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Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey

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Abstract:

Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey will explore the myriad ways that mid-nineteenth century topographical engineers, surveyors, mechanics and field scientists came to understand and visualize the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Between 1847 and 1898 field naturalists like Edgar Alexander Mearns, Caleb Burwell Rowan Kennerly and Spencer F. Baird illustrated and catalogued borderland species and spaces through their journals, field books, memoranda books, and correspondence. This paper will examine how field naturalists and chief astronomers of the boundary commission used burgeoning scientific specializations to visually quantify the region in order to bring border flora, fauna, and inhabitants into visibility.

Scholarly works on U.S.-Mexican boundary surveys have focused largely on the political and economic climate that informed the conflicts and compromises between United States and Mexican boundary commissions from 1848 through 1857. Historian W. H. Goetzmann traced the political controversies that developed between Texan and southern politicians and United States surveyors and Mexican commissioners. Historian Joseph Richard Werne places the survey within the political atmosphere of an approaching civil war, a politically unstable Mexico, and lack of federal funding for the project.

My research on U.S.-Mexican boundary surveys will expand on this literature to consider the visual components, technologies, and ideologies used to create and imagine the borderline itself. By 1853 surveyors used astronomy to determine the geographic points of the legally correct dividing line. Their findings were in conflict with J. Disturnell’s earlier map of 1847 that marked the southern boundary of New Mexico. Regardless of the scientific findings both Mexican and U.S. officials continued to use the original mapped drawing to argue for their respective territories. This paper will attempt to locate when and where do these astronomical markings become legitimate? What role does science and its technological equipment play in determining a national boundary? Through these questions I aim to trace the visual technologies used in the creation and subsequent development of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This paper will also consider how field naturalists took part in developing scientific knowledge about the border region. In cataloguing the flora and fauna from El Paso, Texas to the Channel Islands, Edgar Alexander Mearns and the other scientists came to “know” or imagine the borderlands through their natural history collections. An examination of Mearns field books can reveal a colonial inventory of the natural specimens of a newly acquired territory. And it is not merely coincidence that Mearns would later follow U.S. imperial excursions as an army surgeon and naturalist to collect specimens in the Philippines. In this way, field naturalists were prime observers in documenting, examining, and detailing the visual landscape of the U.S. southwest.

Exploring the boundary survey reports from 1847 through 1898 can help trace how the ascendency of academic specialization alongside western expansions and emerging forms of visual technologies could have fostered a new model for “seeing” and imagining the borderlands. This paper on the structures of visibility along U.S.-Mexico border can be useful for and glean insights from those in colonial, visual, and borderlands studies.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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MLA Citation:

Menchaca, Celeste. "Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, Oct 20, 2011 <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509815_index.html>

APA Citation:

Menchaca, C. R. , 2011-10-20 "Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509815_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey will explore the myriad ways that mid-nineteenth century topographical engineers, surveyors, mechanics and field scientists came to understand and visualize the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Between 1847 and 1898 field naturalists like Edgar Alexander Mearns, Caleb Burwell Rowan Kennerly and Spencer F. Baird illustrated and catalogued borderland species and spaces through their journals, field books, memoranda books, and correspondence. This paper will examine how field naturalists and chief astronomers of the boundary commission used burgeoning scientific specializations to visually quantify the region in order to bring border flora, fauna, and inhabitants into visibility.

Scholarly works on U.S.-Mexican boundary surveys have focused largely on the political and economic climate that informed the conflicts and compromises between United States and Mexican boundary commissions from 1848 through 1857. Historian W. H. Goetzmann traced the political controversies that developed between Texan and southern politicians and United States surveyors and Mexican commissioners. Historian Joseph Richard Werne places the survey within the political atmosphere of an approaching civil war, a politically unstable Mexico, and lack of federal funding for the project.

My research on U.S.-Mexican boundary surveys will expand on this literature to consider the visual components, technologies, and ideologies used to create and imagine the borderline itself. By 1853 surveyors used astronomy to determine the geographic points of the legally correct dividing line. Their findings were in conflict with J. Disturnell’s earlier map of 1847 that marked the southern boundary of New Mexico. Regardless of the scientific findings both Mexican and U.S. officials continued to use the original mapped drawing to argue for their respective territories. This paper will attempt to locate when and where do these astronomical markings become legitimate? What role does science and its technological equipment play in determining a national boundary? Through these questions I aim to trace the visual technologies used in the creation and subsequent development of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This paper will also consider how field naturalists took part in developing scientific knowledge about the border region. In cataloguing the flora and fauna from El Paso, Texas to the Channel Islands, Edgar Alexander Mearns and the other scientists came to “know” or imagine the borderlands through their natural history collections. An examination of Mearns field books can reveal a colonial inventory of the natural specimens of a newly acquired territory. And it is not merely coincidence that Mearns would later follow U.S. imperial excursions as an army surgeon and naturalist to collect specimens in the Philippines. In this way, field naturalists were prime observers in documenting, examining, and detailing the visual landscape of the U.S. southwest.

Exploring the boundary survey reports from 1847 through 1898 can help trace how the ascendency of academic specialization alongside western expansions and emerging forms of visual technologies could have fostered a new model for “seeing” and imagining the borderlands. This paper on the structures of visibility along U.S.-Mexico border can be useful for and glean insights from those in colonial, visual, and borderlands studies.


Similar Titles:
New Mexico’s Cuarto Centenario Memorial: A Visual Dialogue

Intimate Crossings: Visuality, Queerness, and the U.S.-Mexico Border

Contrasting Ethnic and Rural Corporatist Identities in Southern Mexico: A Survey Research Approach

The Discursive Representations of Borderlands: An Analysis of Visual Culture and Conceptions of Place Occurring at the U.S.-Mexico Border


 
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