Mexico in the 1930s was ripe for a cartographic refashioning. A decade after the end of the Revolution and during a period of authoritarian leadership known as the Maximato (1928–34), a triad of commercial lithographic maps took shape in concert with a heady blend of political, economic, and artistic developments. By the first decades of the twentieth century, pictorial maps had become a global phenomenon, but in this transforming nation perhaps more than any other, the production, circulation, and consumption of such imagery offered the opportunity to imagine a uniquely animated geography coming into its own. Through cartography, governing forces recognized an advantageous way to shape the view of Mexico as a cohesive entity with a rapidly developing infrastructure and an evolving relationship with its own Indigenous past and present. These pictorial mappings not only produced new epistemological frameworks for promoting and expanding a modernized Mexican geography, but also reveal their own role in the unfolding of a unique urban and touristic landscape. Through these images dating to the first half of the 1930s, an international cadre of artists, travelers, publishers, government officials, and other boosters disseminated an integrated vision of Mexican cultural space and thereby coproduced the territory itself. Employing ever-greater cartographic scale over time and placing the focus increasingly on Mexico City, the colorful maps had, by the second half of 1930s, transformed national identity into a geographic ideal whose physical and conceptual legacy endures today.
RESUMEN En la década de 1930, México estaba listo para una remodelación cartográfica. Una década después del fin de la Revolución, y durante un período de gobierno autoritario conocido como el Maximato (1928–34), una tríada de mapas litográficos comerciales tomó forma junto con una compleja mezcla de desarrollos políticos, económicos y artísticos. En las primeras décadas del siglo XX, los mapas pictóricos se habían convertido en un fenómeno global, pero en esta nación en transición, quizás más que en cualquier otra, la producción, la circulación y el consumo de tales imágenes ofrecían la oportunidad de imaginar la realización de una geografía singularmente animada. Por medio de la cartografía, las fuerzas gubernamentales vieron una manera favorable de dar forma a la visión de México como una entidad cohesiva con una infraestructura en rápido desarrollo y una relación cambiante con su propio pasado y presente indígena. Las imágenes, cada una producida con un sobre correspondiente, se tratan juntas como textos complejos, siguiendo así a teóricos cartográficos críticos que ven el mapeo como una práctica variable que se lleva a cabo en relación con múltiples procesos que se están desenvolviendo constantemente. Por lo tanto, las sucesivas asignaciones pictóricas durante el Maximato no solo produjeron nuevos marcos epistemológicos para promover y expandir una geografía mexicana modernizada, sino que también revelan su papel en el desarrollo de un paisaje urbano y turístico único. A través de estas imágenes que datan de la primera mitad de la década de 1930, un cuadro internacional de artistas, viajeros, editores, funcionarios del gobierno y otros impulsores diseminaron una visión integrada del espacio cultural mexicano y, de este modo, coprodujeron el territorio mismo. Al emplear una mayor escala cartográfica y al aumentar el enfoque en la Ciudad de México a lo largo del tiempo, los coloridos mapas habían transformado, para la segunda mitad de la década de 1930, la identidad nacional en un ideal geográfico cuyo legado físico y conceptual perdura en la actualidad.
RESUMO O México dos anos 1930 estava pronto para uma remodelação cartográfica. Uma década após o fim da Revolução e durante um período de liderança autoritária conhecida como Maximato (1928–1934), uma tríade de mapas litográficos comerciais tomou forma em consonância com uma mistura arrebatadora de desenvolvimentos políticos, econômicos e artísticos. Nas primeiras décadas do século XX, os mapas pictóricos haviam se tornado um fenômeno global, mas nessa nação em transformação – talvez mais do que em qualquer outra –, a produção, a circulação e o consumo de tais imagens ofereciam a oportunidade de imaginar uma geografia unicamente animada se concretizando. Através da cartografia, as forças governamentais reconheceram uma maneira vantajosa de moldar a visão do México como uma entidade coesa, com uma infraestrutura em rápido desenvolvimento e uma relação evolutiva com seu próprio passado e presente indígenas. Esses mapeamentos pictóricos não apenas produziram novas estruturas epistemológicas para promover e expandir uma geografia mexicana modernizada, como também revelaram seu papel no desdobramento de uma paisagem urbana e turística única. Através dessas imagens que datam da primeira metade da década de 1930, um quadro internacional de artistas, viajantes, editores, funcionários do governo e outros incentivadores disseminou uma visão integrada do espaço cultural mexicano e, assim, coproduziu o próprio território. Empregando maior escala cartográfica e aumentando o foco na Cidade do México ao longo do tempo, os mapas coloridos haviam, na segunda metade da década de 1930, transformado a identidade nacional em um ideal geográfico cujo legado físico e conceitual perdura até hoje.
“Londres, París, Nueva York, las grandes capitales mundiales cuentan ya con mapas, o para ser más exactos, con representaciones objetivas, de las casas, monumentos, calles, avenidas, vías de comunicación y demás que las componen.”
