The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1994, Volume 40, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Rural Revolt in Mexico and U.S. Intervention.

Edited by Daniel Nugent. San Diego: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1988. Bibliography. 285 pages. $59.95 hardcover; $19.95 paperback. 

Reviewed by Pedro Santoni, Assistant Professor of History, California State University, San Bernardino. Author several articles on eighteenth and nineteenth-century Mexican political and military history.

This book consists of eleven essays authored by historians and anthropologists which discuss the relationships between rural revolt, the formation of the Mexican nation-state, and types of United States intervention. By placing rural revolts within this broad context and analyzing them from an interdisciplinary perspective, this work seeks fresh explanations as to why popular movements in Mexico largely resulted in a series of defeats for the peasantry over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Daniel Nugent’s introduction provides a general overview of the historiographic and theoretical problems addressed by the book. It also challenges conventional wisdom by arguing that Mexico’s peasantry habitually resisted external forces and influences. As a result, both the Mexican government and the U.S. had to institute measures that advanced rural interests.

The book is divided into four sections. In part one, historians Allan Knight, John Hart, and John Coatsworth discuss the impact as well as the different types of U.S. intervention in Mexico between the late 1800s and 1940. The difference of opinion that Knight and Hart hold regarding the impact of economic nationalism and anti-imperialism on the peasantry’s mobilization will surely engage scholars into developing new perspectives and approaches to these topics.

The next three sections of this volume are devoted to rural revolts in particular regions, sometimes emphasizing periods of shorter duration. In part two, essays by Jane-Dale Lloyd and Michael Kearney highlight the impact of U.S. economic influence on the peasantry’s capacity to resist the forces of capitalist society. Lloyd focuses on Chihuahua in the early 1900s while Kearney studies Mixtec communities ln both Oaxaca and on both sides of the U.S.-California border. Then, in section three, Maria Teresa Koreck and Ruben Osorio analyze the role that nationalism played as an element of popular mobilization in Chihuahua between the 1850s and the revolutionary decade of 1910.

The essays in the book’s final sect on examines the ways in which peasants took advantage of conflict and dissension among elites to promote popular interests. Gilbert Joseph looks at Yucatan’s rural population during the “Caste Wars” of the 1840s and following the outbreak of Francisco Madero’s 1910 rebellion, while Ana María Alonso explains why serrano peasants in northwestern Chihuahua collaborated with the 1916 Pershing Punitive Expedition. Finally, Friedrich Katz examines the complex relationship between revolutionary leader Francisco Villa and the U.S. He enumerates the reasons that caused its deterioration, and suggests several possibilities, including U.S. interference, that might help explain Villa’s failure to undertake a massive land reform program in Mexico.

The research effort carried out by the authors was impressive. In addition to ethnographic investigation, the contributors delved into a plethora of previously unexamined documentary collections — municipal, judicial, ejidal, and private archives — located far from Mexico City or Washington, D.C. The volume also features a comprehensive bibliography of more than one hundred articles and nearly two hundred books that may serve as a future reference guide for studies on Mexican rural revolts and U. S. intervention. On the whole, although the book’s sophisticated analysis will put it beyond the grasp of most non-specialists and undergraduate students, this volume would be a useful addition to graduate course on U.S.-Mexican/Latin American relations and/or modern Mexico. It substantially advances our knowledge of Mexican and U. S. history.

Buy this book from
You get Amazon’s low price and the
San Diego Historical Society
gets credit when you buy through this link.