Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Katherine Manthorne

Committee Members

Judy Sund

Joshua Brown

Anna Marley

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | American Material Culture | Latin American History | United States History


The U.S.-Mexican War[1] (1846-1848) was a watershed event that transformed the North American continent politically, socially, and ideologically. With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexico lost approximately half of its national territory in the north, and the United States acquired the modern states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, and portions of Colorado and Wyoming. Both nations were plagued by internal conflicts after the war, and each was plunged into civil war within fifteen years of its conclusion.

During this time of turmoil, Mexican and U.S. artists created and recreated myriad images – genre scenes, book and newspaper illustrations, political cartoons, battle scenes – that attempted to make sense of the war’s events. This dissertation is a transnational analysis of the visual culture of the U.S.-Mexican War that examines how each country visually communicated cultural values regarding gender, race, land, and the built environment through the depiction of contested spaces. I analyze images that were circulated on both sides of the conflict to demonstrate the multivalent nature of the visual culture of the era and the complications of nation formation during a time when ideals of whom and what constituted a nation were shifting. My analysis shows that despite the different circumstances of each nation in the years preceding the conflict, during the war, artists on both sides depicted similar subject matter and used comparable visual tools to give form to their respective nations’ understanding of issues that transcended political boundaries.

[1] The war is also known as the Mexican War, the Mexican-American War, the War of ’47, the United States Intervention in Mexico, or the North American Invasion. “U.S.-Mexican War” follows conventional use in current scholarship on both sides of the border.