The success and longevity of the presidency of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1880, 1884–1911) was based on a modus vivendi between the two most prominent political cultures that emerged in Mexico following the struggle for independence at the beginning of the 19th century. On the one hand were the complex networks of patriarchal authority and patronage, and the exercise of power through personal rather than institutional authority, which have always been (and still are) a structural feature of political life in the Hispanic world. These informal and hierarchical networks were described by Octavio Paz as the “Culture of the Pyramid,” alluding to their precolonial and pre-Columbian origins; they an essential feature of caudillismo (authoritarian politics or “boss rule”). On the other hand was what Octavio Paz described as the “Culture of Citizenship,” composed of liberalism, constitutionalism, and the rule of law, which were products themselves of the long and painful struggle to build the state and the nation over the course of the 19th century. The hypothesis presented here is that Porfirio Díaz not only understood but was able to combine these contradictory political cultures and to create a hybrid authoritarian/liberal regime which dominated Mexican political life for over three decades and provided an unprecedented period of political stability in stark contrast to the first 50 years of independence.
Diego Pulido Esteva
Social life during the Porfiriato (1877–1911) was marked by constant tension between a strict moral code and practices that varied widely according to class. In recent years, research about this period has centered on the study of myriad social practices. Renewed with diverse methodologies and perspectives, this research has contributed to understanding what has been known as “the objective social conditions,” to further explore identities through class, race, and gender. Urban contexts have been the primary focus of this new approach to social history, particularly in regard to Mexico City.
From 1870 to 1911, the population of Mexico City doubled from 200,000 to 471,000 inhabitants, while the urban area expanded from 5.28 to 25.16 square miles (8.5 to 40.5 square kilometers). Social practices during Porfirian modernization reveal different experiences according to each social sector: elites, the middle class, the working class, and marginalized groups in the cities. The subject is rather broad, so urban social spaces need to be examined, since they constitute an important point of departure to analyze the changes experienced during this period by the different social classes; these included the transformation of gender norms, and even ethnic distinctions, emanating from racist attitudes from the elites’ perspective.
The elites imposed customs based on etiquette codes adopted from European models. The desire to abandon traditional, backward, and savage society to become a modern, progressive, and civilized one had led the ruling class to promote disciplinary institutions. In the urban environment, a complex mixture of moralist, hygienist, and scientific discourses pointed to a gap between ideal behavior models and actual social practices. The elites expected society to comply with strict norms that were bent or simply broken by social practices. In that sense, each social sector unfolded its own strategies and attitudes when faced with these codes, and study of them allows for a concise overview of the elite, middle class, working class, and marginalized people.
European empires would have not existed absent private enterprise both licit and illicit. Private traders, in the first instance, sustained colonies by conveying the labor and merchandise that planters required in exchange for the exports that colonies produced. Moreover, those colonies would not have existed in the first place absent private initiatives since European states in the 16th and 17th centuries customarily lacked the administrative and fiscal resources and often the inclination to oversee such projects. Individual or corporate adventurers, though, did possess such resources and inclination; legitimate operators secured government authority for their activities pursuant to charters that drew upon medieval forms and granted extraordinary powers to their recipients. Under the terms of these documents, grantees pursued public purposes—as they would be called today—that their activities entailed in conjunction with their pursuit of profit. The results of this practice included the establishment of colonies that spanned the Atlantic basin from the Madeira Islands to Newfoundland to Brazil; the emergence of colonial leaderships who pursued their own agendas while they ingratiated themselves into trans-Atlantic political cultures; and incessant conflict over territorial and commercial agendas that involved indigenous people as well as Europeans. Other operators did not bother with legitimacy as they pursued smuggling, piracy, and colonizing ventures that also contributed profoundly to imperial expansion. The domestic and international friction generated by these activities ultimately brought increased state involvement in overseas affairs and increased state ability to direct those affairs.
