Mapping the Imaginative Landscape of Texas After the Mexican-American War

Part of the consequences of the Mexican-American War was the appropriation of over 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory by the United States in 1848. Places such as Texas, California, New Mexico, and Arizona, which were originally considered part of Mexico, were now considered part of the United States–which posed an immense problem for Mexicans living in these areas because they were now considered a social and cultural minority within the spectrum of a predominately white and Protestant America. Texas’s close proximity with the Mexican borderline made it a prominent nexus for the early stages of the Chicano movement (literature written by Mexican-Americans in the United States); after all, many battles during the Mexican-American war took place in Texan cities such as Brownsville, which were heavily populated by people of Mexican origins.

Since I personally have an interest in young adult Chicano/a literature, I became intrigued with the prominence of Texan locations (particularly those areas close to the Mexican/U.S. borders) in American literature published shortly after 1848–that is, when various parts of Mexico were annexed into the United States of America. Thus, this post depicts my efforts to map and trace the prominence of these locations in American literature, although not necessarily centered on texts written by Chicano/a authors. My data will therefore be centered on the presence of Texan locations in prose literatures written by American authors during the incorporation of Mexican territories into the U.S. (which marks the beginnings of the Chicano/a movement, generally speaking).

In order to achieve this, I generated maps using ArcGIS, an online application and content management system that allows users to create interactive maps capable of displaying quantitative data provided by databases. The data I used to generate the maps below was provided by a literary database developed by Dr. Matt Wilkens (which is based upon texts such as Lyle Wright’s American Fiction, 1851-1875), which includes a hefty percentage of the long prose titles published by American adults between 1851 and 1875, along with the geospatial information depicted in these titles using Google’s Geocoding API.

The database also included texts and geospatial information from other countries and dates, so I used MySQL Workbench 5.2 CE in order to create a table that only displayed the count of texts within the U.S., specifically within the region of Texas between the dates of 1851 and 1872. In order to avoid ambiguities within the data, I only included texts that mentioned specific cities or locations within Texas, meaning that all texts that simply mentioned the state of Texas were eliminated from the data set. The result of this search query listed over 31 Texas cities mentioned over a series of 972 texts. This data was used to generate the following map in ArcGIS:

(You can access the interactive version of this map by clicking here)

There are few major surprises within this generated map, seeing as the major cities in Texas seem to be the most prominent locations mentioned in American texts published between 1851 and 1872. The San Antonio and the Rio Grande regions are by far the most popular locations mentioned within the text sampling of this period, and the Rio Grande region, conveniently located near Brownsville, is by far the most prominent “borderline” region, with a total of 111 texts mentioning this location.

Although it is extremely interesting to see how prominent the Rio Grande region was in American texts written after the incorporation of Texas to the U.S. 1848, keep in mind that this data includes texts written during and after the American Civil War. Cities found within the U.S./Mexican border, particularly Brownsville, were notorious for being smuggling points of goods during the Civil War, which might have influenced the prominence of borderline locations within American literature. Seeing as my interests lie within the prominence of Texan locations in American literature influenced by the aftermath of the Mexican-American war, some adjustments had to me made. Thus, I accessed the aforementioned database once again, this time making sure to create a count of text locations mentioned between 1851 and 1860, right before the Civil War began. The results were as follows:

(You can access the interactive version of this map by clicking here)

A couple of interesting things occurred when eliminating the years marking the beginnings of the American Civil War. Notice how Austin and Houston decrease dramatically in terms of how many times they are mentioned within the literary corpus. The Rio Grande region, however, still caries the second-place medal in terms of location mentions of Texas after the Mexican-American war. Now we can rightfully assume that the prominence of this location is directly intertwined with the effects of the Mexican American War. Rio Grande, after all, was populated in 1846 as a transfer point for goods and soldiers during the invasion of Mexico during the Mexican-American war. San Antonio is perhaps the obvious and most salient contender for location mentions within American literature published after the Mexican-American war due to the Battle at the Alamo, the event that “inspired” many Texan citizens to join the army during the Texas Revolutions while in turn dramatically increasing U.S. hostility towards the Mexican population.

In due course, it’s quite interesting to see how American literature, especially in terms of location, is closely tied to historical events and shifts. But even more so, it’s quite amazing to be able to visualize and develop a more concrete notion of the presence of locations across hundreds of texts that shape the imaginative landscape of American literature during particular periods of time. Although this data is indeed tantalizing, note that the database used to create these maps contained authors deemed American, and I am personally not sure of how many Chicano authors were included within this data set.

My gut feeling, based on the prominence of places such as Rio Grande and San Antonio, is that few, if no Chicano authors are included–seeing as places such as Brownsville, Laredo, and other border regions contain few or no location counts. It would be extremely interesting to create or obtain a database that exclusively lists locations mentioned in texts written by authors of Mexican or Chicano/a descent, in order to generate maps that can be compared and contrasted to the ones shown above. Then, it will be possible to have an even more encompassing view of the imaginative landscape of Texas from an American perspective and a Mexican/Chicano perspective. After all, literature does not follow the strict boundaries that are imposed in terms of location and space.

Disclaimer: The discussion above was an attempt to experiment with the possibilities of the ArcGIS content management system, and share these possibilities with those interested in digital humanities, American literature, or history. None of the data interpretations above are definite nor conclusive.

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