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

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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.




Rath, T. (2020). Burning the Archive, Building the State? Politics, Paper, and US Power in Postwar Mexico. Journal of Contemporary History, 55(4), 764–792. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022009419881189

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