Imagining New Mexico: Persistent images in Euro-American print, 1784-1911



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Between 1784 and 1911, print culture in the United States played a crucial role in shaping the image Euro-Americans had of New Mexico—an image that, in some form or fashion, carries through to today. Populated primarily by Native Americans and Hispanics, whom Euro-Americans considered suspect racially and religiously. This dissertation argues that in tracing the presentation of New Mexico from a foreign land to an American territory in print, we find how racial factors determined why New Mexico failed to become fully established within the Euro-American imagination and, instead, became seemingly within the United States but not of the United States. New Mexico remains on the fringes of the American imagination despite being one of the fifty states in the Union. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) added a vast territory to the United States; numerous people of diverse backgrounds occupied and controlled that territory, which created a history competing occupations in New Mexico. The Native Americans, Spanish, Mexicans, and then the United States all competed for control of the area. New Mexico captured the imagination of Euro-Americans both before and after its acquisition, which led to a wide variety of images of the land and its people. Historians provide valuable insight into the racial and political milieu of the late nineteenth century by examining print sources such as newspapers, memoirs, and journals. Late eighteenth and nineteenth-century print culture is valuable in showing the influence of print culture throughout the late eighteenth through the early twentieth century. One contribution of this dissertation to the historiography is the examination of how Euro-American concepts of virtue played a crucial role in creating New Mexico in the American imagination throughout United States history, starting in 1784. Images of New Mexico appeared in a plethora of Euro-American print before 1848, showing that a foreign, exotic, and virtueless image of New Mexico was created prior to 1848 and then reinforced after 1848. Many scholars claimed the idea of a foreign Southwest in the late 1800s when Euro-American writers compared the landscape of New Mexico, New Mexicans, and other Southwestern regions to those in the Middle East and Asia—claiming Charles Flether Lummis as the founder of these ideas. However, nineteenth-century travelers and writers exoticized New Mexico and its people—comparing them to people in the Middle East, Egypt, Asia, and Mesoamerica before Lummis did in his publications. This dissertation seeks to end Lummis’ legacy and the misconception that he was the first to exoticize New Mexico. While Euro-Americans promoted these connections to foreign and ancient worlds in the late nineteenth century, they were not the originators of these ideas; the Euro-American comparisons of Native Americans and ethnic Mexicans to people in the Middle East, Asia, and even Mesoamerican have their origins in the early nineteenth century when Euro-Americans chronicled their perceptions of New Mexico as they came in contact with New Mexicans as Euro-Americans traveled and explored and lived in New Mexico. The non-Euro-American population’s problem was that no matter what they tried to do, no matter what ethnic claim they espoused, they always fit into a box that late eighteenth, the nineteenth-century, and the early twentieth century Euro-Americans wrote about negatively in their early schoolbooks.

Embargo status: Restricted until 09/2172. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.



Borderlands History, New Mexico History