“London, Paris, New York, the great world capitals already have maps, or to be more exact, they have objective representations of houses, monuments, streets, avenues, channels of communication and other components.”—Electra: El magazine de luz y fuerza y tranvías, 19321
Printed in the publicity journal of an energy company operating in postrevolutionary Mexico City, these words implied that this Mexican capital was now poised to claim its place alongside such dominant global centers with its own, distinctive cartographic claims to urban modernization. Maps were of course nothing new on either side of the Atlantic. In Mexico, painted maps had circulated well before European contact, and cartographic representations were produced in an abundance of styles and contexts in subsequent centuries.2 Distinctive in the first half of the twentieth century, however, was a notable rise in the global phenomenon of commercialized pictorial mapping. Such widely reproduced and easily consumed images usually embellished elements of the geography with playful figures and human-made features (those ‘objective representations’ mentioned in the opening quote). This lively mapping style offered fresh opportunities for structuring space, in the face of modernity, to a growing cadre of urban consumers. Around the world, the nineteenth-century spread of new technologies, such as lithography and trains, helped usher in fresh forms of visual expression in the twentieth. In the 1910s, most notably, the London Underground aggressively marketed the urban railway system with a series of promotional prints, including pictorial maps of the city through which travelers could now easily navigate—and then take the maps home to hang on their walls.3
Perhaps more than in any other place in the world at this moment, Mexico was ripe for such imagery and therefore constitutes a distinctive case study within the broader global trend. A decade after an agrarian revolution that engulfed the country (1910–20), pictorial maps offered the opportunity to imagine a uniquely animated Mexican geography coming into its own. In the capital city, urban elites initiated a cultural renaissance that looked to Indigenous traditions to redefine what it meant to be Mexican. Meanwhile, a network of related developments were poised to transform the landscape through, for instance, expanding railways, an enhanced road system, and architectural innovations; all of these elements simultaneously served and depended on a nascent tourist industry. Because of the particular blend of political, economic, and artistic circumstances shaping the nation and its capital, the emergence of a cartographic refashioning in this context takes on special significance. Three otherwise unrelated lithographs made between 1931 and 1935 provide the basis for the claims made here—that in concept, form, production, and distribution, pictorial mapping promoted a national agenda steeped in the politicized aesthetics of both the contemporary urban environment and the country’s Indigenous foundations.
This study broadly considers the Mexican pictorial maps through the classic analytic lens carved out by J. B. Harley in 1988, which is fixed on the social constitution of maps rather than on a positivist treatment of the topography represented.4 For decades scholars have recognized the affinities between cartography and art, assessing significant cultural values in a map’s graphic elements and recognizing its capacity to create new epistemological frameworks for its viewers. A more dramatic analytic turn has recently been described by geographer Rob Kitchin as “post-representational cartography,” which rethinks the ontological foundations of the map as a map.5 John Pickles, for instance, recasts maps as “inscriptions” to see beyond the authorship and purpose of any discrete example to reveal broader cartographic practices.6 Kitchin has built upon the work of such theorists to show how maps, despite their fixed appearance, are unstable texts embedded in multiple processes that he describes as constantly shifting. Using the specific concept of “unfolding mapping practices,” Kitchin, together with coauthors Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge, have shown how the production and consumption of a set of mappings makes sense when analyzed relationally and in cultural context, including in response to media coverage and public reception.7 If we can therefore understand that maps and the territories they purport to represent are mutually engaged in the activity of co-construction, we can more easily see cartography’s fundamentally processual nature and the role of ideology in the practice of mapping.
Examined through this last, more focused theoretical lens, Mexican pictorial mappings can be said to have actively “unfolded” in dialogue with a burgeoning landscape during the first half of the 1930s. Since each example discussed here was distributed in its own matching envelope, viewers literally folded and unfolded the map to carry it, see it, use it, send it, and/or hang it on the wall, signaling the consumer’s opportunity to command the contents. Conceptually, the sequence of maps produced in the context of the rapidly developing urban and touristic landscape led to a still more significant unfolding. The images not only promoted new epistemological frameworks for making sense of a modernized Mexican geography, but opened the way for its further expansion. In the first half of the 1930s, successive maps employed greater cartographic scale and increasing focus on Mexico City; through them, an international cadre of artists, travelers, scholars, publishers, government officials, and other boosters disseminated an integrated vision of Mexican cultural space and thereby co-produced the territory itself. By the second half of 1930s, a core infrastructure was laid, tourism officially was prospering, and the colorful maps had successfully helped to transform national identity into a geographic ideal whose physical and conceptual legacy endures today.
MAPPING DURING THE MAXIMATO
Following the close of a costly civil war that called for agrarian reform and sent the country into a decade of insecurity after the deposition of long-standing dictator Porfirio Díaz, newly installed government officials in concert with a group of intellectual elites formulated a cultural program intended to strengthen Mexico by unifying the populace with a renewed sense of shared national identity. In the early 1920s, under Minister of Public Education José Vasconcelos, aesthetic propaganda served as an essential element of nation building. Most famously, Diego Rivera and other local artists were given mural commissions in Mexico City, where they painted walls with themes of daily life, national history, mestizaje, and other scenes with varying degrees of overt political content. Indigenismo, a valuation of Native cultural traditions, included a growing attention to archaeological sites, ancient artworks, and contemporary folk traditions, which further stimulated the aesthetic environment. By the mid-1920s, artists and intellectuals from abroad joined a local cultural elite in the capital city to form a complex transnational milieu that has been dubbed “the cosmopolitan Mexican summer.”8 An intense period of optimism and popular politics provided a powerful foundation for promoting a cohesive national identity with transnational appeal, centered on a growing Mexico City.
