Cartographic Mexico

A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes

Cartographic Mexico

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 20 illus. Published: November 2004

Author: Raymond B Craib

Geography, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In Cartographic Mexico, Raymond B. Craib analyzes the powerful role cartographic routines such as exploration, surveying, and mapmaking played in the creation of the modern Mexican state in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Such routines were part of a federal obsession—or “state fixation”—with determining and “fixing” geographic points, lines, and names in order to facilitate economic development and political administration. As well as analyzing the maps that resulted from such routines, Craib examines in close detail the processes that eventually generated them. Taking central Veracruz as a case in point, he shows how in the field, agrarian officials, military surveyors, and metropolitan geographers traversed a “fugitive landscape” of overlapping jurisdictions and use rights, ambiguous borders, shifting place names, and villagers with their own conceptions of history and territory. Drawing on an array of sources—including maps, letters from peasants, official reports, and surveyors’ journals and correspondence—Craib follows the everyday, contested processes through which officials attempted to redefine and codify such fugitive landscapes in struggle with the villagers they encountered in the field. In the process, he vividly demonstrates how surveying and mapmaking were never mere technical procedures: they were, and remain to this day, profoundly social and political practices in which surveyors, landowners, agrarian bureaucrats, and peasants all played powerful and complex roles.


“Craib’s sophisticated and nuanced application of critical theories of space enhances the relevance and application of the work beyond its Mexican context. Uniquely engaging and integrating the work of theorists as diverse as Foucault, de Certeau, E.P. Thompson, J.B. Harley, and James C. Scott, Cartographic Mexico chronologically spans the historical development of Mexico’s cartographic regimes from the mid-19th century to the 1930s. The work provides the reader with a valuable, densely crafted introduction that examines the theoretical and historiographic significance and location of the book within its Mexican context.” — Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, EIAL

“Craib’s theoretically informed and readable text will be a welcome addition to scholarly libraries and university classrooms of those interested in debating how national governments, specialized institutions, businessmen, and local authorities participated in processes of state formation, boundary demarcation, and national representation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” — Jordana Dym , Ethnohistory

“Students, scholars and others seeking a more sophisticated introduction to state-making in nineteenth-century Mexico will read Craib’s Cartographic Mexico, which will become and long remain one of the foundational works with which scholars must engage to understand the complex relations between state-making, political economy and local communities of diverse
cultures during the same pivotal era.” — John Tutino , Social History

"[Cartographic Mexico] not only deconstructs map-making as an activity, placing it within the business of state formation and politics, it also provides a wealth of local and regional ethnographies of the past, which bring to light many of the struggles between tecnicos and campesinos which have bedeviled Mexican history....[I]t also illustrates the contribution that reflexive, socially aware geography can make to the wider canvass." — Michael Redclift , Antipode

"A meticulously researched and elegantly written study that will prove of great interest to anyone interested in Latin America, mapping, or state formation." — Ricardo Padron , American Historical Review

"[A] thorough and stimulating history that takes the reader deep into the workings of the cartographical establishment of one of the largest and most important countries of the Americas... [A] model for future studies of provincial, state, and/or regional mapping well beyond Mexico and the Americas." — Dennis Reinhartz, Imago Mundi

"[A] very important contribution to the historiography of modern Mexico. It is full of vital and interesting nuances about Porfirian land policies, and about the actual extension of the privatization of communal lands. . . ." — Mauricio Tenorio Trillo , The Americas

"[A] well-crafted and meticulously researched book...Craib, by effectively de-naturalizing the historical processes of state formation, has also built a powerful critique of the spatial strategies of neoliberal statecraft today, in Mexico and throughout the developing world." — Eric D. Carter Interventions: , International Journal of Postcolonial Studies

"[Craib's] analysis is subtle, imaginative, and persuasive, rooted—fittingly enough for a history of cartography—in an evocative sense of local geographies. . . . This is a study that significantly contributes to our understanding of modern Mexico on multiple fronts. . . .  It constitutes a lonely work of what might be called—if it existed—new bureaucratic history, detailing the narrative of several cartographic institutions, the well-connected, entrepreneurial types who staffed them and the countrymen they dealt with. In tracing the role of the geographers in codifying and representing national identity it fills a clear lacuna in studies of Mexican nationalism." — Paul Gillingham , Journal of Latin American Studies

"Craib deserves a much wider readership than historical geographers or Latin Americanists... [F]ew books as good as this have been produced by geographers in the past couple of years." — Richard Powell, Progress in Human Geography

"Craib has beaten a rather lonely, path-breaking trail through great thickets of dense documentary undergrowth, and produced a fine study. The book's empirical depth married to its original and illuminating use of theory can only invite further explorations into the contested production of space in rural Mexico, and it representts a valuable contribution to the literature on the formation of the post-colonial nation-state in general." — Thomas Rath , Journal of Peasant Studies

"Craib makes an important and original contribution to the literature. His book should be of interest to historians, geographers and anthropologists." — Frans J. Schryer , Hispanic American Historical Review

"Drawing on a wide-ranging body of work in social theory and human geography, Cartographic Mexico provides a fascinating exploration of how, far from being innocent or objective, cartographic practices were inextricably intertwined with power, politics, and social struggle in the long process of nation-building... This is a book that deserves to be read, not only by historians of Latin America, but equally by other scholars who are interested in the crucial role that space, and struggles over space, play in the historical development of nations." — Heidi V. Scott , H-HistGeog, H-Net Reviews

"Highly recommended. . . . The scholarship and field work that went into this book are truly impressive and unlikely to be surpassed very soon." — Choice

Cartographic Mexico is a path-breaking work of deep scholarship and great theoretical sophistication in which Raymond B. Craib tells two intertwined stories. He relates the sweeping history of the Mexican state’s drive during the century following the Reforma to represent the national territory by mapping it scientifically, transforming local places into a national space, thus inventing Mexico on paper while making it both legible and susceptible to commodification. He also traces in great detail how this process worked itself out in the state of Veracruz, where officials, government surveyors, landowners, and peasant villagers continually confronted each other, sometimes violently, in a struggle to determine whether notions of place or space would ultimately prevail.” — Eric Van Young, author of The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence

Cartographic Mexico is an outstanding book. Raymond B. Craib addresses such important issues as spatial rationalization and its implementation in the modern state and the impact of modern technologies on the making of modernity. The empirical data and the uses of primary sources are excellent, and the arguments are theoretically sophisticated. Above all, it is an enjoyable read.” — Thongchai Winichakul, author of Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Raymond B. Craib is Assistant Professor of History at Cornell University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Abbreviations xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: Writing a Spatial History of Modern Mexico 1

1. The Terrain of Tradition 19

2. Fugitive Landscapes 55

3. Standard Plots 91

4. Situated Knowledges: The Geographic Exploration Commission (I) 127

5. Spatial Progressions: The Geographic Exploration Commission (II) 163

6. Fluvial Confusions 193

7. Revolutionary Spaces 219

Epilogue: “These questions will never end” 255

Bibliography 261

Index 289
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3416-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3405-7
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