This article reinterprets the pivotal presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas of Mexico, (1934–40) through the prism of environmental history. The Cárdenas administration is best known for its use of land reform, creation of mass organizations, and the nationalization of key industries to fulfill what it understood as the “promises” of the revolution. Yet such assertions render the natural world invisible. We show that a fundamental element of Cárdenas’s ambitious social and political agenda was to rationalize and expand the use of natural resources in tandem with social reform, a process that we term “social landscaping.” The Cardenistas intended not only to reorient the relationship between the popular classes and the state but to unleash state power in order to redefine the relationship between the popular classes and nature. Social landscaping played out in a variety of landscapes such as river valleys, roadways, and forests, the latter of which received special attention. The twin goals of rationalizing resource use and reconfiguring rural people’s relationship with the land, we argue, was a defining characteristic of Cardenismo and its attempt to harness land reform, economic development, and the scientific use of natural resources to the broader project of social transformation.

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