IX. Mapping Latin America

Support of Instruction. We seek to assist our colleagues at USM in integrating maps into their courses by collecting items specifically related to the subject matter. Prof. David Carey has long held special classes in the map library for his courses on Latin American history. To assist his students, we have made it a point to acquire relevant maps and atlases, including the two atlases shown here.

The truly devastating wars of independence in Spanish America between 1808 and 1829 were followed by concerted attempts by the new governments to assert their authority over the territories to which they laid claim. A key element of this effort was the mapping and geographical study of those territories. Nineteenth-century Hispanic America accordingly witnessed repeated cartographic endeavors.

Creating an Antiquity for the Venezuelan Nation

Codazzi, an Italian geographer, was hired by Venezuela and then Colombia to prepare maps of their respective territories. Unfortunately he died before he could finish mapping Colombia. His atlas of Venezuela comprises a series of general maps — the most detailed yet published for any part of the new state — as well as historical maps of the fluctuating boundaries of Gran Colombia (1819-1831). Of particular interest is the map of Terra Firma, the extensive region first delineated by Christopher Columbus. This map shows the territories of the indigenous peoples of the pre-Columbian region. In presenting this map at the front of the atlas, directly after maps of the world and hemisphere, Codazzi repeated a common ideological maneuver of the period. Specifically, he placed the origins of the new state not in the Spanish colonies but in pre-Spanish political entities, thereby constructing and validating a national identity for Venezuelans of apparently great antiquity and authenticity.

32. Agustin Codazzi (1793-1859)
Atlas fisico y politico de la Republica de Venezuela {Physical and Political Atlas of the Republic of Venezuela} (Paris, 1840), map 3
Lithograph with hand-applied water color highlights
Osher Collection

Understanding the Mexican State

Mexico was especially torn by the loss in 1848 — after the Mexican-American War — of almost half its territory to its northern neighbor, the U.S.A. One result was a new government initiative to map the country, successfully completed by the young García Cubas. The general map of the country that began his 1858 atlas of the state followed the same strategy as Codazzi (item 33) in depicting pre-Columbian temples with modern landscapes as a means to wed the past to the present in an authentic national tradition. García Cubas’ Atlas de la Republica Mexicana (1858), with his Carta general de la Republica Mexicana, can be consulted at David Rumsey’s online map collection. They are analyzed by Raymond B. Craib, Cartographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004), 11-53. García Cubas continued to map Mexico. In particular, his Atlas pintoresco e historico was a highly polished presentation of the character of the state defined through a variety of statistics graphically presented in beautiful thematic maps. The atlas quickly reveals that its intended audience was Mexico’s elites. The imagery on the ethnographic map treated the “white race” respectfully by contrast to the more intrusive images of indigenous peoples. Again, on the map dedicated to education (shown here on the left), a host of portraits — almost entirely of white men — pay homage to Mexico’s literate society, while the color scheme of the map itself parallels the color hierarchy of Mexican society by displaying literacy rates from high (in white) to low (in brown).

33. Antonio García Cubas (1832-1912)
Atlas pintoresco e historico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos {Picturesque and Historical Atlas of the United Mexican States} (Mexico City: Debray Sucesores, 1885)
Carta Etnografica {Ethnographic Map} (pl.2)
Chromolithograph; each map 52.5cm x 69cm
Osher Collection