Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas never achieved his goal of becoming the first son of a Mexican president to win the presidency. But he contributed significantly to bringing about the transition from a presidency owned by the PRI for more than seventy years to a more transparent and fair system of elections. Had it not been for his independent presidential campaign in 1988, which helped inspire reforms of the electoral system that improved competitive conditions for later candidates, democratic transition would at the very least have been delayed. Without his leadership in founding the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Mexico would have lacked a strong Left challenge in the years of greatest economic and political reform, undermining the leverage of reformers and changing the tone and direction of efforts to attract voters. Cárdenas was, in a real sense, one of the midwives of Mexico’s democratic transition.
Mexican national culture in the period from 1946 to 1982 can be understood by recognizing three overlapping transformations. The first was the consolidation of various national archetypes rooted in Mexican revolutionary and prerevolutionary mythologies of national identity and that were disseminated via state-sponsored cultural institutions as well as through global marketing campaigns related primarily to bolstering tourism. A second was the commodification of national popular culture through local cultural industries, namely radio, cinema, the recording industry, and television, and the competitive engagement of these industries with external cultural flows deriving, primarily though not exclusively, from the United States. The third was the invention of new forms of urban response to inflation and the cascading crises of political legitimacy that characterized the decade leading up to economic collapse in 1982. Across the body politic, one discerns a resilience of shared points of cultural reference—sonic, visual, culinary, and otherwise—derived, often in great measure, from governmental policies and discourse. At the same time, and increasingly over the course of this historical period, one finds movements characterized by an irreverent reappropriation of many of those same reference points, carried out by a diverse range of social actors in pursuit of individual and collective strategies of resistance to both state and patriarchal forms of authority. By the early 1980s Mexican national culture had become a rich and playful bricolage made up of iconic markers over which the state experienced a diminishing, though not yet exhausted, capacity to define.
The very nature of Spanish colonization meant that New Spain brought together people from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and attitudes. Mexico City was the meeting place of all these various populaces. Before the conquest, Tenochtitlan had neighborhoods composed of residents from various parts of the empire. Apart from the many indigenous cultures, colonization also meant the addition of Spaniards, Africans, and Asians, some of whom were enslaved and others simply migrants. The result was a culture that expressed itself both in high and popular culture with a melding of elements—a joyous cacophony that reflected its mestizo nature. This culture was played out not only in institutional settings such as the viceregal court, ceremonies, the theater, and in church but also in the streets, parks, and taverns that dotted towns and cities. Although culture, to a certain extent, reflected New Spain’s hierarchical nature, separation between high and low was never absolute. In the cathedral, as in many other institutions, popular pursuits and music infiltrated the formal singing. This pattern of cultural slippage prevailed within many areas of daily life as the colonial world of New Spain layered pastimes and pursuits from its many constituents.
Roderic Ai Camp
Mexico’s democratic transition provides a revealing case study of a semi-authoritarian political model evolving incrementally into an electoral democracy over two decades. One of the special features of that transition was its slow progress compared to its peers in Latin America, especially given its proximity to the United States, the most influential democracy in the last half of the 20th century. The first attempt to introduce fair, competitive elections occurred under the leadership of Miguel de la Madrid in 1983, but he reversed direction when he was opposed by leading politicians from his own party. His successor, Carlos Salinas (1988–1994), chose to pursue economic liberalization, opening up Mexico to greater competition globally, and negotiating an agreement with Canada and the United States (North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA), while maintaining an authoritarian presidency. During this era, proactive actors that fomented significant political change came from numerous sources. The following were particularly noteworthy in explaining Mexico’s shift to a democratic model: dissident elites who pushed for democracy inside the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); dissident elites who left PRI to form the most successful opposition parties in the 20th century, including the founding of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in 1989; social and civic movements originating from government incompetence in addressing the results of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, the widespread fraud during the 1988 presidential election, and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation uprising in 1994; the altered composition of political leadership from the establishment and the opposition characterized by stronger backgrounds in local, elective offices, party leadership, and nonpolitical careers; new electoral laws reinforcing independent decision-making regarding electoral practices and outcomes in the 1990s; and the introduction of new political actors supportive of democratic change, such as the Catholic Church.