Andrés Ríos Molina
In Mexico, there were hospitals for the “demented” from the early years of the Spanish colony. It was not until the second half of the 19th century, however, that the first physicians interested in alterations of the brain published articles on the etiology, symptomatology, and treatment of mental illnesses. Within a larger context of health reforms launched during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), known as the Porfiriato, healthcare officials decided to close the hospitals for the insane and construct a modern institution where psychiatry could grow as a discipline and where patients could be treated using scientific methods. Furthermore, along with the economic and cultural development that took place during the Porfiriato, there was an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospitals for the insane, while at the same time the number of doctors interested in the clinical treatment of mental illnesses increased, as well. The officials’ decision became a reality on September 1, 1910—just two months before the Revolution broke out—when La Castañeda General Asylum was opened. It was a complex of twenty-four buildings in the town of Mixcoac. In addition to being an institution for patient care, it was also where the first generations of Mexican psychiatrists and neurologists were trained. As early as the 1930s, the asylum began to have problems with overcrowding, unhealthy conditions, and deterioration of the facilities. The doctors there repeatedly called for the patient care system to be restructured. In 1944, a psychiatric reform called the “Castañeda Operation” began, seeking to decentralize psychiatric care and to use agricultural work as a therapeutic tool. The result was the creation of seven new hospitals and the permanent closure of the asylum in 1968. Recent historiography on psychiatry from its beginnings in the Porfiriato to the time of that reform have shown that it was a period marked by the rise and fall of a utopian dream, that of the therapeutic effectiveness of psychiatric internment. It was a transition from the single, large asylum in the capital city to a network of hospitals that relied on outpatient care, early detection, and medication as a way to dismantle the asylum model. As a result, La Castañeda General Asylum has held a privileged place in historical study as the stage for the beginning, the development, and the consolidation of Mexican psychiatry.
The prevention of communicable diseases, the containment of epidemic disorders, and the design of programs and the implementation of public health policies went through important transformations in Mexico, as in other Latin American nations, between the final decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. During that period not only did the advances in medical science make possible the identification and containment of numerous contagious diseases; it was also a time when the consolidation of formal medical institutions and their interaction with both national and international actors contributed to shape the definitions and solutions of public health problems. Disease prevention strategies were influenced by medical, scientific, and technical innovations and by the political values and commitments of the period, and Mexico experienced profound and far-reaching political, economic, and social transformations: the apogee, crisis, and downfall of the long Porfirio Díaz regime (1876–1910), the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and the period of national reconstruction (1920–1940). Thus, during the period under consideration, and alongside the consolidation of an official medical apparatus as an integral part of public power, the promotion of public health became a crucial element to reinforce the political unification and the social and economic strength of the country.
Pablo A. Piccato
Free speech was a greater concern for Mexican politicians, legislators, and intellectuals during the 19th century than electoral democracy. This can be easily verified by looking at the large number of laws, decrees, trials, appeals, and polemics provoked by contradictory efforts to guarantee the right to express reasonable opinions, formulated since the 1812 Cádiz Constitution, and the concern to limit that freedom for the preservation of stability, morality, religion, and honor. Mexican public men spent considerably more energy reading and arguing about written words than counting votes. Yet the historiography of Mexican liberalism has, for the most part, stressed the history of frustrated attempts to expand representation and thus consolidate sovereignty. This article looks at the public sphere as a space for but also of contention. Politics, as was understood by most political agents of the time, took place in that virtual space, and a good part of political conflict revolved around the right to speak on behalf of public opinion. The broader arc to be described here starts with the contentious and romantic decades since the 1857 Constitution consecrated free speech and press juries and moves through the taming of the press using legal reforms and politically motivated prosecutions under Porfirio Díaz, to the consolidation of a new order in which a diverse and prosperous press struck an understanding with the post revolutionary regime to constrain the possibilities of political debate, around 1930.
At midcentury, the expansion of a middle class, rapid urbanization, and rising literacy rates transformed Mexico’s public sphere. Available reading material and access to television expanded significantly, fostering the creation of new publics across the country. Civic associations and cultural centers also offered spaces of sociability where civil society contested the prevailing political culture. The 1960s and 1970s further witnessed mounting public protests, popular movements, and guerrilla warfare. During these decades, print media gradually voiced greater criticism of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and regional journalists were often the most confrontational. In the decades since, the issues and voices represented by media have diversified, while journalists have also faced increased insecurity and violence.
Pulque, the alcoholic beverage of pre-Columbian highland Mesoamerica is the fermented derivative of aguamiel, the juice or sap of the agave known as agave pulquero—principally Agave salmiana. Aguamiel is a sweet, somewhat heavy juice that collects in a scraped out basin in the heart of the agave pulquero and, unless refrigerated, rapidly ferments into the alcoholic pulque. The agents of fermentation are ambient and plant-colonizing bacteria and yeasts. Fresh pulque is a frothy, cloudy brew with a slightly sour taste, usually containing around 2 percent alcohol or somewhat higher, meaning it can be drunk in large quantities without intoxicating the imbiber. Although it is a nutritious drink, consumption was condemned by Spaniards in varying degrees during the Colonial Period. Its popularity in contemporary southern Mexico is increasing after more than a century of persecution and public disparagement. Pulque figures prominently in pre- and post-Columbian Mesoamerican history.
