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Technology and the Search for Progress in Modern Mexico

Technology and the Search for Progress in Modern Mexico

Edward Beatty
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Technology and the Search for Progress in Modern Mexico
    Book Description:

    In the late nineteenth century, Mexican citizens quickly adopted new technologies imported from abroad to sew cloth, manufacture glass bottles, refine minerals, and provide many goods and services. Rapid technological change supported economic growth and also brought cultural change and social dislocation.

    Drawing on three detailed case studies—the sewing machine, a glass bottle–blowing factory, and the cyanide process for gold and silver refining—Edward Beatty explores a central paradox of economic growth in nineteenth-century Mexico: while Mexicans made significant efforts to integrate new machines and products, difficulties in assimilating the skills required to use emerging technologies resulted in a persistent dependence on international expertise.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96055-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    DURING THE 1970s and 1980s, “dependency” provided a common paradigm for Latin America’s condition, and “dependency theory” dominated much of the scholarship on the region. The dependency approach argued that Latin America’s development was adversely conditioned by the economic and political power of the industrialized world. Deeply entrenched unequal relations between the Latin American periphery and a European and US core constrained local development paths, producing poverty, inequality, authoritarian politics, and underdevelopment.¹

    By the late 1980s and 1990s, however, new scholarship marked the sharp decline of dependency’s influence as an explanatory paradigm.² Empirical studies failed to support some of dependency’s...


    • TWO Technology and the Emergence of Atraso, 1820–70
      (pp. 27-54)

      MEXICO’S RENOWNED MINING COLLEGE LAY nearly in ruins by the late 1820s. Established in 1792 as the first technical school in the Western Hemisphere and housed in Manuel Tolsa’s grand building, it was the crowning achievement of Bourbon efforts to inject new scientific and technical expertise into the colonial economy. In the aftermath of Mexico’s independence in 1821, however, its facade had begun to crumble around the edges, and “the walls and staircases [were] cracking.” Lectures and courses had nearly ceased, its mineral collection lay “in the worst order possible,” and a lone professor gave occasional lectures, “his auditors now...

    • THREE Technology and the Imperative of Progreso, 1870–1910
      (pp. 55-80)

      BEFORE CLOSING ONE EVENING IN early 1879 on Calle Espíritu Santo in Mexico City, employees of Roberto Böker’s hardware store arranged several Singer sewing machines on the central display counter. These had just arrived on the train from Veracruz then the only operating rail line in the country and had been carried from the station to the store on mule-drawn wagons. Over the next few weeks, Casa Böker would quickly sell these machines to women and men who bought them, primarily for home use, paying ten pesos up front, the rest in ten-peso monthly installments, the machines delivered to city...


    • FOUR Sewing Machines
      (pp. 83-106)

      IN THE SUMMER OF 1902, Mexico City’sDiario del Hogarpublished a poem by Luis Tablada, written specially for the newspaper’s semiregular publication of cultural pieces. As the poem begins, the father of a working-class family has just died. The mother, despairing of feeding their young baby, comes across an old sewing machine in her husband’s workshop, “as if provided by God.” As “the wheel on its axis spun,” she sees her way to remunerative employment and soon can buy food in the market, “which her work had found.” Tablada ends by addressing the machine itself, which has now taken...

    • FIVE Beer and Glass Bottles
      (pp. 107-133)

      DESPITE RAPIDLY EXPANDING DEMAND for glass bottles in the Atlantic world over the last decades of the nineteenth century, in 1900 bottles were still largely blown by hand. Highly skilled, specialized, and high-wage glass blowers produced hundreds of bottles daily to contain milk, fruits, vegetables, patent medicines, and of course the emerging intoxicant of choice for the burgeoning working class in Europe and the Americas: beer. Mexico would eventually become the world’s largest beer exporter in the early twenty-first century, and the roots of this industry are found in deep social and economic changes of the late nineteenth century, dependent...

    • SIX Cyanide and Silver
      (pp. 134-154)

      EFFORTS TO EXTRACT GOLD AND SILVER from the earth faced an international crisis in the last quarter of the nineteenth century: at the very moment when demand for the metals increased in a booming Atlantic economy, miners around the world found it increasingly difficult to extract them from recalcitrant rock. Easily accessible, rich, and refinable gold and silver ores had become globally scarce, and the dominant refining system of previous centuries proved inadequate to profitably refine low-grade ores on a scale demanded by an expanding world market. This was true in Mexico as in many of the world’s mining centers....


    • SEVEN Obstacles to Adoption
      (pp. 157-180)

      BY THE TIME THAT ISAAC GARZA and his partners at the Vidriera Monterrey ran the first batch of molten glass through their newly acquired Owens machine in 1912, Mexico had imported over three hundred thousand sewing machines, and the cyanide process had reshaped gold and silver refining across most of the nation’s mining districts. However, while efforts to adopt these and many other new technologies had begun to transform the Mexican landscape of labor and production in the decades after 1870, these efforts did not always go smoothly. Obstacles to successful adoption lay everywhere in the new Mexican context for...

    • EIGHT Constraints to Learning
      (pp. 181-207)

      BETWEEN 1870 and 1910 technology imports flooded across the Mexican landscape in the form of new knowledge embodied in machines, print materials, and people. In scale and scope this wave exceeded any other in the country’s history, before or since. New ways of producing goods transformed the productive capacity of the Mexican economy and laid the foundation for economic growth, even as they reshaped the everyday lives of Mexicans in profound and sometimes dislocative ways. Mexico was a technology importer at the extreme: all the hardware and new processes, along with the know-how necessary to install, operate, and repair it...

    • NINE Conclusion
      (pp. 208-218)

      OVER THE PAST TWO CENTURIES, technology has often embodied the search for progress. Nothing so captured the aspirations and anxieties of many Mexicans as the technological manifestations ofel progreso material. “Every machine,” noted José María Landero y Cos in 1901, “is a means of conquest for the future.”¹ The imperatives of progress in nineteenth-century Mexico derived from multiple sources. Intellectuals looked to Europe for models to better understand Mexico’s particular history, its place in the world, and paths by which it might realize its full sovereignty and potential. Public officials studied foreign laws, debating and sometimes adopting new versions...

  9. APPENDIX ONE: Sources and Notes on Mexican Patents
    (pp. 219-220)
  10. APPENDIX TWO: Sources and Notes on Iron, Steel, and Machinery Imports
    (pp. 221-222)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 223-282)
    (pp. 283-312)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 313-342)