Mexican Geography

Date: 1858
Owner: David Rumsey Map Collection, Cartography Associates
Source Type: Images


These four pages (title page, preface, general map of Mexico, and map of Veracruz) are from the 1858 Atlas geografico, estadistico e historico de la Republica Mexicana, the national(istic) collection of maps created by geographer Antonio Garcia Cubas to reify the notion that Mexico was a geographically, historically, and politically coherent nation state. Mexico had just lost vast amounts of its territory to the U.S. in the Mexican-American War and this map was part of the larger effort to use the social science of geography to reaffirm Mexico's national integrity.

Garcia Cubas compiled this map from smaller extant maps of the various regions of Mexico. He did, however, make these maps more "scientific" by conflating them all through a regular graticule (the axis of latitude and longitude) that used Greenwich as the prime meridian. The meridian for Mexican maps had previously been Mexico City, and this transfer to a more universally accepted geographic convention was an effort to pave the way for Mexico's modernization through science. According to historian Raymond B. Craib, imposing a standard graticule on Mexico encouraged contemporaries to see the hitherto poorly charted regions of their country as rational space that, through further exploration and onsite surveys, could be fully known.

The goal of the late nineteenth Mexican state was to make its space into something ordered, known, fixed, and stable that would facilitate order and progress within that space. This held true on both the largest and smallest scales. Maps like the Carta General (page three of this source) made it easy to image Mexico as a unified body with a geographic coherence mirroring that of society in general. On a local level, government surveyors could reshape a given space onsite, imposing a new way of seeing a given landscape that may have been wholly different from how locals had previously understood their space.

Geography is a social science, not an objective truth. The meaning of a place is created by people, and almost every area on earth has been understood differently at different times by different people. The definition of space (through maps, surveys, or other means) does not follow any one "correct" schema but is an imposition of a human idea on nature itself.

Reference: Craib, Raymond G. Cartographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

CITATION: Title page; Preface; Carta General; Veracruz. In: Garcia y Cubas, Antonio. Atlas geografico, estadistico e historico de la Republica Mexicana. Mexico: Imprenta de Jose Mariano Fernandez de Lara, 1858. List no: 4116B. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection, Cartography Associates.