Coastal Frontiers: The Littoral Borderland in Alta California and the Spanish Pacific World

Chantra Vanna Potts, University of Texas at El Paso


This dissertation explores the intricate relationship between Spanish exploration, the economy of the Pacific World, and their impact on colonization in Alta California during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It offers a new perspective on the history of the region by situating it within the context of the Eastern Pacific Basin and littoral borderlands, highlighting the transregional and global processes that shaped social and economic exchanges among Spanish colonists, Indigenous people, European and Anglo-American merchants, and diverse groups of sailors on the northern frontier of New Spain. Using the theoretical framework of mental mapping, or the subjective mental representation of the world, this study shows how interactions with the Pacific Ocean and its maritime world allowed diverse people in Alta California to create a new segment of the Spanish Pacific, which I call the California-Pacific littoral. Alta California was reimagined as an integral part of the Pacific Ocean through these relationships. This convergence of various groups provided a fertile ground for the emergence of new spatial definitions that shaped Alta California’s place within the broader Pacific World. This dissertation challenges the conventional use of internally and externally fixed boundaries, such as those imposed by states to separate provinces or those between imperial states, as units of historical analysis. It argues that spaces and territoriality were not rigid but continually created and reimagined through social interaction and material processes.

Subject Area

Latin American history|World History

Recommended Citation

Potts, Chantra Vanna, "Coastal Frontiers: The Littoral Borderland in Alta California and the Spanish Pacific World" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30491573.