Spanish Contributions to 15th Century California Geography

Carl O Sauer’s writings on Spain’s exploration of the New World

Nicholas Porter


All the information provided in this article was derived from the writings of Carl O Sauer. The historical geography of the Spanish in California is rich, these are only the accounts of the first commissioned surveys of California coast and the maps they produced.

Carl O Sauer

FFamously known for his contributions to post-16th century North American geography, Carl O Sauer remains one of the United States’ treasured intellects of the last 100 years. He formulated the concept of “cultural landscapes” which is still widely referred to in today’s mainstream ecological sustainability vernacular. Sauer was a precocious individual with professional interests in domains of the natural world, specifically botany, geography, and history. To this day he arguably holds the first and most detailed formal geographical analysis of the Ozark Highlands.

After college and various research endeavors he earned a job as professor of geography at the University of Michigan, and years later he would become Chairman of the Geography Department at the University of California, Berkeley. A unique aspect of his writing is in his ability to synthesize historical information as it pertains to a given geographical mapping. More specifically his writings on early North American geography provides detailed century-by-century accounts of early Spanish, French, and Dutch settlements in the Gulf of Mexico, Mesoamerica, and southwest United States. The aforementioned subjects can be found in his publications such as Life and Land, The Early Spanish Main, 16th Century North America, and 17th Century North America.

The Spanish Conquest

In the book 17th Century North America, Carl O Sauer begins with the account of Spain and the Spanish Indies. A retinue of men were involved in Spain’s endeavors in the New World, sometimes headed by distinguished erudite men such as as Sigüenza y Góngora and Gonzalez de Barcia, or some seemingly notorious colonizers such as Hernan Cortéz, Viceroy Velasco, Columbus, Antonio de Mendoza, Menendez de Aviles, St.Augustine, and Vasquez de Espinoza. More often then not, a rapacious…