Hung in a Web of His Own Devising: Lucas Alaman, Credit Networks, and the Political Nation in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom E (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Eric Van Young, University of California, San Diego
Lucas Alaman (1792-1853)--statesman, historian, public intellectual, entrepreneur--has had more detractors than admirers among those familiar with Mexican history, either as inside actors or observers, because of his highly conservative political views.  Yet conservative though he was, Alaman as both statesman and private entrepreneur was also one of the great advocates of modernization in Mexico, especially in the area of industrialization.  In the late 1830s and early 1840s he drew on his political and economic connections--using his "social capital"--to invest massively in a textile factory that was for a brief time the largest industrial concern in the country.  As it turned out, he invested little of his own money, but relied instead on his reputation and social network among the powerful political and economic actors of the time to mobilize large amounts of credit to bankroll the concern.  Eventually the business collapsed, ending Alaman's dream of wealth, forcing him to liquidate a large amount of his personal holdings to make good his debts, and staining his reputation indelibly.  The story is about a supremely talented "fixer" who rose and fell (and was to rise again) through reliance on an intricately connected network of financiers and politicians.  It illustrates the limits of social capital in a volatile age in the country's history, while mapping the boundaries of the political nation.
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