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Reviewed by:
  • Peripheral Visions: Politics, Society, and the Challenges of Modernity in Yucatan
  • Don E. Dumond
Peripheral Visions: Politics, Society, and the Challenges of Modernity in Yucatan. Edited by Edward D. Terry, Ben W. Fallaw, Gilbert M. Joseph, and Edward H. Moseley. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. 2010. Pp.x, 275. $46.50 clothbound, ISBN 978-0-817-31680-8; $25.00 paperback, ISBN 978-0-817-35564-7.)

This volume includes eleven papers by diverse authors, plus a final note, that address aspects of "modernizing" in Yucatan at some time between the achievement of independence and the present day.

The seven papers of part I, "Society and Politics," are especially diverse, although arranged in roughly the chronological order of their specific subjects. Marie LaPointe provides a summary background of the Caste War, the rebellion of eastern Yucatecan campesinos that stretched over the second half of the nineteenth century. Helen Delpar describes Yucatan's indifferently successful participation in the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. This is followed by Paul Eiss on the liberal-proclaimed politics of labor following the 1910 revolution, which freed peons from debt servitude but left them with no place to go from the haciendas. Stephanie Smith treats socialist-inspired attempts to improve the position of women, with headway limited to upper urban classes. Ben Fallaw discusses presidentially supported and minimally successful efforts in the 1930s to change agrarian practice within the declining remnants of the Yucatecan henequen boom. Eric Baklanoff treats minority Lebanese immigrants as entrepreneurs significant in the post-henequen shift from fiber production toward diversified industry. Finally, Othón Baños Ramirez considers the rocky course of privatization of henequen ejidos lasting into the modern period.

The second section, "Religion," provides the closest approach to an integrated sweep of events. Lynda Morrison focuses on reasons why Yucatan was less militant in its nineteenth-century anticlericalism than was the general case in Mexico, finding that Yucatecan priests were frequently active in liberal politics whereas the Yucatecan church was relatively impoverished as an institution that was never a major landowner. Terry Rugeley, on popular religion, covers the period from 1815 to the twentieth century, including the cult that began in the 1850s of the divinely speaking crosses of the Caste War rebels; he finds that it was based on popular elements of church-derived religion and that it survives today in the hinterlands as the Church has become more [End Page 874] urban in appeal. Hernán Menéndez Rodriguez and Ben Fallaw focus on "The Resurgence of the Church in Yucatan," bridging the time of shortly after independence from Spain to the revolution of the early-twentieth century, when—especially following the French Intervention of the 1860s—Yucatecan liberals were split. The moderate branch established closer ties with the Church, encouraged by a pair of bishops of the late-nineteenth century. The economic position of the Church was improved by the de facto renewal of tithe collection, which had been officially outlawed in Mexico since the mid-nineteenth century. In the final paper of part II Fallaw traces the slow increase in church influence between 1915 and 1940—even under socialist governors of the state—as the dovish but persistent efforts of Archbishop Martín Tritschler y Córdoba encouraged a Yucatecan retreat from the anticlericalism then strong in Mexico.

One of the "Final Thoughts" in conclusion (Gilbert Joseph) is that "good regional history cannot be insular" (p. 254). But from the reader's viewpoint, with each of the diverse papers referring to conditions across national boundaries, there is little in the volume to explain an essential part of the story—the sweep of Mexican history in which an anticlerical liberalism has shifted in strength from period to period, in a counterdance with a proclerical conservatism. This conflict provides a crucial backdrop to every paper in the collection, but nothing is provided to give this larger scale. Although the national sweep is not the subject of this collection, it is crucial—for it is this that Yucatan has modified in one degree or another.

Don E. Dumond
University of Oregon


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