A number of significant developments took place under the increasingly authoritarian administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles, “el Jefe Máximo de la Revolución,” who ruled initially from 1924 to 1928, and then indirectly during and a year beyond the period thus known as the Maximato (1928–34). The optimism of the early postrevolutionary period began to fade into more complicated realities, but efforts at identity formation and modernization continued through educational reforms and mass communication. Arguably just as influential as Vasconcelos was a lesser-known successor in the Ministry, Moisés Sáenz, an educational reformer who understood that nation building required cultural integration beyond the capital city. Building on cultural politics first introduced by the influential anthropologist Manuel Gamio in his 1916 manifesto, Sáenz saw an exaltation of the country’s Native populations as key to the development of a unified Mexico. In 1929 he wrote, “When the masses finally find a voice . . . they may want to give Mexico quite a different rhythm and meaning than she now seems to have.”9 Another major modernizing force that embodied the capacity for cultural integration was Calles’s national road commission, which was committed to the development of a national highway network affecting economic realities at the local, national, and international levels. Such physical connections would revolutionize mass communication—in theory perhaps giving those masses the voice Sáenz sought to hear—as well as facilitate the exchange of goods, consumers, and ideas throughout the nation.10
Another related but fledgling development at the time that Calles took power was a nascent tourist industry, here seen as a social practice, with all its contradictory impulses. Despite the need to fortify a sovereign Mexican society following a war whose purpose was in part to redress Díaz’s allegiance to foreign models, tourism held the promise of economic advancement and modernization. Visitors, especially from the United States, would further justify the Mexican investment in industrial developments such as roads, which facilitate sightseeing, and a tourist infrastructure that could provide comfortable accommodations during their stay. The politically charged development of tourism starting in the 1920s was challenged therefore with the question of how to profit from the presence of foreigners without compromising the integrity of the Mexican cultural project.11 One could say that the promise of tourism in fact hastened the articulation of that project, since it relied on a marketable national identity and the projection of a peaceful, progressive, profitable Mexico. After 1928, the government officially stepped up efforts to embrace and enhance tourism, convening agencies and conferences that would foment ideas, reach out to the private sector, and help transform Mexico’s image and reality.12 By the second half of the 1930s, with transportation networks including international flights, guidebooks, travel agencies, and luxury hotels established, a functional infrastructure for tourism was in place.13
During the first half of the 1930s, coinciding with the Maximato, several colorful cartographic representations of the Mexican territory were produced in the capital city. Their contents and circulation resonated clearly with the governing agenda of the period. Maximato leaders continued the revolutionary policies of the 1920s, but the more radical aspects were increasingly institutionalized.14 As a result, some artists shifted their activities to areas away from the capital in search of more supportive patrons in Guadalajara and the United States. Meanwhile, a broad “nationalist campaign” brought protectionist policies intended to assert more local economic control; in many cases, it simply promoted the masking of foreign elements with a Mexican visual facade.15 Pictorial maps created in this context demonstrate the government’s support of a commercialized aesthetic that could still fulfill the function of official legitimacy, sometimes in new and important ways. The maps would continue to promote the powerful cultural program but would translate its elements to the specific geography of the nation and its capital city, providing a synoptic view of a place called Mexico for both its citizens and, especially, for its foreign interests. These nationalistic displays would (ironically) help to downplay ongoing international involvement in Mexican matters while consolidating the formative notions of mexicanidad emerging after the Revolution.
Three otherwise-unrelated lithographic maps by a triad of artists of distinctive nationalities provide the basis for the broadest argument here—that in pictorial mapping, governing forces recognized an advantageous way to shape the image of the nation as a unique, cohesive, modern entity. In 1931, and in step with the dominant national integration project, Mexican artist Miguel Gómez Medina designed a bird’s-eye view in small scale of the entire country; the print was distributed by Fischgrund Publishing, a then newly established company named for its Slovakian founder.16 In 1932, US artist Emily Edwards employed an amplified scale to home in on the country’s central valley, giving a striking figural shape to its capital city; the image was produced by a Canadian multinational energy company and promoted through government-controlled Mexican media. In 1935, a year after the end of the official Maximato, but in a moment when Calles’s influence was still observed, Guatemalan painter Carlos Mérida took a still larger-scale lens to Mexico City’s historic center; his work was promoted by a well-known member of Mexico City’s cosmopolitan elite, US anthropologist Frances Toor.
These examples draw a chronological arc toward more geographic specificity and increasing efforts to manifest the rhetoric of the Revolution on the Mexican landscape cartographically. Although the three pictorial maps are formally distinctive and were commissioned by different sponsors, they share the important aspect of having been produced with and distributed in a coordinated envelope, suggesting a similar consumer target audience, including foreigners who could send home evidence of their own conquest of Mexican space. The images contributed to a visual and conceptual integration of the Mexican cultural project into its geography, and they helped to foment a nascent tourist industry that would take off definitively after 1935. By 1936, with Calles now exiled to the United States and his influence finally waning, the policies of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–40) were starting to effect a more profound social integration of the Mexican population with the landscape, and emphasized, among other things, tourism among nationals.17 Such synergistic developments and their representations might be seen to have helped pave the way for the apparent prosperity of the 1940s that came to be known as the Mexican Miracle. Even though optimism would wane as that decade turned into the next, the visual forms that were aggressively mapped and the developments they helped to materialize during and after the Maximato would prove enduring.
