The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0033
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0033
The Mexican Revolution, as an armed movement, began in 1910; though opinions differ, it is safe to conclude that by around 1940 the revolution, as a dynamic historical process and a program of radical reform, was more or less over. The thirty-year span of the revolution can be neatly and usefully divided into the decade of armed revolution (1910–1920), followed by two decades of “institutional” revolution (1920–1940) as the new regime consolidated, introducing political and socioeconomic reforms. At the outset, the rebels overthrew first Díaz (in 1910–1911) and then President Huerta 1913–1914, who had attempted, unsuccessfully, a militarist restoration of the old regime. After 1914 the victorious revolutionaries fought among themselves, with the Carrancistas finally triumphing over the Villistas and Zapatistas, thanks in large part to the military skill of Alvaro Obregón. The last successful insurrection of the revolutionary decade, in 1920, brought Obregón to power and inaugurated the increasingly stable regime of the “Sonoran dynasty”: a group of leaders from the northwestern state of Sonora who, as progressive, populist, businesslike, centralizing, anticlerical state-builders, set their stamp on the new order (Plutarco Elías Calles, president 1924–1928, and “jefe máximo,” 1928–1934, being the chief exemplar). The decade of the 1920s thus possesses a degree of politico-economic unity. In 1930 the impact of the Great Depression prompted a rethink of policy and a lurch to the political left, typified by the radical administration of Lázaro Cárdenas 1934–1940, when socioeconomic reform—land distribution, support for organized labor, and a measure of economic nationalism (notably the expropriation of the Anglo-American oil companies in 1938)—took priority over Sonoran/Callista “jacobinism.” By the late 1930s, however, the revolution was losing its impetus: the remaining revolutionary generation was aging, or shifting to the right; conservative forces were reasserting themselves in Mexican society. And the international context favored détente with the United States, which the Cold War accelerated.
Since the chief historiographical trend for decades has been to disaggregate the Mexican Revolution, especially by place, general histories have been at a discount: hence, the narratives cited here tend to be rather old. The better studies are therefore multiauthored, such as Bethell 1991, and the valuable series Villegas 1977–1984, but they lack a single overarching interpretation of the process. The foundational text is Tannenbaum 1966 (first published in 1933) and its emphasis on the popular and agrarian nature of the revolution. Tannenbaum conducted studies in Mexico and developed a professional friendship with several of the leading revolutionaries, including President Cárdenas. Brenner and Leighton 1943 bolsters Tannenbaum’s interpretation of a peasant revolution with searing imagery of the revolution from over one hundred photographs in a work sympathetic to the popular revolution. The initiation of a long period of political dominance by the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico in the 1940s prompted questions about the true nature of the revolution. In the 1970s historians began revising the Tannenbaum thesis of a popular peasant revolution. Scholarship such as Córdova 1973 argued that elites dominated the revolution and were dedicated to the building of a modern state. A wave of new studies in this vein enriched a growing debate about whether peasants or elites led the revolution. The dominance of the revolution in the historiography of the 20th century is reflected in the synthesis of contemporary Mexican history by Camín and Meyer 1993 and Gonzales 2002. Fresh perspectives on the revolution continue to be added to the historical literature. Certain collections in particular, such as Corrés, et al. 2000, highlight the latest theoretical and methodological approaches to the revolution. Joseph and Henderson 2002 is also an excellent collection of primary source documents and essays from leading historians about the intersection of culture and politics in the history of the revolution.
Bethell, Leslie, ed. Mexico Since Independence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
A collection of chapters taken from the compendious Cambridge History of Latin America, which offers a multiauthored sweep through Mexican history, including four chapters on the 1870s–1940s period. With useful bibliographies.
Brenner, Anita, and George R. Leighton. The Wind that Swept Mexico. New York: Harper, 1943.
History of the revolution that is valuable for its rich visual content.
Camín, Héctor Aguilar, and Lorenzo Meyer. In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910–1989. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.
Intelligent and somewhat traditional survey of 20th-century Mexico.
Córdova, Arnaldo. La ideología de la Revolución Mexicana: La formación del nuevo régimen. Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 1973.
Perceptive and influential study of the ideology of the revolution, from the Porfiriato to the late 1920s. Based largely on secondary sources, this is much better on national/elite trends than local/regional differences. Displays a mildly Leninist disdain for the peasantry as opposed to the urban working class.
Corrés, Jaime Bailón, Carlos Martínez Assad, and Pablo Serrano Alvarez, eds. El siglo de la Revolución Mexicana. 2 vols. Mexico City: INEHRM, 2000.
Rich and diverse compendium of essays on aspects of the revolution by prominent scholars.
Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
A sensible synthetic account, largely “top-down” in approach.
Joseph, Gilbert M., and Timothy J. Henderson, eds. The Mexico Reader: History, Culture and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.
Useful collection of readings. Parts 4 and 5 deal with the Porfiriato and revolution.
Tannenbaum, Frank. Peace by Revolution: Mexico Since 1910. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.
First published in 1933. Influential study by sympathetic leftist and Mexico watcher. Sweeping and assertive and by turns perceptive and misleading. If navigated carefully, this can still be a profitable read.
Villegas, Daniel Cosío. Historia de la Revolución Mexicana. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1977–1984.
A multivolume history of the revolution from its origins to the 1960s, with good illustrations and bibliographies. A valuable work of reference, whose component volumes vary in quality and originality, though all are useful.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500-1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in Nineteenth-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- São Paulo
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas