- Cartographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes
This is a history of the science and practice of cartography in Mexico (mostly Mexico City and Veracruz) between circa 1860 and 1940. Geography is understood here, above all, as the scientific attempt to survey Mexico's vast territories. As such the book adds to a recent important, alas still scarce, historiography, including such lucid studies as that by Barbara E. Mundy (The Mapping of New Spain ), Duccio Sacchi (Mappe dal Nuovo Mondo ), Paula Robert (La Gran Línea ), and Herbert Nickel(Kaiser Maximilians Kartographen in Mexiko ; Landvermessung und Hacienda-Karten in Mexico ). Craib complements these works both with the specific focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—when the science of cartography and statistics boomed—and with a sophisticated theoretical perspective, blending ideas from Michael de Certeau to metaphysics, passing through James Scott, Michael Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Bruno Latour, and others. In general, the theoretical impetus is a plus in Craib's work, as when he reads images using parallels with non-Mexicanist historiography; but at times, the steady attempt to make of any historical evidence a telling theoretical issue becomes a burden for the reader.
As a history of geography, Craib examines the 1858 Carta General de la República, composed by the most prominent geographer of nineteenth-century Mexico, Atonio García Cubas. In this important cartographic exercise, Craib finds history and space mapped simultaneously as parts of the formation of a state and a nation. Here Craib's analysis is very meticulous and it includes maps and all of their graphic aspects. Moreover, he uses maps and images as important sources, not simply illustrations, as non-art historians (myself included), often do. The book makes use of the García Cubas' papers and the excellent, underused collection, from the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografia y Estadística. At times, however, his insightful arguments are unnecessarily complicated by theoretical detours. "To complicate" has become, for reasons that are beyond this reviewer's grasp, a celebratory verb in U.S. historiography of Mexico. Cartographic Mexico "unearths," explains, and complicates important evidence related to an essential state building task: the making of maps. The reader is left with the task of deciding which complications are worth keeping.
Cartographic Mexico is also a history of geography viewed as a state practice par excellence aimed at controlling population and space. Therefore the book is one with the state formation historiography that examines the national sphere in tandem with the local realm. The state, Craib argues, needed to demarcate spatial points, to name and posses the territory and its inhabitants. Thus state "fixation" constantly faced, as Craig argues, state "frustrations": "[It was] through an array of everyday activities and processes, through struggles and accommodations played out on multiple levels and registers, that a spatial history of the state took place" (p. 13). As a [End Page 288] history of "everyday forms of state formation," the book is especially interesting in its treatment of the role of land surveyors as agents of the state at the local level. Craib examines the state's attempts to survey the highlands of Veracruz, and he does so looking from both the national and the local point of views. He also analyzes the works of the prominent Comisión Geográfica Exploradora, which worked as a military, political, administrative, and cultural agency of the state. Finally, the book studies how this "state fixation" took place after the revolution, through to the period of Cardenista land reform and the formation of ejidos.
Curiously, the book offers a different perspective on a similar region from the detailed and insightful analysis of Emilio Kouri's recent work, A Pueblo Divided (2004). In Kouri's story, the state is far from an unstoppable machine constantly fighting against communal lands; it is not a Leviathan, but a constellation of tenuous institutions constrained by their own weaknesses, ecological and technical...