The Aquatic Metropolis: Mapping Nature and Urban Aesthetics at Viceregal Mexico City


ACLS Fellowship Program


Art History


"The Aquatic Metropolis" examines Aztec and Spanish efforts to combat flooding at Mexico City via image making, urban planning, and environmental change. This comparative study balances an art historian’s reading of visual and material culture with the methods of historians of cartography, science, technology, and the environment to explicate a more nuanced understanding of Mexico City’s historical path of development than previously offered. Examination of Western and non-Western images reveals a new epistemological orientation to nature on the part of the Spanish from their Aztec counterpart, putting the city at odds with the surrounding lakes and, just as significantly, calling for a new urban aesthetic. Unlike the Aztec who built a city of causeways to mitigate environmental crisis, the Spanish undertook drainage, an approach predicated on subjecting New World nature to European rational analysis to overcome the city’s geography, thereby transforming Mexico City from island to mainland settlement.