“THE ONLY PICTORIAL MAP OF THE REPUBLIC OF MEXICO”: FISCHGRUND’S REVOLUTIONARY GEOGRAPHY
What suggests the healing of a nation fragmented by war and social division better than a picturesque presentation of its colorful cultural landscape? In 1931, a tabloid-size, six-color lithograph that would enjoy long-term appeal through multiple editions and formats, reproduced under a variety of publisher names and copyrighted in the United States, pioneered a conceptual foundation for pictorial maps produced under the long shadow of the Maximato—even as it essentially refashioned deeper mapping traditions in Mexico.18 The original image bears the title Pictorial Map of Mexico, also boasting along its bottom edge the name of its illustrator, Miguel Gómez Medina, as well as that of its producer, Fischgrund Publishing Company (Figure 1). Its already-manageable size was intended to be even more compact, as it was issued folded into a card-size mailing envelope advertising “The only pictorial map of the Republic of Mexico . . . showing principal places of interest and everything typical of Mexico.”19 Made to be sold, but with at least some copies likely given away at Mexico City establishments, a key purpose of presenting the nation as a tidy package to be mailed home is clear. The conceptual underpinnings of its iconography and the map’s role in communicating renewed ideas about the Mexican landscape are explored here.
The Pictorial Map presents an orthogonal view of the Mexican nation, from the US border at the top to its Central American boundaries at the lower right. But it is not a neutral, objective representation of land. Its cultural priorities are suggested by decorative glosses with a Spanish flourish (despite an English title), a framing series of eleven inset cartouches highlighting historic and cultural touchpoints, and most broadly the cartoonlike forms that dot the landscape: buildings (cathedrals, factories, pyramids), topographical features (mountains, cactuses, lakes), and infrastructure (railroads, oil towers, dams). Hundreds of small labels identify cities across the terrain, while figures at various scales engaged in different activities provide a sense of Mexico’s human geography: at work in the field, on horseback, and representing folkloric “types” (China Poblana, Tehuana, mariachis),20 Indigenous groups (Yaquis, Tarahumaras), tonsured friars along a northern route, beach frolickers in Acapulco bay. The featured details, such as the cartouche identifying the jarabe tapatío as the “national folk dance,” highlight particular cultural priorities of the postrevolutionary period.21 The weaving of Mexico’s various regions and peoples into a unified visual plane suggests nothing of the intense regional factionalism, anticlericalism, and local conflicts that characterized the aftermath of the bloody civil war.22 Not even the dominant capital city is represented with any more intention than any other place. Instead, the map materializes a rich but balanced geography, suitable for continued investment.
A title box in the upper right-hand corner similarly surveys a unified group representing a heterogeneous population in distinctive clothing and otherwise helps to visually entice potential consumers (Figure 2). The figures are staged against a backdrop of nationalist symbolism, including a seal with the eagle and cactus, a partial view of the Aztec Calendar Stone, and several lines of the Mexican national hymn that float above. Below, a thick block of bilingual text highlights an excerpt from William Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843), immensely popular for nearly a century by then. The opening lines from the epic narrative—which casts Hernán Cortés as the great hero who unseats the feckless Moctezuma—are here deployed to praise Mexico’s natural resources and cultural charm, aspects of which are emphasized visually in a set of five unlabeled cartouches below. The last line of the excerpt from Prescott suggests the intrigue of an exotic but subdued landscape, recalling “the peculiar circumstances of its conquest, adventurous and romantic.” Thus the tourist might herself claim the sublime excitement of territorial exploration as a modern Cortés, this map brought home as proof of a victorious journey.
It is not, however, Cortés’s own 1524 Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlán to which Gómez Medina’s map is conceptually indebted. Instead, the late nineteenth-century cartographic models of Antonio García Cubas, the multitalented government agent working under Porfirio Díaz, are significant here. His sleek maps of the nation followed another turbulent time, when Mexican destabilization—following decades of rocky leadership after independence from Spain—was further provoked by the devastating war with the United States. García Cubas’s works, taking inspiration from the positivist formalities of Prussian Alexander von Humboldt’s cartographic inscriptions of Mexico, suggest the suitability of the stable nation for foreign consumption. It is particularly his magnum opus, the 1885 Atlas pintoresco é histórico de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, whose presentation is relevant for pictorial mapping, for it fuses Mexican visual history and culture with national space (Figure 3). As Magali Carrera has shown, García Cubas mined visual traditions in Mexican history to create technically sophisticated maps framed by thematic imagery, including colonial viceroys, ethnographic “types” comprising heterogeneous populations, grandiose church architecture, and archaeological treasures of the nation.23 Ultimately the work served as a propagandistic and commercial product, displaying a series of picturesque itineraries through a real and imagined Mexico. Whereas the scientific coolness of García Cubas’s Atlas may have suited a nineteenth-century armchair traveler, its twentieth-century successor suggested the possibility of a more intimate connection between the Mexican cultural landscape and its actual visitors.
