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Biography of a Hacienda

Work and Revolution in Rural Mexico

Elizabeth Terese Newman

Publication Year: 2014

Biography of a Hacienda is a many-voiced reconstruction of events leading up to the Mexican Revolution and the legacy that remains to the present day. Drawing on ethnohistorical, archaeological, and ethnographic data, Elizabeth Terese Newman creates a fascinating model of the interplay between the great events of the Revolution and the lives of everyday people.

In 1910 the Mexican Revolution erupted out of a century of tension surrounding land ownership and control over labor. During the previous century, the elite ruling classes acquired ever-increasingly large tracts of land while peasants saw their subsistence and community independence vanish. Rural working conditions became so oppressive that many resorted to armed rebellion. After the war, new efforts were made to promote agrarian reform, and many of Mexico’s rural poor were awarded the land they had farmed for generations. 

Weaving together fiction, memoir, and data from her fieldwork, Newman reconstructs life at the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla, a site located near a remote village in the Valley of Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Exploring people’s daily lives and how they affected the buildup to the Revolution and subsequent agrarian reforms, the author draws on nearly a decade of interdisciplinary study of the Hacienda Acocotla and its descendant community. Newman’s archaeological research recovered information about the lives of indigenous people living and working there in the one hundred years leading up to the Mexican Revolution.

Newman shows how women were central to starting the revolt, and she adds their voices to the master narrative. Biography of a Hacienda concludes with a thoughtful discussion of the contribution of the agrarian revolution to Mexico’s history and whether it has succeeded or simply transformed rural Mexico into a new “global hacienda system.”

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-9viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-2

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pp. 3-9

This book captures the experience of doing historical archaeology for anyone who is curious about the hows and whys of such work. The following pages are a mosaic of academic prose, memoir, and fiction. Together, the three distinct narratives sum up the essence of archaeology—technical analysis, hard work, and a bit of imagination. As you read, you may note a tension between the prose, memoir, and fiction...

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1. One Hundred Years: From Independence to Revolution in Mexico

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pp. 10-20

At ten in the morning on April 17, 1917, the Zapatista General Fortino Ayaquica met with the Constitutionalist Colonel Eduardo Reyes at the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla. According to an exchange of letters between the two, each man brought two officers, one assistant, and ten soldiers with him, although a letter sent by Fortino Ayaquica to his commander, the famous Emiliano Zapata, tells us that the Zapatistas had...

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2. “A Place for Lizards and Archaeologists”: Historical Archaeology and the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla

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pp. 21-32

Nearly one hundred years after General Fortino Ayaquica held his conference at the Hacienda Acocotla, I found myself in a jeep traveling along what may have been the same road on which he approached Acocotla that April morning. I leaned forward eagerly and scanned the landscape as I braced myself, one hand on the dashboard and one on the ceiling. Harold, whose attention was consumed with the difficult driving conditions, tore...

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3. “Something We Already Know”

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pp. 33-55

The chair creaked as I leaned back. Karime looked up at the sound, grinning at the sight of me massaging the kinks out of my sore neck. We’d been in Atlixco’s archives for only two hours, and I was already restless. She knew I preferred to be out in the field—interviewing people or getting hot and dusty digging—but this was part of my job, too. I smiled back as I closed my eyes, trying to clear from my head the images of the poorly preserved...

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4. The Legacy of Revolution

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pp. 56-83

I picked my way through the muddy, partially flooded main street, greeting young men as they rode by on their horses. They had assisted with my excavations at the hacienda, and they smiled, friendly and seeming happy to see me. My students trailed behind me, looking shocked at the conditions in which the villagers lived. This was the town’s main street? I could see the question in their eyes as they looked around, whispering...

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5. San Miguel Acocotla: The Archaeology of a Central Mexican Hacienda

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pp. 84-112

I smiled to myself as the truck crested the edge of the barranca, and I caught my first glimpse of the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla. I was eager to see how the site’s crumbling walls had fared in the year since I’d last visited, but I put the pickup truck in park and clambered out to talk to my students who were perched in the back on top of our excavation equipment. I pointed to the structure across the fields, reminding the students...

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6. Crossmending: The Archaeology of Architecture and Home Life

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pp. 113-138

The preceding is nothing more than a palimpsest pieced together with data gleaned from the ethnohistorical, ethnographic, and archaeological research discussed in the last three chapters. We don’t know what Rafaela thought as she got out of bed the morning in question, but we do know she existed. Rafaela’s name is recorded in Acocotla’s accounts as part of an...

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7. What You Eat: Life and Labor in the Calpanería

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pp. 139-168

I poured the next bag of artifacts out onto the table and groaned—another inestimable number of coarse redwares. When the cataloging was finally done, I would know that I had collected more than eighty-seven thousand artifacts during my excavations at the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla. At that moment, I only knew that I had collected more than I wanted to catalog! ...

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8. Small Finds

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pp. 169-198

“¡Ellie! ¿Una bolsa especial?”
I looked up. Ramón was jogging across the field holding something in his closed hand. As he approached me, he asked again for “a special bag” and opened his hand to show me what he’d found. I took the little earring and pretended to weigh the merit of using one of my small bags for the item. Ramón’s eyes glinted hopefully while he tried to look too cool to...

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Conclusion: “Un Platito de Frijoles”

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pp. 199-210

I was squatting on one of the household’s few chairs. The chair reminded me of my days as a preschool teacher. It was so small that I could have comfortably rested my chin on my knees had I wanted to. The chair balanced somewhat precariously next to the small table, and Karime perched just as precariously on a second chair next to me...

Appendix: Cast of Characters

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pp. 211-214


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pp. 215-242


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pp. 243-246

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-256

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780816598953
E-ISBN-10: 0816598959
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530731
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530734

Page Count: 271
Illustrations: 37 photos, 15 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 874965568
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Biography of a Hacienda

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Subject Headings

  • Land reform -- Mexico -- Puebla (State) -- History.
  • Archaeology and history -- Mexico -- San Miguel Acocotla Hacienda.
  • Haciendas -- Mexico -- Puebla (State) -- History.
  • Mexico -- History -- Revolution, 1910-1920 -- Causes.
  • San Miguel Acocotla Hacienda (Mexico) -- History.
  • Mexico -- History -- Revolution, 1910-1920 -- Influence.
  • Land tenure -- Mexico -- Puebla (State) -- History.
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