by 1750 it was still vaguely defined, poorly organized, and inadequately developed, yet also experiencing population growth, restructuring, and reform.

    At the opening...

  9. Four U.S. Army Military Mapping of the American Southwest during the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 80-129)

    “Accurate geographical and topographical knowledge of a country are particularly essential to military operations. They are the eyes of the commanding general.”¹ This statement was nevermore valid than when Colonel John J. Abert wrote it in 1848 with the Southwestern Frontier in mind. The westward extension of American military power to the Pacific coast during the first half of the nineteenth century required up-to-date geographical and topographical information for strategic, tactical, administrative, and political purposes.

    Soon after the U.S. purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched several expeditions to map the newly acquired region. The first...

  10. Five Henry Washington Benham: A U.S. Army Engineer’s View of the U.S.-Mexican War
    (pp. 130-155)

    The night of February 22, 1847, was cold and miserable on the broken plains of Mexico some six miles south of Saltillo, the provincial capital of Coahuila. An intermittent rain fell, and the chilling temperatures braced the armies in the field. Henry Washington Benham, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was anxious and excited at the same time. He and 4,600 other U.S. soldiers under the command of generals Zachary Taylor and John E. Wool shivered in their positions. Campfires were prohibited because the Mexican army, estimated at the time to be 25,000 strong under the command...

  11. Six Trabajos Desconocidos, Ingenieros Olvidados: Unknown Works and Forgotten Engineers of the Mexican Boundary Commission
    (pp. 156-184)

    “It is a pity that the works on our boundary line with the United States remain unknown and forgotten—that nothing is published about them, when both for their extent and their accuracy, they are among the best works that the country owes to our engineers, and could be of great benefit to geographic science.”¹ In 1881, such was the lament of Manuel Orozco y Berra—geographer, map collector, and one of Mexico’s early national historians. Some twenty-five years had passed since the boundary between the United States and Mexico was established, yet the Mexican engineers had received little recognition...

  12. Seven Soldier-Engineers in the Geographic Understanding of the Southwestern Frontier: An Afterthought
    (pp. 185-190)

    The preceding pages have provided a wide range of accounts and syntheses regarding the 350-year effort of Spanish and United States soldier-engineers to understand and to map the vast and imposing Southwestern region that became parts of the United States and northern Mexico. As noted in Richard Francaviglia’s Introduction, the five essays in this volume are important contributions to both the general history and the cartographic history of the Greater Southwest.

    This volume’s focus on soldier-engineers is noteworthy. Although other groups of explorers entered the region—for example, missionaries, hunters, gold seekers—the essays in this book have paid particular...

  13. Contributors
    (pp. 191-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-204)