Biography of a Hacienda: Work and Revolution in Rural Mexico

University of Arizona Press
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Winner, James Deetz Book Award (Society for Historical Archaeology)

Biography of a Hacienda is a many-voiced reconstruction of events leading up to the Mexican Revolution and the legacy that remains to the present day. Drawing on ethnohistorical, archaeological, and ethnographic data, Elizabeth Terese Newman creates a fascinating model of the interplay between the great events of the Revolution and the lives of everyday people.

In 1910 the Mexican Revolution erupted out of a century of tension surrounding land ownership and control over labor. During the previous century, the elite ruling classes acquired ever-increasingly large tracts of land while peasants saw their subsistence and community independence vanish. Rural working conditions became so oppressive that many resorted to armed rebellion. After the war, new efforts were made to promote agrarian reform, and many of Mexico’s rural poor were awarded the land they had farmed for generations.

Weaving together fiction, memoir, and data from her fieldwork, Newman reconstructs life at the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla, a site located near a remote village in the Valley of Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. Exploring people’s daily lives and how they affected the buildup to the Revolution and subsequent agrarian reforms, the author draws on nearly a decade of interdisciplinary study of the Hacienda Acocotla and its descendant community. Newman’s archaeological research recovered information about the lives of indigenous people living and working there in the one hundred years leading up to the Mexican Revolution.

Newman shows how women were central to starting the revolt, and she adds their voices to the master narrative. Biography of a Hacienda concludes with a thoughtful discussion of the contribution of the agrarian revolution to Mexico’s history and whether it has succeeded or simply transformed rural Mexico into a new “global hacienda system.”
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About the author

Elizabeth Terese Newman is an assistant professor of history and environmental humanities at Stony Brook University. She received her PhD in anthropology from Yale. Since 2006, Newman has directed a research project at Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla that examines the social and cultural origins of revolution in Puebla, Mexico.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Arizona Press
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Published on
Apr 17, 2014
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Pages
280
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ISBN
9780816598953
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Latin America / Mexico
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Archaeology
Social Science / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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Social Identities in the Classic Maya Northern Lowlands plumbs the archaeological record for what it can reveal about the creation of personal and communal identities in the Maya world. Using new primary data from her excavations at the sites of Yaxuna, Chunchucmil, and Xuenkal, and new analysis of data from Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan, Mexico, Traci Ardren presents a series of case studies in how social identities were created, shared, and manipulated among the lowland Maya.

Ardren argues that the interacting factors of gender, age, familial and community memories, and the experience of living in an urban setting were some of the key aspects of Maya identities. She demonstrates that domestic and civic spaces were shaped by gender-specific behaviors to communicate and reinforce gendered ideals. Ardren discusses how child burials disclose a sustained pattern of reverence for the potential of childhood and the power of certain children to mediate ancestral power. She shows how small shrines built a century after Yaxuna was largely abandoned indicate that its remaining residents used memory to reenvision their city during a time of cultural reinvention. And Ardren explains how Chunchucmil's physical layout of houses, plazas, and surrounding environment denotes that its occupants shared an urban identity centered in the movement of trade goods and economic exchange. Viewing this evidence through the lens of the social imaginary and other recent social theory, Ardren demonstrates that material culture and its circulations are an integral part of the discourse about social identity and group membership.

Rather than view the contours of Late Classic Maya social life solely from towering temple pyramids or elite sculptural forms, this book considers a suite of small anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and supernatural figurative remains excavated from household refuse deposits. Maya Figurines examines these often neglected objects and uses them to draw out relationships between the Maya state and its subjects.

These figurines provide a unique perspective for understanding Maya social and political relations; Christina T. Halperin argues that state politics work on the microscale of everyday routines, localized rituals, and small-scale representations. Her comprehensive study brings together archeology, anthropology, and art history with theories of material culture, performance, political economy, ritual humor, and mimesis to make a fascinating case for the role politics plays in daily life. What she finds is that, by comparing small-scale figurines with state-sponsored, often large-scale iconography and elite material culture, one can understand how different social realms relate to and represent one another. In Maya Figurines, Halperin compares objects from diverse households, archeological sites, and regions, focusing especially on figurines from Petén, Guatemala, and comparing them to material culture from Belize, the northern highlands of Guatemala, the Usumacinta River, the Campeche coastal area, and Mesoamerican sites outside the Maya zone. Ultimately, she argues, ordinary objects are not simply passive backdrops for important social and political phenomena. Instead, they function as significant mechanisms through which power and social life are intertwined.