Production of tequila and mezcal is completely different from production of pulque. The former are distilled from the pressed juice (tepache) of macerated and roasted hearts of certain agaves. The juice is fermented in vats for several days, then heated in a still, evaporated, and condensed. Tequila, by law is made from A. tequilana, and mezcal by custom is made primarily from A. angustifolia. Both these distillates contain about 40 percent alcohol. Pulque is a naturally occurring product consumed by native peoples for at least two millennia. Tequila and mezcal are industrial products derived from processes introduced into the Americas by Europeans.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the Mexican populace demonstrated a fascination with the nation’s railroads. Newspapers, literature, poetry, music, and art focused their attention on the symbolic power of the locomotive, revealing its capacity to reshape people’s social and cultural worlds. As the most potent symbol of progress and civilization, the arrival of the iron horse offered both powerholders and ordinary individuals the opportunity to imagine new possibilities for their nation and themselves, musings that could be highly optimistic or dreadfully distrustful. The locomotive emerged as a ubiquitous symbol throughout the restored republic (1867–1876), the Porfiriato (1876–1911), and the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) that inspired individuals to reflect on the meaning of an array of issues: modernization, cosmopolitanism, citizenship, sovereignty, and national identity. During the restored republic and Porfiriato, government officials and the press celebrated the railway as the dawning of new age of peace and prosperity, discourses that often sought to legitimize and justify sitting presidents and their policymaking. At the same time, popular and opposition groups used the symbolic power of the railway to question the decision-making of the elite that had resulted in extreme social inequality and foreign economic domination. These divisions were a portent of the conflicts that would spark the 1910 Revolution, a popular struggle where railroads and railway workers played principal protagonists. As such, the railroad emerged in a new context as a symbol to represent the heroism, violence, and disorder of those years.
Rediscovering the Aztecs and Mayas: Field Exploration, Archaeological Exhibits, and National Museums
Kevin M. Gosner
In the last decades of the 18th century, with the visit in 1784 of José Antonio Calderón to the Maya ruins at Palenque and the discovery in 1790 of the statue of Coatlicue and the Stone of the Sun in the central plaza of Mexico City, the study of ancient Mexico entered a new era. In the century that followed, teams of field surveyors, mapmakers, graphic artists, and artifact collectors worked across central and southern Mexico as well as in Guatemala. Some were commissioned by the Spanish Crown or later by national governments; many arrived from England, France, Germany, and eventually the United States. Early on they worked side by side with geologists, geographers, and field biologists as part of natural history expeditions, accumulating collections of artifacts that would be displayed in curiosity cabinets and early museums alongside trays of colorful butterflies and stuffed tropical birds. And then, as foreign travel books won popular audiences in Europe and the United States, and as international investors arrived in Mexico and Central America, archaeology also was taken up by enthusiastic amateurs looking to sell books, build private collections, or organize international trade fairs.
For serious students of ancient history, field exploration and advances in archaeological record-keeping transformed a body of research and scientific speculation that since the 16th century had been dominated by theologians, historians, and philologists, who studied Spanish chronicles and native language annals but paid scant attention to the remnants of material culture. In the process, Aztecs and Maya were rediscovered as historical subjects, their histories disconnected from that of contemporary Indian peasants and recast as rivals to the great civilizations of the Old World. Ruins of monumental architecture, recovered artifacts in sculptured stone or finely crafted metals, and ancient texts inscribed on wooden lintels and bark cloth were reclaimed as part of national patrimonies to be protected by new state agencies and displayed in modern museums. On January 20, 1911, the International School for American Archaeology and Ethnology formally opened in Mexico City, and this formative period in the archaeological study of ancient peoples ended. Manuel Gamio introduced the study of stratigraphy to fieldwork practices in Mexico and the discipline was transformed once again.
Paul Vanderwood and Robert Weis
By revealing the weaknesses of its political system and the fragmentation of its social fabric, Mexico’s devastating loss to the United States in 1848 forced a reexamination of the nation’s very foundation. It also emboldened leaders to redouble efforts to either refashion Mexico into a modern, democratic republic or strengthen colonial-era institutions that had ensured unity and stability despite cultural and regional heterogeneity.
