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  • Mexican Modernity, Science Magazines, and Scientific Personality: Santiago Sierra’s El Mundo Científico (1877–78)
  • María del Pilar Blanco (bio)

The story of Mexico’s aspiration to possess a scientific personality during the second half of the nineteenth century is conjoined with the country’s desire to take a part and be seen as playing a role in Western modernity. North Atlantic nations—particularly France, England, and the United States, from which news of scientific innovation flowed into Mexico most frequently during this period—were hubs of professional infrastructures that offered space for careful experimentation and eventual specialization within all the known spheres of science. These infrastructures included everything from working laboratories to scientific societies and publications devoted to disseminating the basics of, as well as the latest discoveries in, such fields as astronomy, chemistry, and botany. During the second half of the nineteenth century, science columns in papers from Mexico City and beyond, as well as a range of other publications, paid special attention to the developments and advancements that were emerging in Western Europe and the United States; some cast a critical eye on the underdevelopment of the science establishment in the country.1 During the period known as the República Restaurada, which followed the ousting of Habsburg emperor Maximilian I by Benito Juárez’s forces in 1867, efforts to develop a scientific culture, and with it an official scientific rhetoric, emerged from within a massive reform of Mexican educational structures. In May 1877, General Porfirio Díaz, the man who would rule the country until the Revolution of 1910, became president and a [End Page 403] long, controversial period of vast, if uneven, modernization known as the pax porfiriana began taking shape. During these thirty-five years, many attempts were made to extoll science (most often written with a capital S) as a means to consolidate a sense of the national position in an industrial and increasingly specialized geopolitical map. The development of a Mexican rhetoric of the modern via science has seldom been studied in terms of its progressive evolution, from the early days of the regime to its unfolding. This is, in part, due to the way the period that began in the late 1870s has been critically perceived: the expanse of time covered by the Porfirian regime has been understood as the consummation of an overwhelming reliance on positivism to produce a faulty politics for the burgeoning republic. Moreover, discussions of the discourse of modernity that are characteristic of this period, whose results were hugely detrimental for the country at large, have been easily juxtaposed against a revolutionary rhetoric that, emerging in the second decade of the twentieth century, has served as a corrective to the naïveté, as well as the misdirections, of the fin de siècle. While these perceptions are not misguided, they often fail to paint a fuller, more nuanced picture of the many intellectual transactions that led to a complex formulation and idealization of modernity in Mexico. Within these discussions, Mexican thinkers demonstrated an acute concern about their place in the world, as well as within a period that was increasingly offering new, democratized languages shared by the community of Western nations. Science was one such language and many, if not the bulk, of these ideas were manifested on the pages of magazines and newspapers that engaged with the different facets of Western modernity. The understanding and use of science was an important inroad into an increasingly attractive version of modernity for Mexicans, and the magazine form offered an open space in which to experiment with the value as well as the expressive potential of scientific knowledge.

This article is a microhistory that explores a brief, yet significant moment in the early days of Díaz’s rule, in which the pursuit of a modern position is manifested on the pages of a magazine that boasted its being the first ever popular science publication in the country: Santiago Sierra’s El Mundo Científico (1877–78). This publication offers an insight into the problems and particularities of the “popular” in Mexico during this period, while illustrating the ways in which the literary and the scientific...


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pp. 403-421
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