For most tourists, Oaxaca City is a place that time forgot, a magical fusion of
pre-Columbian and colonial eras. Of course, these anachronistic yearnings say
more about the traveler than about the city and its people. Oaxaca City, now con-
signed to the margins of both national politics and historical scholarship, played
a central role in Mexico’s history until the beginning of the twentieth century. I
conceived of my project at the tail end of that same century in Mexico, while it
was yet again seeking to assert itself as a modern nation. As the country’s exiled
president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, submitted to public scrutiny his fourteen-
hundred-page memoir, Mexico: A Difficult Step toward Modernity, Mexico reeled
from the effects of a devalued peso, an economic crisis, and the North American
Free Trade Agreement (nafta). Meanwhile, a relatively small group of indige-
nous campesinos rallied under the banner of Emiliano Zapata, Mexico’s historical
and mythologized agrarian revolutionary, to put the government’s latest version
of modernity on trial. It is within that context that, thanks to some sound advice,
I turned to Oaxaca City and its rich and fascinating history to ask questions about
the nature of modernity and how it was imagined and constructed by elites and
commoners alike.
I could begin to answer those questions and complete this study only because I
was fortunate enough to have the generous help and support of many people and
institutions. It is a pleasure to thank all of those friends and colleagues.
This project would have remained a starry-eyed PhD prospectus had it not
been for the financial assistance of several agencies, programs, and institutions.
A Yale University Fellowship, the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University,
an Albert J. Beveridge Grant from the American Historical Association, a Mexican
Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Relations) Fellowship, a
Henry Hart Rice Research Fellowship at the Yale Center for International and Area
Studies, a Toni Roothbert Doctoral Fellowship, and a Social Sciences and Humani-
ties Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship all funded various stages of
my research. A Giles Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities and a National Re-
search Council–Ford Foundation Fellowship for Minorities granted funds for the
writing of the dissertation. A César E. Chávez Fellowship at Dartmouth College
provided me with the wherewithal to finish the dissertation and gave me a chance
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