The early study of radioactivity (an important precursor to nuclear science) in Mexico was intertwined with a brilliant and determined woman’s arrival in the country. Marietta Blau Goldwin—Jewish by birth, a physicist by training, and a refugee by circumstance—helped pioneer nuclear emulsions by creating a portable technique that revolutionized the field. Blau, recommendation from Albert Einstein in hand, fled the Nazi’s invasion of Austria and arrived in Mexico City in 1938. There she initiated studies in atomic physics while teaching at the National Polytechnic Institute. This dramatic start to the country’s initial foray into the study of the atom illuminated how global political processes were inextricable from the development of nuclear science. Although her departure to the United States in 1944 impeded the momentum building behind atomic research, a core group of scientists at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) worked with government officials to promote nuclear technology during and after World War II. With the help of the Atoms for Peace program, this coalition of boosters succeeded in bringing a particle accelerator to the country in 1952.
Argentina and Brazil developed nuclear programs that rivaled, if not surpassed, the scope and complexity of Mexico’s during the post–World War II era. These three nations vied for recognition as regional authorities between 1964 and 1967, as countries throughout Latin America sent delegates to Mexico City to grapple with the so-called nuclear question. Talks culminated in the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, commonly known as the Tlatelolco Treaty. The language of the agreement focused on curtailing the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also carried implications for nuclear power’s adoption as an energy source. The Tlatelolco negotiations led to the formation of two blocs: one, led by Mexico, championed a cautious approach to nuclear development, and the other, led by Argentina and Brazil, resisted limitations on such programs. Examining the varying trajectories of Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil’s respective nuclear programs illustrates how Cold War issues took on distinctly regional characteristics as government officials reinterpreted them in ways that accounted for unique national agendas.
Kristian J. Fabian and David T. Orique
A variety of useful digital resources provide material for enriching the study of Christianity in New Spain (colonial Mexico). Such records, covering the period from the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 until Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, reside in the growing digital collections in Mexico, the United States, and Europe. These repositories—such as the national archives in Mexico and Spain; specialized libraries in the United States, like the Library of Congress or the Newberry Library, university-based collections; and Mexican religious institutional sources—have searchable databases to help users in their research of Christianity in New Spain. Knowing how to navigate these databases and which keywords to use will help users find their way through the morass. Some collections also have a thematic organization around such topics as colonial art and architecture (where one can find information about churches, convents, and monasteries), indigenous pictorial manuscripts (which will illustrate the constructions of community churches, baptism activities, and the like), printed texts of all kinds (doctrine, sermons, information about indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and so on), and Inquisition records.
Nahuatl is the Latin American indigenous language having the largest number of colonial documents. As with other colonial documents, the study of these manuscripts requires mastery of the language as well as the relevant historical and philological sources. The emergence of digital repositories in Mexico, the United States, France, and other countries has made hundreds of digital images available to scholars who would not have had access to these sources otherwise. Digital repositories also contain additional tools such as morphological parsers and dictionaries. These allow users to upload new images, transcriptions, and translations, turning digital archives into veritable platforms for scholarly exchange. The irruption of digital repositories promises to effect substantial changes in the field of Nahuatl studies.
The Getty Research Institute (GRI) has an extensive collection of online digital resources, with two portals that focus on Mexico. The first portal discussed in this article is A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico, and the second portal discussed is Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology. These portals are the online versions of GRI exhibitions. Viewers of A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico will find numerous primary sources, mostly photographs, related to major historical events from 1857 to 1923. This will serve as a useful resource for scholars and students interested in photohistory. The online exhibition Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology offers a wealth of online digitized images related to Aztec art, culture, and archaeology.
Although A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico contains superb resources, the site is difficult to navigate and can result in viewers missing much of what it offers. Therefore, this article provides a road map of sorts with the goal of helping scholars and students save valuable time during the research process. This guide will greatly streamline the user experience for those navigating A Nation Emerges: Sixty-five Years of Photography in Mexico. In fact, readers may want to consider having access to this article while they are navigating the particular portal.
On the other hand, viewers will find Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Mexican Art and Archaeology much easier to navigate. As such, a general overview, rather than a detailed guide is provided for this portal to allow users to direct their research with efficiency and accuracy when navigating the site.
The article concludes with a brief discussion in the “Digitized Resources” section, of the literature, methodology, and historiography of photohistory.
