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Burning the Archive, Building the State? Politics, Paper, and US Power in Postwar Mexico

Rath, T; (2020) Burning the Archive, Building the State? Politics, Paper, and US Power in Postwar Mexico. Journal of Contemporary History , 55 (4) pp. 764-792. 10.1177/0022009419881189. Green open access

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Abstract

This article explores how the Mexican state gathered, archived, and destroyed information. It focuses on the US-Mexico campaign against foot-and-mouth disease between 1947 and 1952, whose paper archive Mexican officials burned near the successful conclusion of the campaign. This article argues that several factors shaped the context for this documentary bonfire and made the 1940s a key point of inflection in Mexico’s history of official information-gathering: the dominant party’s system of elite power-sharing, the growth of a reading public, and the regime’s drift rightward. At the same time, the nature of the foot-and-mouth disease campaign itself ensured that, despite its possible uses, the archive was particularly sensitive, providing evidence of the embarrassing gaps that began to yawn between the state’s language of revolutionary nationalism and its political practise. Indeed, the bonfire represented the culmination of practises Mexican officials had already developed throughout the campaign to reconcile the demands of legibility and deniability, hemispheric integration and nationalism, political stability and state capacity. More broadly, the case illustrates the uneven effects of US assistance on the development of state capacity, the authoritarian but institutionally weak character of the early PRIísta state, and the role of archives in maintaining a coherent image of state sovereignty.

Type: Article
Title: Burning the Archive, Building the State? Politics, Paper, and US Power in Postwar Mexico
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/0022009419881189
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022009419881189
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10080013
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