Technology and Development in 19th- and 20th-Century Mexico

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4A (Colorado Convention Center)
Edward (Ted) Beatty, University of Notre Dame
Beginning at least in the late eighteenth century and continuously since, Mexican intellectual and political elites have argued that technological innovation was necessary to expand “national wealth” (riqueza nacional, or, as it would come to be known by the late twentieth century, “development”). This paper first traces this thread of argument through the past two centuries, outlining the views and aspirations of proponents of technological innovation. Second, it lays out in broad terms the extent and limits of technological change across the Mexican economy through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries. Third, it identifies the central obstacles to innovation and the long term implications those obstacles had for development paths in the twentieth century. Although each project to innovate a new technology in Mexico (from steam engines to railroads, refining processes, cultivation methods, food preservation, and mechanized sewing, to name just a few), has its own story, only the scale and perspective offered by a two century survey clarifies the centrality of persistent aspirations as well as persistent obstacles. The paper offers several suggestions for the future of research on the history of technology in Mexico and Latin America, and argues for the importance of large scale longitudinal and comparative studies.
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