Matthew Butler and David A. Bliss
The Hijuelas project is a multi-domain international collaboration that makes available in digital form a large and valuable source on nineteenth-century indigenous history––the so-called libros de hijuelas or deed books recording the statewide privatization of indigenous lands in Michoacán, Mexico. These deed books, 194 in total, have been digitized and described over a two-year period by a team of History students from Michoacán’s state university, the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás Hidalgo (UMSNH), trained by and working under the supervision of archivists of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies-Benson Latin American Collection of (LLILAS Benson) of the University of Texas at Austin. Additional logistical support has been provided by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) as a partner institution in Mexico of the University of Texas at Austin and by the state government of Michoacán via the Archivo General e Histórico del Poder Ejecutivo de Michoacán (AGHPEM), which is custodian of the hijuelas books. The project was generously funded by the British Library through its Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 931, “Conserving Indigenous Memories of Land Privatization in Mexico: Michoacán’s Libros de Hijuelas, 1719–1929”).
The project seeks to be innovative in two ways. As a post-custodial archiving project, first and foremost, it uses digital methods to make easily accessible to historians, anthropologists, and indigenous communities the only consolidated state-level record of the land privatizations (reparto de tierras) affecting Mexican indigenous communities in the 19th century. It therefore projects digitally a key source for historians and one that possesses clear identitarian and agrarian importance for indigenous communities. It also makes widely available a source that is becoming physically unstable and inaccessible because of the difficult public security conditions affecting Michoacán. As a collaboration involving diverse institutional actors, furthermore, the project brings together institutions from three different countries and is an example of what may be achieved through equitable international collaborations.
Beginning in the 1880s, the modern foundations for architecture as a profession and academic discipline were established in Latin America’s major cities. Soon thereafter, urban planning (urbanismo) began to emerge as a distinct discipline in a period of scientific and technological innovation. This rich history has been compiled, digitized, and made available to the public by two key institutions: the Facultad de Arquitectura of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (FA-UNAM) in Mexico and the Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo of the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina (FADU). Collectively, these two digital projects contain a wealth of information for scholars to research the cultural and intellectual histories of cities in both Argentina and Mexico. The primary resources available on both platforms provide valuable insights into how Latin America’s leading architects and planners analyzed, debated, and envisioned urban life in the 20th century.
Liza Bakewell and Byron Ellsworth Hamann
Mesolore: Exploring Mesoamerican Culture is a variously incarnated bilingual resource for teaching and research on indigenous Mesoamerica. The project’s first iteration began in the late 20th century, when its authors developed a CD-ROM/Internet hybrid and released it on two discs in 2001. This version of the project centered on three interactive primary-source Ñudzavui documents from Oaxaca, Mexico: the prehispanic Codex Nuttall, the Codex Selden (c. 1560), and the Mixtec Vocabulario of Francisco de Alvarado (1593). Ten tutorials on Ñudzavui writing and culture, three introductory video lectures, an interdisciplinary gallery of scholarly portraits, four audio debates, and an atlas supported these core materials.
The explosion of broadband Internet at the dawn of the 21st century suddenly made it possible to deliver Mesolore’s high-resolution images and multimedia content online—and simultaneously sounded the death-knell for the CD-ROM as a medium. The second phase of the project therefore worked to gather funding for an online reincarnation and expansion of the project’s core content to include three documents from Nahua Central Mexico: the Matrícula de Tributos (c. 1519), the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (c. 1552), and the Nahua vocabulary of Alonso de Molina (1555). Like their Oaxacan predecessors, these three documents were supported by ten tutorials. Also new for the online relaunch was an archive of hundreds of primary-source alphabetic documents transcribed from physical archives in Mexico, Spain, and the United States. In addition the authors and designers redesigned Mesolore’s atlas to allow for better comparison of the geographic scope of the four core pictorial primary sources (the Nuttall, the Selden, the Matrícula, and the Lienzo). After much drama involving funding agencies, incompetent designers, and incompetent programmers, mesolore.org went live late in 2012, just in time for the non-Apocalypse on December 21.
Although Mesolore’s creators now focus on print publications delivered on paper, their efforts to offer democratically accessible, multidisciplinary pedagogical and research materials to any and all users, as well as translate three-dimensional painted manuscripts into the light of computer screens, generated productive inquiry. Furthermore the detailed interpretations of text offered from the outset insights into how those documents communicated visual information at various scales, as well as how the differing scales of their geographical representations connected to 16th-century political claims.
