Visions of the Emerald City

Modernity, Tradition, and the Formation of Porfirian Oaxaca, Mexico

Visions of the Emerald City

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 30 b&w photos, 3 tables, 5 maps Published: March 2006

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

Visions of the Emerald City is an absorbing historical analysis of how Mexicans living in Oaxaca City experienced “modernity” during the lengthy “Order and Progress” dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). Renowned as the Emerald City (for its many buildings made of green cantera stone), Oaxaca City was not only the economic, political, and cultural capital of the state of Oaxaca but also a vital commercial hub for all of southern Mexico. As such, it was a showcase for many of Díaz’s modernizing and state-building projects. Drawing on in-depth research in archives in Oaxaca, Mexico City, and the United States, Mark Overmyer-Velázquez describes how Oaxacans, both elites and commoners, crafted and manipulated practices of tradition and modernity to define themselves and their city as integral parts of a modern Mexico.

Incorporating a nuanced understanding of visual culture into his analysis, Overmyer-Velázquez shows how ideas of modernity figured in Oaxacans’ ideologies of class, race, gender, sexuality, and religion and how they were expressed in Oaxaca City’s streets, plazas, buildings, newspapers, and public rituals. He pays particular attention to the roles of national and regional elites, the Catholic church, and popular groups—such as Oaxaca City’s madams and prostitutes—in shaping the discourses and practices of modernity. At the same time, he illuminates the dynamic interplay between these groups. Ultimately, this well-illustrated history provides insight into provincial life in pre-Revolutionary Mexico and challenges any easy distinctions between the center and the periphery or modernity and tradition.


[Visions of] the Emerald City is a first-rate cultural history of Porfirian Oaxaca and would make an excellent addition to undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of ‘modern’ Mexico.” — Robert M. Buffington, The Americas

“[T]he author’s argument is certainly plausible and persuasive.” — Mark Wasserman, The Historian

“[T]he book provides an excellent picture of the fragmented and contested visions of modernity that emerged in the city of Oaxaca. It is a contribution to a growing body of literature on the history of regional cities and a welcome addition to the historiography of modern Mexico.” — Claudia Agostoni, American Historical Review

“In this richly documented study, Mark Overmyer-Velázquez addresses a central question about the nature of modernity as envisioned by local elites and contested by commoners in Oaxaca City.” — Alfonso Valenzuela-Aguilera, H-Net Reviews

“Interesting and well written, this book makes a significant contribution to the study of Porfirian Oaxaca, while also transcending its geographic and temporal limits to lend insight into the ongoing global process of modernization.” — Paul Hart, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This cultural historical study of late-nineteenth-century Oaxaca is rich in its implications for the depiction of women and labor across media, institutions, and geography. It is a welcome invitation for multiple disciplines to engage images as active producers of, rather than mere receptacles for, their subjects.” — Stacie G. Widdifield, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“This is an empirically rich and methodologically suggestive work. As well as contributing importantly to Mexican urban historiography, Overmyer-Velázquez shows how the idea of modernity itself is unsettled by attentive readings of the historical record in a place like Oaxaca City. . . . It is, in sum, an excellent and original contribution to Mexican historiography and should provoke further research on the intersection of visual studies and history.” — Raymond B. Craib, EIAL

Visions of the Emerald City makes a significant contribution to the historiography of the Porfiriato. . . . Overmyer-Velázquez provides a reinterpretation of the Porfiriato and the reasons for the Revolution that should have scholars looking at more cultural explanations for the outbreak of war in Mexico in 1910 . . . . His analysis of Porfirian Oaxaca is solid and innovative. . . . The case he makes for Oaxaca’s cultural history in the Porfiriato stands out from other regional studies already published.” — Nathan Clarke, The Latin Americanist

“In his fascinating saga of a provincial elite’s struggle to claim a place in Mexico’s late-nineteenth-century narrative of progress and nation building, Mark Overmyer-Velázquez reveals the centrality of the city to the modern ideal of Mexico. The politicians, workers, prostitutes, intellectuals, and clerics whose words and actions animate the pages of this book show us how the promise of modernity reconfigured domains of privilege and visibility. By documenting the civic rituals, administrative projects, literary ideals, and architectural plans through which Oaxaca’s Porfirian wizards built their Emerald City, Overmyer-Velázquez forces us to rethink our understandings of church-state relations, provincial cultural projects, and nation building in pre-Revolutionary Mexico.” — Deborah Poole, author of Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mark Overmyer-Velázquez is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Connecticut.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations and Tables ix

Preface xi

Introduction: Writing the Emerald City 1

1. La Vallistocracia: The Formation of Oaxaca’s Ruling Class 17

2. The Legible City: Constructed, Symbolic, and Disciplined Spaces 40

3. “A New Political Religious Order”: Church, State, and Workers 70

4. “A Necessary Evil”: Regulating Public Space and Public Women 98

5. Portraits of a Lady: Visions of Modernity 122

Conclusions: The Consequences of Modernity 153

Appendix: Articles Cited from the 1857 Constitution 161

Notes 163

Bibliography 203

Index 221
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3790-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3777-5
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