Mexico in the 1920s: New Historical and Historiographical Perspectives

Conference on Latin American History 12
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Old Town Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Christopher R. Boyer, University of Illinois at Chicago
Obrero and Campesino Movements before Unification in Mexico, 1920–26
Miles V. Rodriguez, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego
Jurgen Buchenau, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Session Abstract

Between 1920 and 1929, Mexico made a remarkable transition from a decade of civil war during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, to the consolidation of a famously durable and unique political system, dominated by a single, official political party.  Although the armed phase of the Revolution had ended, the decade of the 1920s was fraught with political and social tensions, and was marked by a series of violent rebellions driven by political differences, military mutiny, and cultural strife.  Although this was a critical decade in Mexican political, social, and economic history, for various reasons the 1920s have rarely been studied as a distinct historical period.  Rather, these immediate postrevolutionary years are most commonly described as either an epilogue to the Mexican Revolution, or as a preamble to the progressive populism and corporatism that emerged in the 1930s.  This has been to the significant detriment of our understandings of the changes that Mexico experienced during this crucial period of transition.  New historical perspectives on this under-studied period therefore constitute valuable additions to the historiography of modern Mexico. 

The Mexican Revolution was a lengthy struggle between many factions, all of which were quite varied in their demands and principles, as well as in their plans for Mexico once the Revolution ended.  What was clear in 1920 was that a new political order must be forged, and that it must, to some degree, incorporate the will and the demands of the popular forces that had been mobilized by the Revolution.  The new federal constitution of 1917 mandated both land and labor reform, and placed restrictions on the role of the Catholic Church in Mexico.  However, there was no consensus as to how or to what extent these reforms would be implemented.

All of the papers included in this proposed panel address – in different ways – both the uncertainty and the tensions that permeated both politics and society in Mexico during the 1920s, focusing on the prolonged and violent conflict between the state and the Catholic Church in the mid-1920s and the resulting demographic and cultural changes; the emergence of worker and peasant movements in the wake of the Revolution; and a fraught and halting process of postrevolutionary party formation and political institutionalization, respectively. They also all address some of the many profound transformations that Mexico underwent in those years, and the way that these provoked new conceptions of Mexican national identity, new links between politicians and their constituents, and new strategies for both reconstructing and governing a nation that had so recently suffered through so many years of upheaval and violence.

A long-overdue reexamination of this critical decade in Mexico has important analytical potential for Mexicanist historiography.  The papers included in this proposed panel all offer new interpretations of both the social and political legacies of the Mexican Revolution, and call into question long-held assumptions about the years immediately following the Revolution.  By extension, they also offer new perspectives on subsequent periods in modern Mexican history.