The Mexican Revolution was a tumultuous struggle for social and political reform that ousted an autocrat and paved the way for a new national constitution. The conflict, however, came late to Yucatán, where a network of elite families with largely European roots held the reins of government. This privileged group reaped spectacular wealth from haciendas, cash-crop plantations tended by debt-ridden servants of Maya descent. When a revolutionary army from central Mexico finally gained a foothold in Yucatán in 1915, the local custom of agrarian servitude met its demise.

Drawing on a dozen years of archaeological and historical investigation, Allan Meyers breaks new ground in the study of Yucatán haciendas. He explores a plantation village called San Juan Bautista Tabi, which once stood at the heart of a vast sugar estate. Occupied for only a few generations, the village was abandoned during the revolutionary upheaval. Its ruins now lie within a state-owned ecological reserve.

Through oral histories, archival records, and physical remains, Meyers examines various facets of the plantation landscape. He presents original data and fresh interpretations on settlement organization, social stratification, and spatial relationships. His systematic approach to "things underfoot," small everyday objects that are now buried in the tropical forest, offers views of the hacienda experience that are often missing in official written sources. In this way, he raises the voices of rural, mostly illiterate Maya speakers who toiled as laborers. What emerges is a portrait of hacienda social life that transcends depictions gleaned from historical methods alone.

Students, researchers, and travelers to Mexico will all find something of interest in Meyers's lively presentation. Readers will see the old haciendas—once forsaken but now experiencing a rebirth as tourist destinations—in a new light. These heritage sites not only testify to social conditions that prevailed before the Mexican Revolution, but also remind us that the human geography of modern Yucatán is as much a product of plantation times as it is of more ancient periods.
The Mexico Reader is a vivid introduction to muchos Méxicos—the many Mexicos, or the many varied histories and cultures that comprise contemporary Mexico. Unparalleled in scope and written for the traveler, student, and expert alike, the collection offers a comprehensive guide to the history and culture of Mexico—including its difficult, uneven modernization; the ways the country has been profoundly shaped not only by Mexicans but also by those outside its borders; and the extraordinary economic, political, and ideological power of the Roman Catholic Church. The book looks at what underlies the chronic instability, violence, and economic turmoil that have characterized periods of Mexico’s history while it also celebrates the country’s rich cultural heritage.

A diverse collection of more than eighty selections, The Mexico Reader brings together poetry, folklore, fiction, polemics, photoessays, songs, political cartoons, memoirs, satire, and scholarly writing. Many pieces are by Mexicans, and a substantial number appear for the first time in English. Works by Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes are included along with pieces about such well-known figures as the larger-than-life revolutionary leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata; there is also a comminiqué from a more recent rebel, Subcomandante Marcos. At the same time, the book highlights the perspectives of many others—indigenous peoples, women, politicians, patriots, artists, soldiers, rebels, priests, workers, peasants, foreign diplomats, and travelers.

The Mexico Reader explores what it means to be Mexican, tracing the history of Mexico from pre-Columbian times through the country’s epic revolution (1910–17) to the present day. The materials relating to the latter half of the twentieth century focus on the contradictions and costs of postrevolutionary modernization, the rise of civil society, and the dynamic cross-cultural zone marked by the two thousand-mile Mexico-U.S. border. The editors have divided the book into several sections organized roughly in chronological order and have provided brief historical contexts for each section. They have also furnished a lengthy list of resources about Mexico, including websites and suggestions for further reading.

"Drug Lord is the real thing. Raw, immediate, indispensable."—Don Winslow, author of The Power of Dog and California Fire and Life

"The [drug smuggling] business goes on, the slaughtered dead pile up, the US agencies continue to ratchet up their budgets, the prisons grow larger and all the real rules of the game are in this book, some kind of masterpiece."—Charles Bowden, from the introduction

"Pablo Acosta was a living legend in his Mexican border town of Ojinaga. He smuggled tremendous amounts of drugs into the United States; he survived numerous attempts on his power—and his life—by rivals; and he blessed the town with charity and civic improvements. He was finally slain in 1987 during a raid by Mexican officials with the cooperation of US law enforcement. Poppa has turned out a detailed and exciting book, covering in depth Acosta's life; the other drug factions that battled with him; the village of Ojinaga; and the logistics of the drug operation. The result is a nonfiction account with enough greed, treachery, shoot-outs, and government corruption to fascinate true crime and crime fiction readers alike. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

Terrence E. Poppa, an award-winning journalist, was a finalist for a 1987 Pulitzer Prize for his investigations into the connection between crime and government in Mexico. He was featured in Standoff in Mexico, a PBS production about fraudulent elections in Mexico. Due to his unique insights into the world of Mexican drug trafficking, Poppa has been widely interviewed on radio and television, including Larry King Live and The O'Reilly Factor.



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