Sunday, August 21, 2011

cerebral calisthenics

Saturday, as Hercule Poirot would say, was a good day to exercise the little gray cells.

After I had lunch with Pat last week, she sent me an email that an author of a history of Mexico would be presenting a lecture on Saturday afternoon.  Philip L. Russell by name.

You already know how much I like Mexican history.  This was going to be an opportunity to ask some of the questions I have been waiting to ask for years -- especially the history of the ancient cultures.

His book is available on the Kindle -- for $46.  That’s US dollars.  Not pesos.  A little rich for my electronic book blood.

But there was a sample available.  A rather meaty sample.  I downloaded and read through it before I went over to the lecture.

I approached the book with a bit of reluctance.  The email had emphasized his work with the Sierra Club.  A rather odd credential for the author of a Mexican history book.

But I was very pleased with the sample.  His writing is dispassionate (if a bit dry).  He avoids the trap of playing cute with his facts -- as do quite a few writers of popular history.

He does suffer from one popular history failing, though.  His analysis tends to be anachronistic.  But only when it comes to climate issues.  He is fast to join the theory that a prime cause for the demise of several ancient civilizations was the destruction of local resources.

And that seems to be related to his background.  Because he gives a very even-handed treatment to some of the catastrophes that followed the arrival of the Spanish tribe.

I had hoped his lecture would be about early Mexico.  It was not.  Instead, he chose to give a lecture on globalization -- a talk I was certain would play to his weakness.

I was wrong.  His lecture was the very essence of historical professionalism.

He walked us through the major world change in trade that came with the discovery of the New World.  How Mexican silver funded Europe’s trade with China.  How Independence in the 1800s caused a collapse in world trade with the immediate disappearance of Mexican silver.

How Mexico became a big player in world trade during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.  How that came to an end with the Revolution and then reignited with the start of World War Two and the subsequent years of the Mexican economic miracle.

He impressed me most with his discussion of NAFTA.  Setting out its positives and its negatives.  And being quite honest that no one can know for certain the causes and effects in economics.

The audience of 35 (almost all gringo with the exception of about five Mexican citizens) listened intently.  The first few questions were on topic.  But, as so often happens when the Mexican economy is discussed, it quickly degenerated into a discussion about the drug trade.

On the whole, it was a good afternoon.  Good enough that I am still thinking of shelling out the $45 to finish the book.  


Joanna said...

In Rome we saw one example of art history that involved world economics and the politics of the time. Giuliano Sangallo used "the first gold brought from the Americas" to fashion his splendid guilded ceiling at the Basilica of Santa Maria Magiore.  

Tafreeburn said...

sounds very interesting steve. think i would have enjoyed it.

have a great week!


p.s. if i start a blog it will be in jan. but not so sure any more.

Steve Cotton said...

I agree.  It is the type of event you would have enjoyed.

You certainly have enough material to start a blog.  You are doing the hard part already -- the writing.

Steve Cotton said...

Now that would be an interesting post. Tracing the use of New World gold and silver in the Old World. I did not realize the Mexican silver peso was the world currency standard for decades.

Nita said...

I would like to read the book. Do you have the name?

Steve Cotton said...

I do.  The History of Mexico: From Pre-Conquest to Present.

jennifer rose said...

Start out with reading:
Fire and Blood, T.R. Fehrenbach
Biography of Power, Enrique Krauze
The Course of Mexican History, Michael Meyer

and then you should embark upon everything written by Timothy J. Henderson.
Oh, and before I forget -- Sam Quinones. 

Steve Cotton said...

And will my Kindle help?

Thanks, Jennifer.

Joanna said...

Hi Steve, I took your cue and posted about Mexican silver and gold that was shipped to Europe during the colonial period. You can see the post on my blogsite. I believe you have the URL

Steve Cotton said...

I do. But for everyone else, here it is --