With the nation’s cultural splendor no longer relegated to the framework, as in García Cubas’s model, the map of 1931 correlated with Maximato efforts to suggest how Mexico’s unique cultural heritage could now be perceived as integrated. The mapping of the nation’s traditions had been an early charge of the newly formed Departments of Demographics and Geography in the first half of the 1920s, but systematic studies at that point were difficult due to a lack of expertise and funds.24 A shift by the later 1920s allowed for more integration; the developing road system and the effective promotion of rural secondary schools both extended the Revolution geographically and helped to incorporate Indigenous character into national identity. Thus, by the Maximato years, one could visualize a diverse but unified nation; if it was not exactly the “Indian country” that educator Sáenz argued for, then at least it was much more of an ethnicized country than any Porfirian vision that García Cubas could have constructed. Rick López’s analysis of the promotion of the vernacular arts during the 1920s and 1930s through an international network has shown how an authentically Mexican geography was marketed through the promotion of regional handicrafts at the ground level.25 The pictorial map of 1931 offers a more synoptic view of the various forces enacting the transnational cultural project, visually laying the foundations for more change to come.
Although not much is known about the artist, it is clear that Gómez Medina had a long professional relationship with Fischgrund, who printed his works for the next two decades at least. In addition to prints, some of which bear markings indicating that they were given away at hotels and restaurants, Gómez Medina’s work was also reproduced on postcards.26 Reproductions of the 1931 map (the whole image and excerpts of regions from it) as well as other pictorial cartography of other Latin American countries are all part of a larger corpus of Mexican postcards from a slightly later period, which constitute a field unto itself.27 One of Gómez Medina’s later series depicts artisans creating some of the most touted Mexican handicrafts of the era (Figure 4). For his part, Eugenio (Eugene) Fischgrund, a Jewish immigrant from Slovakia, emerged onto the Mexican publishing scene in the midst of postrevolutionary fervor, claiming exclusive rights to reproductions of Diego Rivera’s murals—how exactly he secured such a presumably profitable deal is left to further research. It likely had something to do with the fact that Fischgrund was allied with the local cultural elite; various reproductions of the 1931 map were printed in association with Atheneum and Enseñanza Objectiva, both revolutionary-period publishing organizations dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Mexican popular culture. Later Fischgrund’s company morphed into Editorial México, a name that better masked its foreign element, and even collaborated on a catalogue with the capital’s premier cultural reservoir, Instituto Nacional de Antropologiía e Historia, all part of an émigré’s lifetime dedicated to promoting Mexico’s cultural offerings to outsiders.28
“MADE IN THE MANNER OF THOSE OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY”: THE BUSINESS OF EDWARDS’S MEXICO CITY
In the expanding national network taking shape during the Maximato, all roads ultimately led to Mexico City. A 1932 map suggests the increasing specificity with which the capital city and its connections to the national cultural project could be conceptualized cartographically—and promoted through a media campaign. Mapa de la ciudad de México y alrededores, hoy y ayer is a colorful poster-size map made by a US artist, Emily Edwards, and published by two allied companies, La Compañia Mexicana de Luz y Fuerza Motriz and La Compañia de Tranvías de México (Figure 5). This map sharpens its lens both geographically and artistically on a strategically reordered space of Central Mexico. It was commissioned by the two companies to promote the development and use of the capital’s expanding electric tram routes, which displaced the last mule-drawn train in Mexico City that same year. The artist, who had lived in Mexico for more than five years and was by then married to a Mexican man, had worked closely with Diego Rivera and other members of the city’s cultural elite. Like its predecessor, Edwards’s map was intended to be folded into an envelope featuring an enlarged detail and an explanation of its contents, in Spanish.29 Understood within its cultural milieu, the map’s modes of representation and promotion can be seen as discursive practices that betray network connections between international business ties, government-sponsored interests, and the national cultural agenda.
The visually arresting map presents a striking view of Mexico City and its surroundings, the space of the capital manipulated to form the image of a standing figure in profile, an Aztec-style eagle warrior with his beaked head at the northern extent of urban development. This and other elements of the figure conform to the original extent of the Aztec island capital of Tenochtitlán; for instance, he faces west, raising an arm and spear based on the modern avenues built upon the original east-west causeways connecting the island to the mainland. Shading at mid-city suggests a feathered wing, and the warrior’s feet are planted on the rocky foundations of the great lava field known as the Pedregal to the south.30 An elaborate border frames the map, dramatically contextualizing the cityscape within its ancient and colonial history. Punctuated by Spanish heraldic symbols, the cartouches are dominated by glyphic place names of ancient Indigenous towns in the region. An alphabetic rendering of the Nahuatl names appears next to each symbol along the blue edge. Most famously, the place name for the Aztec capital city Tenochtitlán, a three-pronged cactus, is pictured in the center at the top of the frame, further anchoring the landscape within the Native past (Figure 6). The body is covered with a grid plan of roads, traversed by a network of yellow and red lines indicating the interests of the allied companies. The yellow lines show the electric power flowing from the Necaxa Falls (under the warrior’s nose), and through the electric tram lines crisscrossing the urban space. Motorized tram routes are shown in red; the ones that encircle the city’s heart at the central plaza, or zocalo, form the warrior’s shield.
