Rashomon in the Zocalo: Writing the History of Popular Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Mexico

By Warren, Richard | MACLAS Latin American Essays, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Rashomon in the Zocalo: Writing the History of Popular Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Mexico


Warren, Richard, MACLAS Latin American Essays


Introduction

Those of us who study the political culture of nineenth century Mexico often lament the absence of archival documentation and the elusiveness of that which we know must exist somewhere, but just cannot find ... yet. Further frustration arises in the study of the popular classes, who were much less likely than elites to engage in the kinds of activities that leave traces in the archives. Indeed, the urban poor were even less likely than their rural counterparts to engage in the kinds of activities that leave traces of their presence in the archives (lawsuits over communal lands, for example). The words of Jules Michelet, the mid-nineteenth century French romantic historian, form an appropriate epigraph for these frustrations. Michelet, perhaps most well known for his 1846 work, titled simply The People, despaired, "I had the people in my heart ... but I found their language inaccessible. I was unable to make it speak." (1)

Recent literature in history and cultural studies, however, suggests that a dearth of archival materials in fact is not the primary obstacle to the study of the popular, or subaltern, classes in Mexico, or anywhere else. Rather, the real challenges are theoretical and methodological. A crucial experience several years ago forced me to clarify my position regarding these challenges by providing the archival equivalent of viewing "Rashomon," the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film that contemplates the nature of truth and memory by recreating four different versions of the same rape-murder in medieval Japan. Rashomon arrived in Mexico City's Zocalo when I came across two diametrically opposed "eyewitness" accounts in private diaries of the same popular protest.

The first version of this upheaval noted that on March 11, 1837, a mob of leperos attacked the Mexican congress. While the "pretext" for the upheaval was a recent devaluation of copper currency and a food shortage, the real cause was "the infamous machinations of anarchists." The events were carefully planned and executed by radical federalists who yet again manipulated small numbers of the city's malleable masses for their political ends. (2) The second version of these events asserted that a "truly popular" cross-section of the city's residents gathered in Mexico City's main square to protest the congress' misguided decision to devalue copper coin dramatically. The participants included "many persons of distinct opinions," whose frustration was directed by "persons of no [specific political] category." (3) While temporarily frustrating my romantic quest for the Holy Grail of nineteenth century Mexican politics, finding these documents was of course a great stroke of luck, since it forced me to question again the way in which I was using all of my sources, and to refine my criteria for their evaluation. It put into sharp focus many of the theoretical and methodological problems that face the researcher who presumes to investigate popular political culture, and the pitfalls that await. First, these documents, written by members of the elite, remind us that popular political culture cannot be isolated from the broader political culture. Just as studies of popular culture in general challenge the traditional division between high and popular culture, the same must be done for the distinction between popular and elite political culture. (4) Though we may try to use archival documents to explore the actions and motivations of non-elite actors, the documentary record was written and collected by and for elites, and we must always be cognizant of the changing ways in which "the masses" were used as a trope in competing elite discourses. However, to end our analysis at the level of elite discourse would in some ways deny both the ability of historians to contextualize and evaluate sources and the agency of non-elites, as far removed as they may be from having direct input into the documentary record. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rashomon in the Zocalo: Writing the History of Popular Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Mexico
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.