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The Civilizing Machine

A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876-1910

Michael Matthews

Publication Year: 2014

In late nineteenth-century Mexico the Mexican populace was fascinated with the country’s booming railroad network. Newspapers and periodicals were filled with art, poetry, literature, and social commentaries exploring the symbolic power of the railroad. As a symbol of economic, political, and industrial modernization, the locomotive served to demarcate a nation’s status in the world. However, the dangers of locomotive travel, complicated by the fact that Mexico’s railroads were foreign owned and operated, meant that the railroad could also symbolize disorder, death, and foreign domination.

In The Civilizing Machine, Michael Matthews explores the ideological and cultural milieu that shaped the Mexican people’s understanding of technology. Intrinsically tied to the Porfiriato, the thirty-five-year dictatorship of General Porfirio Díaz, the booming railroad network represented material progress in a country seeking its place in the modern world. Matthews discloses how the railroad’s development represented the crowning achievement of the regime and the material incarnation of its mantra, “order and progress.” The Porfirian administration evoked the railroad in legitimizing and justifying its own reign, while political opponents employed the same rhetorical themes embodied by the railroads to challenge the manner in which that regime achieved economic development and modernization. As Matthews illustrates, the multiple symbols of the locomotive reflected deepening social divisions and foreshadowed the conflicts that eventually brought about the Mexican Revolution.


Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: The Mexican Experience


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

...al debts that I have incurred along the way seems as challenging ing my fi rst forays into graduate work. Also, while I was an un-ternational History Review offered me a job as assistant to the editor, a job I was lucky enough to keep for fi ve years and that piqued my interest in the study of history. I am thankful for their ...

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pp. 1-22

The nineteenth century, when it takes its place with the other cen-turies in the chronological charts of the future, will, if it needs a symbol, almost inevitably have as that symbol a steam engine run-h. g. wells, Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scien-poetry, literature, and social commentaries that revealed a fas-...

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1. The Discourse of Development

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pp. 23-54

Let us become the doctor of this extremely sick patient, of Mexico . . . there is in this great organism a state of alarming prostration; its advanced stage does not correspond with the capabilities at its disposal; its constitution is that of an athlete that cannot lift even the tiniest object; . . . in this inferior organism the diagnosis is ane-...

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2. De Viaje: Elite Views of Modernity and the Railroad Boom

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pp. 55-102

All of a sudden, the curtain is lowered abruptly on the sun, on beauty, on the thousand scenes of life and nature which our mind and heart have savoured along the way. It is night and death and the cemetery; it is despotism ? it is the tunnel! Nothing but beings that dwell in the shadows, never knowing the bright wing of free-...

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3. Festivals of Progress

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pp. 103-142

Gr?fi co covered President D?az?s participation in the inaugural blood into the nation, incubating national strength through the cere, unbridled enthusiasm for the ?festivals of progress? that proved the country?s civilization and bright future. This sort of tural development to take place during the Porfi riato.1 As such, ...

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4. The Price of Progress

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pp. 143-198

The often devastating consequences of railway accidents altered ers galled the general public. Newspapers that targeted middle- progress so often expressed by the ruling elite. Since illitera-of corridos, as well as illustrations printed in the penny press acter.2 Yet critical publications identifi ed as middle class used ...

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5. La Loco-Matona

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pp. 199-250

While the railroad served as a symbol that government offi cials groups also used it to question, if not challenge, the regime?s ment, and national integration, nevertheless incited a great deal way as a symbol of establishing order and progress proved to be chapter argues that the disillusionment about the effi cacy of the ...

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pp. 251-258

In order to bring this work [economic progress] to crest, the two al progress which has brought to the world steam with its applica-tion to transportation and to industry. We have seen the very skill-ful methods [D?az] has used to keep the peace, one of the principal ones being the construction of the great railroads, but these have ...


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pp. 259-294


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pp. 295-310


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pp. 311-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780803249431
E-ISBN-10: 0803249438
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803243804

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 25 illustrations. 2 tables
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Mexican Experience
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OCLC Number: 862614723
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Civilizing Machine

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Popular culture -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
  • Railroads -- Mexico -- Public opinion -- History -- 20th century.
  • Railroads -- Mexico -- Social aspects -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexico -- History -- 1867-1910.
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