These colored lines of energy, coursing through the city like blood in the veins of the figure, embody some of the intense foreign business interests surging in the capital, and the promotion of the map demonstrates governmental complicity in its message. Despite the state’s postrevolutionary goal of asserting national economic sovereignty, the allied companies sponsoring this map were owned by a massive commercial empire based in Toronto, with ties to London; its president at the time was the British civil engineer Robert Conway.31 In contrast to the burgeoning road system, the Mexican train network had long been controlled by foreign interests, upon which the country was still dependent for technological modernization. The words of the company’s publicity journal, Electra, cited at the start of this article help to reveal how these foreign interests masqueraded as national ones, undoubtedly responding to the 1931 nationalist campaign of the Maximato. Moreover, much of the same language, with additional embellishment, was reprinted as articles in at least two newspapers—El Universal and Excélsior—on the very same day that Edwards’s work became available for sale, indicating that the allied companies’ marketing strategy included a coordinated press release, and that these government-aligned media outlets enthusiastically supported the nationalist narrative put forth by the global conglomerate.32
The Electra press release confirms an affinity between the map’s imagery and the postrevolutionary cultural program, including the celebration of Mexico’s enduring Indigenous spirit. Identifying that map as coming from a “deeply Mexican point of view,” the publicity magazine identifies the shape of Mexico City as Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec king who resisted Spanish domination.33 The figure is also more generically referred to in the press as a “caballero Águila,” recalling Edwards’s own connection of Rivera’s eagle warrior in a guidebook to the murals at the Palace of Cortés in Cuernavaca published that same year—she noted that it symbolized the resilience of the Mexican nation (Figure 7).34 Rivera himself was likely moved by Manuel Gamio’s aesthetic analysis in his nationalistic manifesto of a familiar Aztec stone sculpture by the same name. In an extended passage, Gamio praises the noble symbol’s hieratic qualities—neither a Greek discobolus nor a Roman gladiator, he explains—and reimagines its materialization within the uniquely Aztec imperial “cosmopolis.”35 Ongoing excavations in the capital’s historic center were offering the public glimpses of the actual Aztec foundations of the city and underscoring the ways in which the contemporary urban form was in fact shaped by ancient patterns, including for instance (as Electra points out) how ancient causeways dictated the layout of the “great transit arteries” of the modern city. That the eagle in Edwards’ map faces west (instead of to the right, as the eagle warrior in Rivera’s mural does) seems to correlate with the fact that archaeologists had recently verified the phenomenon of westward-facing architecture in Tenochtitlán—information that was also circulating in the international press.36
Most significant in the related media is an emphasis on the 1932 map’s deep roots. The Excélsior headline declared it as “hecho a la manera de los del siglo diez y seis” (made in the manner of those of the sixteenth century). The reference is to Mexico’s unique pre-Hispanic and early colonial Indigenous manuscripts, which were receiving renewed attention following the Revolution. Rivera and other artists found inspiration for their own style in works like the well-known Codex Mendoza (ca. 1542), located at Oxford University since the seventeenth century but available in Mexico through a facsimile published by National Museum of Anthropology in 1925.37 The tribute pages of the Mendoza manuscript were a likely source for Edwards, whose map and its glyphic framework, Electra tells us, were reviewed by officials in the office of archaeology for accuracy, confirming direct government oversight in its production. It is another early colonial map, however, that is named as a direct prototype: the Santa Cruz Map or Uppsala Map, traditionally dated to around 1550, a parchment painting made by a Native artist trained at the Colegio de Santa Cruz. The press release praises this colonial map for its visual accessibility—its island city connected to the mainland along its eastern edge, the entire landscape interconnected by a red-colored web of roads, causeways, and canals, not unlike the electrified network of the 1932 map. Similarly, figures and other features are pictured on the lake and along various paths, following Aztec cartographic traditions that anchored social history within the landscape, as Barbara Mundy has demonstrated.38
The publicity contrasts this accessibility of Edwards’s map, following Aztec precedents, with what it identifies as the impenetrable conventionalism of modern mapping, deemed too complicated for the uninitiated. In truth, however, while we are meant to understand the 1932 map as intrinsically Mexican, Edwards in fact had, years before, designed a pictorial map for conservation efforts in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas.39 Then, she employed as a prototype the most widely circulated commercial map of the London Underground, the Wonderground Map of 1914, which Elisabeth Burdon has demonstrated influenced pictorial cartography globally.40 Moreover, once in Mexico, she was likely encouraged by the British president of the allied companies, Conway, to adapt the European prototype to Mexican circumstances. Conway may have seen the unique angle available to Mexico because he was also a collector of maps and historical documents, including Mexican materials. In fact, he himself may have promoted the connection between Edwards’s map and the Uppsala Map, since he had reproduced a British facsimile of that sixteenth-century document as the frontispiece to a book he published in Mexico in 1927.41 The 1932 Mapa allowed the presentation, then, of a fitting confluence of nationalist fervor, urban revelations, and Native mapping traditions that could mask foreign interests operating in a modernizing Mexico City during the Maximato.
