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Curated and written by Dr. Theresa Avila.
As geographical diagrams, official documents, political tools, educational implements and records of the past, maps offer a rich and complex understanding of the past and the present. The maps on display are from the Simon Burrow Collection at The School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. This exhibit highlights the different ways the region of Arizona has been conceptualized in a global context. As the viewer will note, within most of the maps on display, Arizona is not marked as we know and understand it today. Instead, the region of Arizona is represented through numerous developments and various manifestations over time since the sixteenth century. Present-day Arizona was under Spanish rule from the sixteenth century through 1821. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, the region became part of Sonora, Mexico until 1848. With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and through the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, this area was within The Territory of New Mexico. The Territory of Arizona was formed in 1863, becoming a state in 1912. Remembering, knowing, and understanding Arizona’s rich and diverse history encourages an inclusive and expanded understanding of the region and the nation.
The images on display collectively tell about the inventive nature of cartography, the early exploration of uncharted territories, the land claims and disputes of nation building within the Americas, and the changing social landscape of the continent. Most importantly, the maps showcase the transformation of Greater Arizona over time, throughout history, and into the present.
An important objective for the School of Transborder Studies and this map collection is to promote a cooperative space for exchange, networking, and collaboration. A key effort in reaching this goal is to share the history and stories that these maps offer as a reminder that borders are not solely marking boundaries, but they also operate as passageways between neighbors that are crucial in the development of mutually beneficial opportunities.
Many of the maps in the Burrow Collection and on display here were circulated through atlases. Historically these publications offer information about the places identified within the maps, including the area’s geopolitical, social, religious, and economic characteristics. Atlases came into high volume production in Europe in the 16th century, a historical event in itself that coincided with the exploration and colonization of the Americas. There was great curiosity about the “New World” and its inhabitants, a curiosity that created a broad market for maps and atlases focused on the Americas. These editions were one of the primary methods of disseminating information to broad audiences, who in turn used them as sources of information and as tools for education. Importantly, atlases provide some of the first representations of the newly encountered lands and their communities. Typically, maps are treated as if they capture facts and truths, but often historic maps of the Americas were based on misinformation, second-hand knowledge, and estimations. Yet, these maps and their respective atlases became an integral part of the fund of knowledge about the Americas and Americans (broadly defined), as well as the basis for ideologies and systems we practice today.
Most early European maps of the Americas are less about a known reality or clear understanding of geography and more about the goals and objectives, preconceived ideas, and imagination of monarchs, explorers, and cartographers. Many of the maps in the Burrow Collection illustrate disputes and negotiations regarding imagined territorial boundaries. For instance, a number of the maps on display show how the Spanish established, as part of their territorial claim, a number of religious and military outposts in what is today Mexico, throughout Central and South America, and as far north as what is today the U.S. States Southwest. This imperial process marks the region of Arizona within what came to be Spain’s territory, and eventually part of Mexico after its independence from Spain in 1821. The ongoing changes of national boundaries set in motion by European contact with the Americas characterize this space as constantly evolving. The maps on display highlight this fluctuating nature of the region with the objective of remembering the diverse nature of the Greater Arizona Region.
If imperialism is associated with the particular territorial expansion of an empire (whether French, Dutch, Spanish, Mexican, or the United States), colonialism is the social and political process through which an empire occupies and settles itself in the acquired territory. Since the journey of an empire is hardly linear and less often temporally homogenous, the imperial and the colonizing phases of a particular imperial/colonial project often overlap with each other both throughout time and throughout space. The maps and the photographs on display here document and depict the “mapping of colonial era Arizona” as it occurred from the early imperial era in the Americas in the 16th, century and into the colonial and postcolonial era of the present. The presence of Spanish colonial missions (past and present); of U.S. mines in previously indigenous and Mexican lands; of treaties between the U.S. and indigenous communities, as well as between the U.S. and Mexico; and the presence of the border fence between the United States and Mexico, between Arizona and Sonora—all show the multiple ways through which the act of mapping (imperial, colonial, and postcolonial) directly impacts peoples’ experience through different geographies and territories: from the past into the present.
It is important to remember that while boundaries are negotiated by international powers and their agents, they are simultaneously navigated, marked and experienced by diverse transborder communities who live with, on, and across them. The maps in the exhibit, Greater Arizona, record the presence, movement, and fluctuating nature of diverse communities in the Americas. Various communities whose presence predates contemporary borders are represented. In particular, the maps document: distinct indigenous communities by noting the location of villages and sacred sites, international interests often indicated by color coded boundaries, European missionaries who were active agents in the process of colonization through numerous missions, and the development of colonies through the renaming of the landscape and notations of civic infrastructure.
The Arizona State University Library hosted a selection of the Simon Burrow Map Collection for Greater Arizona: Mapping Place, History, and Transformation exhibit and was on display from Spring to Fall 2017 at ASU Hayden Library in Tempe, Arizona.