Re-membering Veracruz: A Decolonial Reading of Regional Colonial Cartography
Upon the so-called discovery of the American continent, the Spanish crown wanted the means to document and surveil its new lands from afar. For this reason, the Relaciones Geográficas—questionnaires about the physical description of each colonial settlement in New Spain—were distributed, filled out, and sent back to the crown with the purpose of updating the Spanish world map. Recently and, I argue, relatedly, a different kind of colonial map, the Mapa Quetzalecatzin (1593), was made available to the public for the first time; as of yet no sustained scholarly analysis of the Mapa exists. In this essay I place it in context with indigenous and colonial maps produced for the Relaciones Geográficas to suggest the Mapa Quetzalecatzin is a kind of land claim. Its hybrid artistic style, the lands and physical markers depicted, the material qualities of the Mapa as object and the arguments it makes as a text, complicate our understanding of the colonial history of the region between Veracruz, Puebla, and Mexico City. Finally, reading the Mapa as a transaction provides a window into the kinds of strategies that indigenous peoples were forced to adopt in order to navigate a colonial system of land ownership.
This paper was originally prepared for Course HIST 596, Spring 2019: Port Cities of the Atlantic World, given by Professor Alida Metcalf, Department of History.