Those who hoped to modernize Mexico were the liberals. Their ideas regarding the depth and pace of change varied considerably. But they coalesced around broad principles—democracy, secularism, and capitalism—that, they insisted, would help Mexico overcome the vestiges of colonialism. In pursuit of equality under the law, liberals proposed to dismantle legal privileges for nobles, ecclesiastics, and the military. In order to stimulate the economy, they wanted to force corporate entities, especially the church, to sell their lands to individual owners. Finally, liberals sought to establish the primacy of the state by granting civil leaders authority over the church.
Conservatives countered that the liberal program and its exotic ideas constituted an attack on Mexico’s Hispanic Catholic legacy and would only further weaken the nation. It was a chimera, if not demagoguery, to declare the equality of citizens in a society where the masses were illiterate, isolated hamlets who barely spoke Spanish, and residents in the far-flung regions regarded national rule with deep suspicion. Conservatives feared that the liberal program would foster more of the peasant revolts, threats of regional succession, and racial antagonism that had roiled the nation since independence. They wanted to conserve the pillars of order—the military and the Catholic Church—reinstate monarchism, and curtail political participation. Liberals and conservatives vociferously debated these divergent visions in the public forum. But ultimately their differences plunged the country into civil war.
Jennifer L. Jenkins
The visual and technical culture of the Mexican Revolution shaped and was shaped by cinematic innovation in newsreel and fiction filmmaking, which evolved simultaneously with those social changes, presenting the image of those changes for the first time to Mexican audiences. While Russian Sergei Eisenstein has been (wrongly) credited with inventing Mexican cinema, a strong tradition of family-based production units existed long before Eisenstein’s visit and persists to this day. From the earliest newsreels of the conflict to the melodramas and historical epics of the epoca de oro, the Revolution infused cinematic narrative in the first half of the 20th century. As such, distinctive visual tropes and film language evolved in response and counterdistinction to Revolutionary ideals. Moving toward midcentury, cinema developed genres and narratives that continually revisioned the Revolution, creating the epoca de oro films. In this period, the film industry developed in direct correlation to the agendas of the sitting presidents, Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940), Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–1946), and Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946–1952). Influential directors Fernándo de Fuentes, Emilio Fernández, and Spanish immigrant Luis Buñuel, along with cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, shaped the charter myths of modern Mexico though their cinematic works. At midcentury, with the advent of television and a postwar economic boom, Revolution-themed films appeared in near-continuous playback on television, while Buñuel inaugurated a cinema of realism that explored the harsher realities of the failure of Revolutionary ideals for the urban underclasses. The cultural imaginary that is cinema continued this exploration up to and after the tragedies of 1968.
Joseph U. Lenti
For seventy-five years the Mexican government allocated private and public land to people who needed it—and lots of it. An average of 1.3 million hectares were redistributed annually from 1917 to 1992, for a total of nearly 1 million square kilometers, or, almost exactly half of the nation’s arable area. On the other hand, serious flaws in government policy, coupled with macroeconomic, demographic, and environmental phenomena, undermined the program and turned its signature component, the ejido, into a synonym for rural backwardness and poverty. Thus, in spite of the astonishing volume of redistributed land, many assert that revolutionary land reform in Mexico failed: that it did not permanently improve the lives of rural land recipients as much as convert them into clients of the government.
Kevan Antonio Aguilar
The political and cultural legacy of Ricardo Flores Magón (b. San Antonio Eloxochitlán, September 16, 1873; d. U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, November 21, 1922,) has become an integral component of the histories of the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans and Chicanos in the United States, and global social revolutions. Despite being deemed by historians and the Mexican state as a “precursor” of the national revolution, Flores Magón’s political activities preceded and surpassed the accepted chronology of the Revolution (1910–1920), as well as the borders of Mexico. While historical literature on the Revolution is extensive, the global and radical implications of the event as a social revolution are often underappreciated.
Through the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM, Mexican Liberal Party) and the newspaper Regeneración (Regeneration), Flores Magón mobilized a transnational social movement in 1906 and continued to inspire popular revolt through his writings on anarchism and revolution until his death in 1922. Many of the members of the PLM (often inaccurately referred to as ideological adherents to Flores Magón, or magonistas) continued to participate in revolutionary activity well after the organization disbanded. Even in death, Flores Magón continues to inspire revolutionary movements in Mexico, the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The history of Ricardo Flores Magón therefore intersects with various local and global histories of resistance throughout the 20th century.
