This exhibit showcases some of the most complex, sometimes overlooked, yet nevertheless critical transformations that impacted people’s lives across Mexico and its “neighbors” in the U.S., Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. We begin on the eve of the Age of Revolutions (1775) in Cuba and end with early 20th-century revolutions in technology, especially railroads in Brazil (1929).

The bulk of the materials, however, focus on Mexico’s unpredictable and often turbulent processes related to political and economic modernization, and its engagement with global trade. We begin with an uncertain Mexican Independence from Spain that was still not recognized by all peoples in Mexico in 1821. We continue through Mexico’s mid 19th-century territorial losses to the United States and its short-lived experimentation with monarchy in the wake of the European invasion in 1861. Several of the exhibit’s photographs, newspapers, primary school materials, broadsides, and letters document the economic, social, and cultural transformations with gendered and ethnic dimensions that occurred under the de facto dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911) that ultimately exploded in the Mexican Revolution. Taken together these documents evidence the rise of Mexican national identity.

In short, these are the materials historians use to make sense of the past. This is true in a literal sense; one of the sources documents the historical process used by pulitzer-prize winning historian of the U.S.-Mexican War, Justin Harvey Smith, in the 1910s.

The primary documents spotlighted here are all currently housed in the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, one of the world’s most important collections of original archival materials focused on Latin America. We invite you to consider the significance of these documents, curated and annotated by students in Dr. Lina Del Castillo’s Spring 2022 “Thinking Like a Historian” class. May they help you see richer dimensions to the history of Modernization Across Mexico and its Neighbors.