The authors of the essays in this volume undertake to understand rural people in Mexico through the interplay of local, national, and international contexts. Specifically, they explore the links between rural revolt, the Mexican state, and the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
For a long time, historians and anthropologists tended to regard Mexican rural people (called by some “peasants,” a term hotly debated to the point of meaninglessness) in isolation. Many of the same observers regarded rebellions among rural people as rare phenomena, to be studied in the manner of precious gems. After looking through local archives, however, they discovered rural-urban-rural migrations, insidious market forces, and innumerable uprisings. Now we realize that “subalterns” were, and are, extensively affected by the outside world, though they do their best to shape these various influences to suit their specific personal and local situations.
Historians (anthropologists generally were not interested) have, for the most part, recognized the extensive influence of the United States’ economic presence on the evolution of Mexican society during the second half of the nineteenth century, leading up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910. There is more of a debate (though less than meets the ear) about how important anti-United States sentiment was in fomenting the Revolution and how much U.S. diplomacy acted as a reactionary brake on the radicalization of the Revolution (1910–1920) and its aftermath (1920–1940).
Although it seems sensible to bring micro-history together with international economic and diplomatic relations, it is not an easy task in practice. Local archives, which form the resource base for six of the [End Page 364] ten essays, rarely mention international diplomacy. Often international factors function locally, such as when modest U.S. investors buy ranches, which disrupt neighboring labor markets. In almost all of the chapters that present micro- or regional histories, the authors struggle to establish explicit links. (They are all, nonetheless, excellent examples of their genre.)
Interestingly, two of the authors, Alan Knight and Friedrich Katz, seem diametrically opposed to each other’s interpretation of the role of outside influences on the Mexican Revolution. Knight believes that the Revolution was not anti-imperialist (that is, not anti-United States) and that it was entirely a domestic phenomenon. Katz, however, argues that both the United States and the European powers, notably Germany and the United Kingdom, exercised substantial influence on the Revolution’s course and outcome. Both rely on meticulous research in local archives to reach their conclusions. Their differences are not as stark as might appear at first glance. Each, for example, recognizes the importance of foreign investment and foreign markets for Mexican social and economic development.
Six of the essays are reviews of books published since 1987, when the first edition of Rural Revolt appeared. A new essay by Adolfo Gilly on the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas and a revised introduction by Daniel Nugent grace this expanded edition.