When the anthropologist Paul Kirchhoff proposed a new definition of Mesoamerica in a landmark study from 1943, the first common characteristics he identified were technological and agricultural: the use of the digging-stick (coa) and “the construction of gardens by reclaiming land from lakes (chinampas).” For thousands of years, Native peoples across Mesoamerica drew on their technological innovations to devise bountiful kinds of farming that have been as diverse as the environments in which they were created. All of their farming systems required some degree of intervention in nature, be it through domesticating plants, tilling the soil, or altering the physical environment by making terraces and harnessing water supplies. On an essential level, then, technology and agriculture went hand in hand. Of the many kinds of Mesoamerican farming, the one that arguably modified the environment the most was a distinctive kind of wetland agriculture in which Nahuas—or Aztecs, the speakers of the Nahuatl language—constructed raised garden beds, known as chinampas, in the shallow, freshwater lakes of the Basin of Mexico.
At the heart of this zone of wetland agriculture was the ancient city of Xochimilco. There the raised gardens filled the surrounding lake of the same name, and eventually came to cover a vast area of some 120 square kilometers. The construction and the intensive cultivation of the chinampas required a considerable investment of time and effort, a good deal of technical expertise, and the mastery of specialist skills and knowledge, including hydrology and engineering so as to manage water levels in the lakes through complex irrigation works. The intensive farming of the fertile, well-irrigated gardens, which could be cultivated year round, yielded sizable harvests of maize and other crops. So productive was chinampa agriculture that scholars have considered it one of the most abundant kinds of farming ever devised. As a technological innovation and environmental adaptation, the chinampas were crucial to changes in Mexican history: they generated surpluses sufficient for urbanization and the rise of Tenochtitlan, one of the early modern world’s great cities, as well as the expansion of the Aztec Empire. The chinampas remained important for the provisioning of the capital long after the Spanish conquest, and in spite of the desiccation of the Basin of Mexico, they are still cultivated in a few places today.
Antonio López de Santa Anna (b. Xalapa, February 21, 1794; d. Mexico City, June 21, 1876) was one of the most notorious military caudillos of 19th-century Mexico. He was involved in just about every major event of the early national period and served as president on six different occasions (1833–1835, 1839, 1841–1843, 1843–1844, 1846–1847, and 1853–1855). U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary Waddy Thompson during the 1840s would come to the conclusion that: “No history of his country for that period can be written without constant mention of his name.”1 For much of the 1820s to 1850s he proved immensely popular; the public celebrated him as “Liberator of Veracruz,” the “Founder of the Republic,” and the “Hero of Tampico” who repulsed a Spanish attempt to reconquer Mexico in 1829. Even though he lost his leg defending Veracruz from a French incursion in 1838, many still regarded him as the only general who would be able to save Mexico from the U.S. intervention of 1846–1848. However, Mexicans, eventually, would remember him more for his defeats than his victories. Having won the battle of the Alamo, he lost the battle of San Jacinto which resulted in Texas becoming independent from Mexico in 1836. Although he recovered from this setback, many subsequently blamed him for Mexico’s traumatic defeat in the U.S.-Mexican War, which ended with Mexico ceding half of its territory to the United States. His corruption paired with the fact that he aligned himself with competing factions at different junctures contributed to the accusation that he was an unprincipled opportunist. Moreover, because he authorized the sale of La Mesilla Valley to the United States (in present-day southern Arizona) in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, he was labeled a vendepatrias (“fatherland-seller”). The repressive dictatorship he led donning the title of “His Serene Highness” in 1853–1855, also gave way to him being presented thereafter as a bloodthirsty tyrant, even though his previous terms in office were not dictatorial. Albeit feted as a national hero during much of his lifetime, historians have since depicted Santa Anna as a cynical turncoat, a ruthless dictator, and the traitor who lost the U.S.-Mexican War on purpose. However, recent scholarship has led to a significant revision of this interpretation. The aim of this article is to recast our understanding of Santa Anna and his legacy bearing in mind the latest findings. In the process it demonstrates how important it is to engage with the complexities of the multilayered regional and national contexts of the time in order to understand the politics of Independent Mexico.
