Taming Chaos: Labor, Economy, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

  • Elizabeth Terese NewmanEmail author
Original Article


During the 19th century, Mexico was embroiled in social and economic turmoil. Faced with the same problems shared by many young nations, Mexico’s elite needed to find a way to rein in the chaos and create a unified, stable, and modern citizenry. Drawing on archival and archaeological data, this article explores the economic and social instability faced by rural landowners in central Mexico’s Valley of Atlixco and discusses a strategic solution to these problems. By examining changes in the architectural layout of the Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla, I demonstrate that rural landowners attempted to transform the very identities of their workers by implementing programs of modernization that not only affected their work habits, but also their home lives.


hacienda Mexico labor crime revolution 


Durante el siglo XIX, México se vio envuelto en una agitación social y económica. Frente a los mismos problemas compartidos por muchas naciones jóvenes, la elite de México necesitaba encontrar una manera de controlar el caos y crear una ciudadanía unificada, estable y moderna. A partir de datos archivísticos y arqueológicos, este artículo explora la inestabilidad económica y social que enfrentaban los terratenientes rurales en el Valle de Atlixco, en el centro de México, y analiza una solución estratégica para estos problemas. Al examinar los cambios en el diseño arquitectónico de la Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla, demuestro que los terratenientes rurales intentaron transformar las identidades de sus trabajadores mediante la implementación de programas de modernización que no solo afectaron sus hábitos de trabajo, sino también sus vidas en el hogar.


Au cours du 19ème siècle, le Mexique était déchiré par des troubles économiques et sociaux. Confrontée aux mêmes problèmes que bien d'autres nations jeunes, l'élite du Mexique avait besoin de trouver un moyen de maîtriser le chaos et de créer une société citoyenne unifiée, stable et moderne. S'inspirant de données d'archives et archéologiques, cet article explore l'instabilité économique et sociale à laquelle étaient confrontés les propriétaires terriens ruraux de la Vallée d'Atlixco dans le Mexique du centre, et traite d'une solution stratégique à ces problèmes. Par un examen des modifications de la configuration architecturale de la Hacienda San Miguel Acocotla, je démontre que les propriétaires terriens ruraux ont tenté de transformer les identités mêmes de leurs travailleurs en mettant en œuvre des programmes de modernisation ayant affecté non seulement leurs habitudes de travail mais également leurs vies de famille.



This article would not have been possible without the support and permission of the people of La Soledad Morelos and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico. A productive discussion at the New York City Latin American History Workshop laid the foundations for this article. Special thanks to Paul Gootenberg, whose comments prompted the idea. Aurora Gómez Galvarriato generously provided the commodity prices used in the article. In writing the preceding, I benefited greatly from the comments of Brooke Larson, Sharon Pochron, and Katheryn Twiss at Stony Brook University, as well as three anonymous reviewers. Sharon Pochron and Troy Tucker provided invaluable assistance with the data analysis. Archaeological, ethnohistoric, and ethnoarchaeological investigations were made possible through the financial support of the Reed Foundation, New York; the Fine Arts, Humanities, and Lettered Social Sciences Fund, Stony Brook University; the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.; the Agrarian Studies Program, Yale University; the John F. Enders Fund, Yale University; the Josef Albers Traveling Fellowship, Department of Anthropology, Yale University; and two anonymous donors.


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© Society for Historical Archaeology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryStony Brook UniversityStony BrookU.S.A.

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