“BY THE WELL KNOWN ARTIST, CARLOS MÉRIDA”: URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE AND FRANCES TOOR’S STUDIO
A bright lithograph created in 1935 shows the continued significance of the pictorial map to the articulation of Mexico City’s coalescing identity as a cultural and economic center. Clearly informed by earlier pictorial models in terms of function, representation, and dissemination described above, Map of Mexico City and Valley was designed by the noted Guatemalan artist Carlos Mérida (1891–1984), and published by the well-established US anthropologist Frances Toor (Figure 8).42 This print, between the sizes of the smaller Fischgrund example and the poster-size Edwards production, was a usable street map, which is to say that unlike its predecessors, it had the capacity to function as a wayfinding device.43 At the same time, however, of all three maps assessed here, Mérida’s is in some ways the most aesthetically indulgent, with a modernist frame decoration of cartouches featuring the types of experimentations in form for which he was celebrated by this point. The map’s decorative envelope with an English description of the contents, including a space for “Mail Address,” implies that in addition to being functional, the aestheticized map by an artist with growing clout would also serve a commemorative purpose. Mérida’s map embodied and exploited a culminating moment in the urban fabric of the capital: in form, content, and concept, it demonstrated a functional integration of the nation’s cultural project by the end of the Maximato and around the moment of the definitive establishment of Mexico City’s touristic infrastructure.
The alluring print projects the image of a revolutionized urban center, rationally laid out, imminently navigable, and full of modern resources—but absent any sense of its contradictions. Against a highly saturated orange background, the historic center of Mexico City is pictured in large scale, revealing not only the major neighborhoods and avenues of the oldest part of the capital, but also recent developments shaping the downtown area. Amid a mixture of perspectives, including bird’s-eye views of the streets, in yellow, and elevated cartoons of prominent structures in the natural and built landscape, the clearest visual attention is afforded to the central east-west corridor. Following the city’s oldest and most significant passageway with foundations in the urban plan of Tenochtitlán, that corridor extends from the domed Monumento a la Revolución, on the left, to the zócalo, framed by the grand Catedral and massive Palacio Nacional on the right. In the middle of the corridor, to the right of the large green swath of trees representing the Parque Alameda, is the beaux arts–style building, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, partially obscured in the map’s view by the city’s earliest skyscraper, the towering Edificio La Nacional, finished in 1932—a clear departure from earlier styles as the architectural epitome of the modern, and until 1937 the tallest building in the city. Mérida’s inclusion of the street names newly commemorating revolutionary heroes like Álvaro Obrégon and Venustiano Carranza contributes to the growing sense of public memory about the transformative war.
Even as the map celebrates the revolutionized city, a “Business Directory” with English listings in the upper left-hand corner betrays some of its contradictions. A conflicted symbol at the heart of Mérida’s map—both literally and figuratively—is the central avenue named for revolutionary leader Francisco Madero, who unseated Porfirio Díaz in 1910. Having been forged in recent years from fragments of earlier streets, Avenida Madero was then, as it is still, relatively short and certainly not as grand as the Parisian-style Paseo de la Reforma (seen in the map as the tree-lined diagonal on the left-hand side). Nevertheless, as can be seen in Mérida’s map, the newly formed avenue connects some of the most important spaces of the city center—the areas of the zócalo and the Alameda (Figure 9). According to its assessment by Patrice Elizabeth Olsen, Avenida Madero “illustrates the series of conquests and cultural invasions that make up Mexican history, as well as the introspection arising from a decade of violence, as intellectuals and government officials, among others, considered issues of revolutionary and cultural nationalism, and the content of public memory.”44 By the mid-1930s, Avenida Madero’s conqueror was the tourist, who might well be found with Mérida’s map in hand, seeking the very same businesses listed on the directory, located on precisely that street: the American Book Store (#2 on the list), the hotels Regis (#10) and the Ritz (#11), Wells Fargo Express (#19), Wagons Lits-Cook Travel Agency (#18), and Weston’s Curio Shop (#21). Just a few years earlier, the Mexican president had agreed with criticisms that the tourist infrastructure was insufficient.45 Mérida’s map was evidence to contemporary tourists that such issues were now being confidently addressed. In this way and not unlike Mérida’s map itself, the avenue was at once an engine of revolutionary progress and the most Americanized street in the urban landscape.
A large inset map occupying the center of the bottom half of the composition gives a broad view of adjoining cities in the valley of Mexico, reinforcing another aspect of the capital’s role as a geographic hub. Seen here are spokes of modernized roadways linking the capital to adjoining cities, part of the larger nationalist highway project. Developing places of particular touristic interest include the floating gardens of Xochimilco and the farther-afield Cuernavaca to the south, as well as Teotihuacan pyramids and colonial Tepotzotlán to the north, all highlighted in the map, with pictorial icons to further beckon interest. In 1932, Wagons Lit tourist agency had published a travel brochure touting day trips to places like Puebla and Desierto de los Leones, both shown in the map, even though adequate accommodations did not at that point yet exist in the capital city to support such excursions.46 In 1933, proponents of tourism actively began to implement plans for visitor infrastructure, including international-quality hotels such as the Ritz, which boasted architect Francisco Martínez Negrete’s well-regarded functionalist facade.47 Such attractive developments in the city would now allow for a fuller exploitation of the valley’s countryside, excitingly pristine in contrast to the cosmopolitan center, to which tourists could still easily retreat for more luxurious amenities after a daytime excursion. Populations on the outskirts of the capital had themselves pressed for road construction, which not only created local jobs, but more efficiently tied their communities to the national capital and its modernizing forces.48 Mérida’s map could therefore simultaneously sell existing advancements and create markets for more.