While several indigenous languages from the Americas have been alphabetized and written, no Native American language has such an extensive corpus of historical texts as Nahuatl, the language of the Nahuas or Aztecs of central Mexico. Writing in Nahuatl but using Latin letters, colonial Nahua scribes or tlahcuilohqueh produced an unparalleled outpouring of texts throughout the colonial period. Prior to the Conquest, the Nahuas recorded information in codices, which consisted of pictographic glyphs painted on sheets of bark paper, analogous to European books. They thus readily perceived the parallels between their pictographic codices and European alphabetic texts and quickly saw the utility and potential of the new technology. All that was needed was an introduction to European writing techniques. For the most part, this came in the form of friars, some of whom established schools for elite Nahuas, such as the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco in the latter part of the 1530s. Some Nahuas likely also learned writing from professional Spanish scribes as well. These students of the friars and lay Spaniards would soon teach other Nahuas to write, such that only a few years after the opening of the Colegio, Nahua scribes, working entirely on their own, were producing written texts. These scribes then taught others, and by the 1550s Nahuatl alphabetic writing became a self-sustaining, independent tradition that touched nearly every corner of the Nahua world. Alphabetic writing overtook indigenous glyphs, and by the 17th century most Nahuatl texts were entirely alphabetic. Last wills and testaments made up the bulk of scribal output, along with other “mundane” Nahuatl documents of financial, legal, or governmental matters, which have proven highly illuminating to historians. There were also annals; local histories stretching back to preconquest times; and plays, songs, and speeches (huehuehtlahtolli). Nahua scribal culture thrived until the 19th century, when opposition to it from both the Spanish Crown and, later, the independent Mexican nation made Nahuatl texts obsolete and superfluous.
The Cristero Rebellion (1926–1929), also known as La Cristiada, was a conflict between the Catholic Church and the Mexican government. The Catholics, especially from western states, rose up in arms against the anticlerical and pro-agrarian measures of President Plutarco Elías Calles’s government (1924–1928). General Joaquín Amaro, Minister of War, was charged with fighting the Cristeros in various regions of Mexico. Certain army generals, unable to conquer the Cristeros on the battlefields, triumphed when negotiating the road to peace with certain priests and Cristero leaders. In the higher echelons, two bishops, Pascual Díaz y Barreto and Leopoldo Ruiz y Flores, arranged, with President Emilio Portes Gil (1928–1930), an end to the conflict. The known “arrangements” between church and state were agreed upon, officially, on June 22, 1929. Once the conflict was formally over, General Amaro planned for the writing of an authorized version of the Cristero uprising. For this, he created the Historical Commission within the Ministry of War. The commission, according to Amaro’s orders, would produce, beginning with military documents, its own version of what had happened during the war. The soldiers turned “historians” would present their interpretation to their colleagues as well as to future generations. In spite of this, in the end the version that was disseminated was that of the former Cristeros. General Amaro failed a second time upon trying to pacify newer generations.
The control and eradication of smallpox have been among the most studied and chronicled topics in histories of health and medicine, which is not coincidental considering the dramatic nature of the disease, the official measures developed to deal with it, and the declaration in 1980 by the World Health Organization of its global eradication. Smallpox first erupted in Mexico-Tenochtitlán in 1520 during the Spanish conquest, and in 1952 the health authorities and the federal government declared that that long-feared disease had finally been eradicated there. Numerous historical studies have perpetuated the image of a single smallpox campaign in Mexico, free from conflicts, problems, and inertia. Recent scholarship, however, has increasingly emphasized that smallpox vaccination efforts were not homogenous or consistent, that they were not pursued equally in all geographic and cultural regions, and that vaccination strategies and campaigns gradually became less coercive and more selective and persuasive.
Mexico had an exceptionally diverse population during the 16th and 17th centuries, including Indigenous peoples of different ethnicities (in the majority), Iberians, and forced migrants from Africa and Asia, who related to one another in complex ways. Society—a group of people living in a community—was configured differently in each place, based on geographical location, local customs, property distribution, and a myriad of other factors. Faced with such different contexts, historians have tended to generalize about social organization (the way people interacted) from the perspective of the men who produced the most sources. Colonial statutes and official correspondence convey the attempts of Hapsburg officials to maintain a hierarchical social order, but property records reveal a more fluid reality. The acquisition of wealth and achievement of social status by non-Spaniards frustrated colonial ideals for a stratified society that correlated to ethnicity. The success of imperial governance, to the degree it was achieved, depended on its flexibility and how it allowed people to benefit from the colonial economy and to achieve social mobility.