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  • 2006 CLAH Luncheon Address:A Personal Porfiriato: Thirty-Five Years of Muddling Through Mexico (and Points South)*
  • Alan Knight (bio)

I should first like to thank CLAH, Tom Holloway, and Mark Wasserman for the invitation to give this talk.

I should also clear up some confusion about the title, which is "My Personal Porfiriato" (details to follow)—not "My Personal Portfolio" (as an earlier version wrongly stated). While I can't guarantee that the former topic will be riveting, it should be more interesting than the latter; since, as my wife Lidia will confirm, my personal portfolio is unusually small and unimpressive; it can't compare with the bulging portfolios of some colleagues (I think enviously of Colin MacLachlan, who owns 50% of Telmex; and Bill Beezley, who controls half the Canadian brewing industry).

All of us, or most of us, here belong to a profession for which the old—often hypocritical—disclaimer, "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking," would be particularly hypocritical, given that we spend a good deal of our professional lives speaking in public: addressing eager graduate seminars, gabbling our way through conference papers at AHA or LASA panels, lecturing to the massed ranks of undergraduates, leafing through dog-eared lecture notes (if you don't know the text by heart). Recycling lectures is possible because, as historians, we don't have to be au fait with every passing conjunctural event—every coup, crisis, election, impeachment (as political scientists are meant to be: I return to that comparison in a moment); indeed, even as political historians of modern Latin America—that once teeming tribe, whose numbers were thinned, but are now recovering (I also return to that in a moment), we are also helped by the striking continuities in Latin American politics; its [End Page 519] resemblance—as Charles Taylor once remarked—to a "living museum," in which political leaders, driven by some primordial and life-sustaining lust for power, live on (like Perón, Vargas, Haya de la Torre or Paz Estenssoro) or are reincarnated (thus, Lázaro Cárdenas, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, and now Lázaro number two, that is, Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, current governor of Michoacan like his dad and granddad before him; and someone who, as a historian of Cardenismo, I sincerely hope may yet become president of Mexico; or, at the very least, generous patron and sponsor of a very rich institute dedicated to the history of Cardenismo). But I digress. Indeed, I fantasize.

Compared to lectures, classes and conference panels, this kind of public speaking—after-dinner speaking, or more strictly after/during lunch speaking (what in Oxford, when we stop talking Latin and lapse into English, we call post-prandial perorating)—is another matter. For some, it a great deal more lucrative. Bill Clinton, I believe, gets $150,000 a go; Mrs Thatcher rather less; and even Cherie Blair, wife of our Prime Minister, now commands $40,000 (£25,000), chiefly on the grounds of being married to a war criminal.1 But she has a way to go to match Henry Kissinger's $75,000 (but then Kissinger is a real war criminal and has a Nobel Peace Prize to prove it).2

I did once give a genuine, post-prandial peroration at the San Jacinto Historical Center near Houston: a fine museum, lying in the shadow of a giant obelisk, close by the USS Texas. There, some years ago, while I worked at UT-Austin, I was asked to give an after-dinner talk to the Friends of the Museum, on the theme (chosen by them, not me) of "Texas and the Mexican Revolution." This, for me, involved some reading and research, though not too much; the secret, as with undergraduate lectures, being that of finding a text which the audience wouldn't know about (in this case, not difficult). Fortunately, I had a copy of Linda Hall and Don Coerver's then recent Revolution on the Border—one of Linda's excellent contributions to Mexican revolutionary history, before, alas, she swapped Alvaro Obregón for the various Virgins of the Americas—Guadalupe, Luján, etc. Psychics in touch with the astral plane tell...


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