Digital Resources: The Mexican Digital Library, BDMx (Mexican National Council for Culture and the Arts)
Andrea Martínez Baracs
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
The Biblioteca Digital Mexicana (BDMx) provides access—for the average user as well as for students and scholars—to significant historical materials, "unpublished or very rare," as was said in the second half of the nineteenth century, the golden age of Mexican historiography. The BDMx is not concerned with documents that have a principally symbolic value (such as autographs or decrees about the founding of cities); rather, it deals with those with high cultural density, whose value is not diminished upon their first reading. Finally, the BDMx contains only materials that are not already easily found online, which, unfortunately, excludes a great number of very valuable works.
This initiative was founded and directed with the support of a directorial council comprised of the directors of four important Mexican institutions connected to Mexican history and culture: the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia (BNAH), the Centro de Estudios de Historia de México (CEHM-Carso), and the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (Conaculta). With this institutional backing, the BDMx has been able to add eight additional archives and libraries, and it continues to grow.
The AGN houses most national historical archives; the BNAH holds the main Mesoamerican Codices collection of the country, and its Colección Antigua has long been appreciated by scholars, with holdings such as the Franciscan Archives collection; CEHM-Carso is a private library that has acquired unique archival collections; Conaculta is our Ministry of Culture and, as such, has under its wing many regional museums, important photography collections, and more. The BDMx also works closely with the Universidad Iberoamericana's Biblioteca Francisco Xavier Clavijero, a private library that holds the Porfirio Díaz Archives and much more. And the Mapoteca Manuel Orozco y Berra, founded in the nineteenth century, holds a trove of historical maps.
The BDMx chooses the documents by common agreement with the curators of these collections. It looks for variety in the types of documents and supportive materials (books, other publications, manuscripts, pictography, photography, lithography, and so on). The themes are self-selected, due to their own worth and because they might mark an important anniversary or a centennial. Up to the present, some of the principal selections have been Mesoamerican codices, the unpublished oeuvre of Guillén de Lampart, ancient maps and plans, and the work of Rodrigo de Vivero.
Each item is accompanied by a historiographical introduction that aims to be up to date and relevant. The user is distracted with nothing other than the presentation of the documents, in a clean and friendly format. And the worth of the project lies in the quality of the documents. This is an example where less is more.
Digital Resources: Power of Attorney, A Digital Spatial History of Indigenous Legal Culture in Colonial Oaxaca, Mexico
“Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks” is an ongoing digital research project that constructs a geography of indigenous legal culture through digital maps and visualizations. The
“Power of Attorney in Oaxaca, Mexico: Native People, Legal Culture, and Social Networks” is an ongoing digital research project that constructs a geography of indigenous legal culture through digital maps and visualizations. The Power of Attorney (
The multiscalar narrative of the Power of Attorney project speaks to multiple audiences, and the digital multimedia format allows visitors to further tailor their interactions with information. The site operates on many levels. It provides maps and visualizations based on original research, data culled from primary sources that can be used as a research tool, historical and geographical background information, information about how to read letters of attorney, and microhistorical narratives of power of attorney relationships. For undergraduates learning about the relationship between Spanish administration and pueblos de indios, the maps and visualizations provide an at-a-glance overview of the spatial and social connections among Indian towns, ecclesiastical and viceregal courts, and the court of the king in Madrid from the perspective of an indigenous region rather than a top-down perspective. Graduate students and scholars interested in the production of notarial records in native jurisdictions, social history and ethnohistorical methodology and the relationship between local and transatlantic processes can explore the maps, visualizations, and data in greater detail. An educated general audience interested in the history of Oaxaca’s native peoples can find a general introduction to the region, its history and geography, and the long-standing relationship between Mexico’s native people and the law.
Jacinto Barrera Bassols and Verónica Buitrón Escamilla
The Ricardo Flores Magón digital archive archivomagon (2008) is a website, constantly updated, that offers scholars and the interested public systematized information regarding Ricardo Flores Magón, the Mexican Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Mexicano, or PLM), and the magonista sociopolitical movement. The main text that make up this site include a complete run of the newspapers Regeneración (1900–1918, Mexico City, San Antonio, Saint Louis, and Los Angeles) and Revolución (1907–1908, Los Angeles), a compilation of the complete works of Ricardo Flores Magón, and a biographical dictionary of magonismo. It also offers other related tools: an interactive timeline of Ricardo Flores Magón’s life, a digital library with bibliographical and rare hemerographic material, and an image gallery of his portraits.