The team directly responsible for the map’s representation and production were key figures in the cosmopolitan circles charged with materializing Mexico’s cultural program since the 1920s. Despite his foreign origins, Carlos Mérida had an artistic reputation firmly melded alongside those of his Mexican counterparts; he was a significant member of the avant-garde, celebrated for having abandoned figural representation in favor of abstraction after 1927. Both his interest in abstraction and his affinity for Indigenous traditions in Central Mexico can be linked to the inspiration he derived from his own Quiché Maya ancestry. The map’s framework demonstrates his characteristic sort of aesthetic adaptation, here of Aztec place glyphs to the fragmented, biomorphic style for which he became so well known. Whereas in the Codex Mendoza and in Edwards’s 1932 adaptation of the framework, cartouches feature glyphic forms with clear contour lines, in Mérida’s hands, a reduced quantity of larger and looser motifs appear colored by variegated wash into mini-landscapes. For instance, a stiff Aztec glyph of a stylized flower in a block-like earthen field representing Xochimilco here on the left edge of the map becomes a fluid azure lake where a long-haired woman rows her boat (Figure 10). This is the sort of element that anyone attracted to the map specifically by the artist’s name would have been looking for. Such details are also what weave an otherwise functional guide to the modern city into a new and uniquely Mexican aesthetic tapestry.
Meanwhile, Frances Toor was best known for her bilingual journal Mexican Folkways, established in 1926 to celebrate and promote folk art and traditional culture to sophisticated outsiders and elite locals alike.49 Conceived as a fluid transnational project in its heyday, Mexican Folkways initially received financial support from the Mexican government and engaged some big names in the cultural project, including Mérida and Diego Rivera, in its quest to present Indigenous culture as a vibrant force in contemporary Mexican life. During the Nationalist period, when overt foreign interests were challenged, Toor’s funding dried up, the magazine’s publication sputtered, and the enterprising American focused her energies elsewhere, including on guidebooks and this map, published by her eponymous studio (#7 on the list). For Mérida, his Map of Mexico City and Valley was one potboiler project among other commercial assignments, including furniture units, book illustrations, magazine advertisements, and even Christmas wrapping paper in his signature style.50 To judge from its marketing in for instance later guidebooks as being “By the Well Known Artist, Carlos Mérida,” Toor expected that the artist’s name and unique aesthetic would be an important selling point for tourists; similar collaborations between the two continued for years.51
If, as Olsen asserts, it was the government’s perception that Mexico City could serve as an element of national unification, it only stands to reason that cartographic representations of that city—and of the larger expanse of national territory—would likewise make manifest a revolutionary new identity that could also transcend the country. In the five years leading up to what would be the first meeting of the national tourism committee in Mexico in 1936, an international cadre of artists, publishers, and other boosters had succeeded in disseminating an integrated vision of Mexican culture and space. The pictorial maps examined here helped to establish a marketable identity as they unfolded in symbiosis with the nation’s physical infrastructure—trains, highways, roads, architecture—which evolved demonstrably over the course of the Maximato.52 Subsequent representations of the Mexican landscape would reinforce the connections between Indigenous traditions and national territory that were first made attractive, accessible, and, most importantly, meaningful through pictorial mapping in the first half of the 1930s. From the late 1930s on, an avalanche of pictorial mapping included a number of examples by Luis Covarrubias and his brother Miguel Covarrubias, among others.53 If an advertisement in a January 1952 issue of the International Rotary Club magazine is to be believed, even Rivera created a pictorial map (although no other reference has been located, and the image is not known today).54
Pictorial mapping of the nation and its capital city during the Maximato was a colorful refashioning of Mexican national identity into a geographic ideal. The maps by Gómez Medina, Edwards, and Mérida celebrated a unique cultural landscape and assisted in the creation of a market for further development of the country’s infrastructure and the promise of continued economic prosperity through tourism. Moreover, the special capacity of this cartography to fuse ancient and traditional symbolism with an articulation of a modern landscape helped to produce an enduring conceptual legacy for Mexico.55 By the 1940s, the nation’s center of gravity, historically an agrarian economy, was now firmly grounded in its cities, particularly the capital. It is impossible, of course, to measure the degree to which these cartographic images contributed to the secure foundations upon which Mexico’s “miracle” was built. It is notable, however, that even as cracks in the veneer formed by the second half of the twentieth century with the fragmentation of cultural consensus, the geographic ideals materialized in the 1930s pictorial maps endured.56 More abstractly but perhaps most visibly, we might even regard Lance Wyman’s 1968 metro station logos in Mexico City as the ultimate integration of an idea first established by Mérida’s fragmented framework. That 1935 map was the first to bring Aztec-inspired cartouches with an avant-garde flair conceptually in line with the actual traversable spaces of the modernizing capital city.