- Saltillo, 1770–1810: Town and Region in the Mexican North
The headline on the press release for the book reviewed here proclaims “Saltillo, 1770–1810 Offers a Substantial Revision of Mexican Regional History.” I strongly disagree with this assessment, and believe the book falls short of the stated objective. The study does not place the findings for the region examined into a larger historical context, is written from a top-down elite perspective, and largely fails to explain why Saltillo is an important topic for study or why other scholars should be interested in reading the book. Some of the most interesting interpretations of the development of Saltillo that appear in the study actually come from the writings of Jose Cuello, who wrote a dissertation on Saltillo completed at the University of California, Berkeley in 1981. In the introduction, Offutt argues that this study is significant, because it represents a new trend in the historiography of the northern frontier region of colonial Mexico. However, the author does so in an anemic and outdated historiographic presentation. Offutt creates the proverbial straw man as the base line from which to measure her book, but in this case the straw man is dated. She refers to the works of H.E. Bolton, and several generations of “Boltonians” who wrote history from the top down, focused on the activities of great men, men of European ancestry, and the role of institutions. Offutt also takes on the 1950s vintage study of Haciendas written by Francois Chevalier, a horse that was beaten dead several decades ago by new studies of estates. It is not clearly stated in the introduction, but Offutt implies that she will focus more on social history. Offutt also argues the need to write more about civil settlements, as versus missions and military garrisons. To bolster the creation of the straw man, Offutt relies on an essay written in 1988 [“Turner, the “Boltonians,” and the Borderlands”] to strengthen this historiographic critique. The problem is that Offutt’s straw man died and was buried long ago, and a new breed of scholars of the Mexican colonial north emerged and redefined the study of the region. Much of the more recent and innovative literature that appeared particularly in the 1990s is not cited in the introduction or bibliography, suggesting to this reviewer that she is not current with the historiography of the region published both in Mexico and the United States. Moreover, the author does not cite older studies that were not written in the “Boltonian” mold. This apparent unfamiliarity with the literature would perhaps explain the outdated historiographic thrust of the introduction. [End Page 784]
The discussion of the literature on the frontier is just the first example of how this book came to fruition in a time warp. Many of the most recent titles, particularly titles directly related to social history and particularly the experiences of common people, do not appear in the author’s bibliography. This is consistent with the author’s top-down approach to the history of Saltillo, which is not much different from the focus of the Boltonians whom Offutt criticized in her introduction. Let me cite three examples of this social history literature. They are Peter Stern and Robert H. Jackson, “Vagabundaje and settlement patterns in colonial northern Sonora,” The Americas 44:4 (April 1988), 461–481; Peter Stern, “White Indians of the Borderlands,” Journal of the Southwest 33:3 (Autumn, 1991), 262–281; Peter Stern, “Marginals and Acculturation in Frontier Society,” in Robert H. Jackson, ed., New Views of Borderlands History (Albuquerque, 1998), 157–188, and these by no means exhaust the list of truly innovative studies written by the current generation of specialists in the history of northern of New Spain that don’t fit into Offutt’s myopic view of the historiography of the region.
Offutt also tries to use the study of a region dominated by an urban center and a unique period in time...