In addition to being the official outlets of the PLM, Regeneración and Revolución were important platforms Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magón (1876–1922) used to disseminate his writings. These weeklies are also key to understanding the political and ideological trajectory of its drafting group, headed by the members of the Organizing Board of the Mexican Liberal Party (Junta Organizadora del Partido Liberal Mexicano, JOPLM). Ricardo Flores Magón, his brother Enrique, Antonio de Pío Araujo, William C. Owen (external editor), Praxedis G. Guerrero, Rafael Romero Palacios, Teodoro M. Gaitán, Antonio I. Villarreal, Librado Rivera, and R. G. Cox (external editor), were the authors of more than 70 percent of the articles in both publications. These publications are also invaluable sources for the history of militant networks, of liberal organizations both in Mexico and in the southwestern United States, especially California, Arizona, and Texas, as well as the living and working conditions of Mexican migrants in that region. PLM is considered the first binational political organization (Mexico–United States). Finally, these publications include a systematic chronicling of the Mexican Revolution, whose value lies in both its particular focus and the sources used.
The archivomagon is being developed by the Dirección de Estudios Históricos del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (DEH-INAH, México) (Department of Historical Studies of the National Institute of Anthropology and History) under the responsibility of Dr. Jacinto Barrera Bassols (coordinator) and Verónica Buitrón Escamilla.
Celeste González de Bustamante and Verónica Reyes-Escudero
The Documented Border: An Open Access Digital Archive combines creative and research strategies to contribute to the digital humanities. Officially launched in October 2014, the project advances understanding about the borderlands between the United States and Mexico and their peoples during a period of unprecedented change. As a repository and interactive tool, the open-access archive is useful for faculty and student research, journalists, and the community at large.
Currently, the archive divides into two parts. The first part focuses on journalists and human rights activists, and it includes the oral histories of journalists who cover northern Mexico from both sides of the border and human rights activists who are working to improve freedom of expression in Mexico. More than a hundred journalists in Mexico have been murdered since 2000. The oral histories help to illuminate the complex environment in which journalists must work as they negotiate between political and economic forces and the need to inform the public. The second part of the archive features the inner workings of US immigration policies through the documentation (artists’ illustrations) of Operation Streamline, a “streamlined” federal-court proceeding in which a judge determines the status of migrants who are detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
A unique aspect of the Documented Border is its living-archive status. As archives in general struggle to close the gap in the representation of underrepresented communities in the historical record, the Documented Border Digital Archive has gotten in front of current research and primary-source documentation. The archive not only presents the documentation being created by interdisciplinary researchers in digital form but also donates it to the institution to ensure long-term preservation and access. The project forms part of the Borderlands Collection of the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections.
Humanizing Deportation is a community archive of digital stories (testimonial video shorts) that recounts personal experiences related to deportation and deportability. The largest qualitative archive in the world on this topic, its bilingual (English/Spanish) open access website, as of March 2020, holds close to 300 digital stories by nearly 250 different community storytellers and continues to expand. All digital stories are created and directed by the community storytellers themselves. While the vast majority of the stories were created by Mexican migrants currently living in Mexico’s largest border cities (Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez), and other major urban metropolitan regions (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey), it also includes some stories of migrants living in the United States, as well as other migrants, many in transit, passing through Mexico from such countries as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, and as far from North America as Cameroon. Launched in 2017, Humanizing Deportation’s teams of academic facilitators remain active, and the archive continues to grow.
The John D. Wheelan Collection primarily contains photographs taken along the Texas-Mexico border in the areas of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, México. The processed collection, housed at Texas A&M University’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, comprises nearly 700 photographs documenting the Mexican Revolution and the war’s spillover into the United States, during a span of 1912 to 1919. Other portions of the image collection document American soldiers stationed in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. The images have been digitized as JP2 files and can be viewed at the library’s institutional repository as well as downloaded. While most of the photographs derive from the film stock shot for The Life of General Villa, there are also portraits, scenes of daily life, and landscapes produced by El Paso studio photographers, photo postcards, and postcards. With the exception of some postcards, nearly all the images are black and white. The photos themselves vary in their measurements, though 3.5" x 5" and 5" x 7" predominate; each image’s dimensions is included in the accompanying metadata found in the repository.
