Eric Van Young Discusses Mexican Decolonization

At the second public lecture held in conjunction with the National History Center’s sixth international seminar on decolonization, historian Eric Van Young (University of California at San Diego) will discuss “‘In Mexico There Are No Mexicans:’ Decolonization and Modernization, 1750-1850″ on Wednesday, July 20, 2011. The lecture will be in the Jefferson Room (LJ119) of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

New Spain became Mexico virtually over night, in 1821, although a decade of bloody civil strife preceded its final independence. Using the case of Mexico and the life and ideas of Lucas Alamán (1792-1853), one of the most important statesmen of the early republican period, Eric Van Young illustrates the layered and contradictory nature of decolonization as it crossed visions of Atlantic modernity. Decolonization is a transition that typically takes place in several planes or spheres interconnected in complex ways, yet each with its own rhythm. The fastest and most easily achieved may be in the political sphere, with the severing of formal ties between colony and metropolis and the formation of a new state (nation- formation being another matter). Economic decolonization may take a good deal longer, or never occur at all; dependency theory was developed to explain this. Slower still is social decolonization, with lingering ideas about ethnicity and social power embedded even in new institutions. And cultural redefinition within the new polity may be the most protracted change of all because the least susceptible of purposive social engineering by states and ruling elites. Mapping all this onto the struggle to achieve a controlled decolonization of Mexico, Eric Van Young explores the aphorism recently coined by one observer of the country that Mexico went straight from a condition of pre-modernity to one of post-modernity without ever passing through modernity.  A short Q&A session and a light reception will follow the lecture.

Dr. Eric Van Young (Ph.D., UC Berkeley 1978) is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego, where he has taught since 1983. His most recent major published work, The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Struggle for Mexican Independence, 1810-1821, won the Bolton-Johnson Prize of the Conference on Latin American History in 2003; he has authored, edited, or co-edited a half-dozen other books. He is a Corresponding Member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the Medalla 2008 by the government of the Federal District in Mexico in 2009. A specialist on the history of colonial and 19th-century Mexico, he is currently writing a biography of the 19th-century Mexican statesman, entrepreneur, and historian Lucas Alamán.

A webcast of the lecture is available at In Mexico, There Are No Mexicans.

The lecture is sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center, in conjunction with the National History Center’s Sixth International Seminar on Decolonization, a four-week seminar, held at the Library of Congress. It brings together international scholars to examine various dimensions of decolonization, primarily 20th-century transitions from colonies to nations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The seminar is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is cosponsored also by the American Historical Association and the Kluge Center.  The first lecture featured University of Oxford Historian John Darwin discussing the history of decolonization as a history of failure.