Casas Montezumas: chorographies, ancient ruins, and placemaking in the Salt and Gila River valleys, Arizona, 1694-1868
This dissertation uses the narrative practice of chorography as a genre for assessing the history of placemaking in the Salt and Gila River region of central Arizona from the late seventeenth century through the mid-nineteenth century. Chorography concerns the descriptive representation of places in the world, usually of regions associated with a particular nation. Traditionally, chorography has served as a written method for describing geographical places as they existed historically. By integrating descriptions of natural features with descriptions of built features, such as ancient ruins, chorography infuses the physical landscape with cultural and historical meaning. This dissertation relies on a body of Spanish- and English-language chorographies produced across three centuries to interpret how Euro-American descriptions of Hohokam ruins in the Salt and Gila River valleys shaped local placemaking. Importantly, the disparate chorographic texts produced during the late-seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries reflect ‘discursive continuity’—a continuity of thought spanning a long and frequently disregarded period in the history of central Arizona, in which ruminations about the ruins of ancient cities and irrigation canals formed the basis for what people knew, or thought they knew, about the little-known region. When settlers arrived in the newly-formed Arizona Territory in the 1860s to establish permanent settlement in the Salt and Gila River valleys, they brought with them a familiarity with these writings, maps, and other chorographical materials. On one hand, Arizonans viewed the ancient ruins as literal evidence for the region’s agricultural possibilities. On the other hand, Aztec and Cíbola myths associated with the ruins, told and retold by Europeans and Americans during the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, offered an imaginative context for the establishment and promotion of American settlement in central Arizona.