John Wheelan, already active in the fledging Texan motion picture industry, was one of numerous reporters and photographers who covered the Mexican Revolution. He probably arrived in northern Mexico early in the winter of 1913–1914, when General Francisco “Pancho” Villa held Ciudad Juárez. Villa was considered the most able military commander among the Constitutionalists, a loose coalition of revolutionaries against General Victoriano Huerta’s provisional government. In February 1913, Huerta had conspired in the overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of President Francisco Madero. Villa, an ardent supporter of Madero, was one of several leaders in northern Mexico who were fighting for both the restoration of constitutional government and revolutionary agrarian land reforms.
Mexican History/Historia Mexicana (MH/HM) is a Facebook page dedicated to bringing together the world’s academic and popular masses in their interest of Mexican history. As of 2016, there are over 1300 members of the page, and posts garner one to three hundred views, though some posts or posted links have reached three to five thousand unique views.
The Facebook page grew out of the frustration of this author with the slow and censored listserv system that serves as the main forum for scholars of Mexican history. In addition, there was a desire to reach private scholars and members of the public who are generally excluded from the listserv systems. In December 2011, the author and another scholar joined together in creating a Facebook page that would, in the words of the page description, serve as “a forum for the free exchange of information on the history and related culture and events of Mexico.” In late 2012 a third scholar joined them as operators, managers, and editors of the page.
Material is selected in Spanish and English (and occasionally indigenous Mexican languages) related to Mexican history or events of historical importance. Generally, the goals of the page are to provide items of interest to the general public, resources to professional researchers that they may not know about, and well-known resources for new researchers. Information is provided on events or presentations related to the preservation of Mexican History, important new research works, and items of curiosity that simply pique theinterest of the operators. There is no systematic approach to content; instead, information is posted as a free-form collective, free of censorship. Members of the community are also welcome to post materials or queries and to comment and discuss topics on history and related items of culture and current events.
Bradley Skopyk and Elinor G. K. Melville
The onset of Spanish imperial rule in Mexico in 1521 had profound consequences well beyond the political and cultural spheres. It also altered Mexico’s environment, reconstituting the region’s ecology as new fauna, flora, and microorganisms were added and as the population dynamics of native Mexican biota fluctuated in response to Old World arrivals. While the consequences of myriad interactions between native and non-native species were vast and complex, it was the decimation of indigenous persons by pathogens that was one of the first biological consequences of colonization (in fact, occurring first in 1520, one year before the fall of the Aztec state) and one of the most important. Mexican human populations were reduced by 80 to 90 percent, effecting cascading ecological consequences across the physical and biological geography of Mexico. Forests regenerated, terraced slopes degraded, and much of the Mexican landscape lost its anthropogenic aspect. Simultaneously, ungulate introductions transformed Mexican flora and likely initiated soil erosion in some regions that, when transported to fluvial environments, disrupted the flow of rivers. On the other hand, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, and other ungulates altered plant communities through selective seed dispersion. New economic pursuits such as brick making and silver mining increased demand for heat energy that, in an unprecedented manner, encouraged intensive forest usage and, probably, regional deforestation, although empirical data on historical forest cover are still lacking.
Severe climate variability, of a scale not experienced for at least five hundred years and perhaps many millennia, occurred simultaneously with colonial-induced ecological change. A significant conquest-era drought was followed by one of the coolest and wettest periods of the Holocene; a strong pluvial in the Mexican context lasted from 1540 to around 1620. Subsequent anomalies of both temperature (cold) and precipitation (either wet or dry) occurred in the 1640s and 1650s, and from the 1690s until about 1705. Together, these climate anomalies are known as the core Little Ice Age, and initiated agrarian transitions, hazardous flooding, prolonged droughts, epidemics, epizootics, and recurring agrarian crises that destabilized human health and spurred high rates of mortality. Soil degradation and suppressed forest cover are also likely outcomes of this process. Although debate abounds regarding the timing, extent, and causes of soil and water degradation, there is little doubt that extensive degradation occurred and destabilized late-colonial and early-Republic societies.