Twentieth century Latin American historiography is not remarkable for its interest in or dedication to expansive documentary publication. Few long term endeavors have been initiated and even fewer completed. The Documentos históricos de la Revolución Mexicana,1 edited by Isidro Fabela and the Comisión de Investigaciones Históricas de la Revolución Mexicana, is indisputably a major exception, and warrants a retrospective view as it nears completion. The initial idea and impetus must be ascribed to Fabela himself. In the early 1960s few Mexicanists believed that his grandiose project would come to fruition, and they were not reassured when two years passed between the publication of the first and second volumes. But the work was progressing, and even with Fabela’s death in August 1964, at the age of 76, the project was not abandoned; it was placed under the direction of his widow, Josefina E. de Fabela, and the Comisión, consisting of Roberto Ramos V., Luis G. Caballos, Miguel Saldaña, Baldomero Segura García, and Humberto Tejera.

The twenty-one volumes now published, containing 8,364 pages and almost 3,500 individual documents, evidence the enormity of the undertaking. The documents were selected from a wide array of public and private archives. Fabela’s own rich collection, some of which he acquired while he served as Carranza’s Acting Minister of Foreign Relations, and some of which was entrusted to him when Carranza fled from Mexico City on May 7, 1920, formed the core of the early volumes. Fabela supplemented these holdings with pertinent documentation from several smaller private collections. Subsequent volumes, while still drawing heavily on the Archivo Isidro Fabela, relied increasingly on public archives, primarily the Archivo General de la Nación (Ramo de la Secretaría de Gobernación); the Archivo Histórico de la Defensa Nacional, and the Archivo de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de México.

The frame of reference underlying the project is very much a reflection of Fabela’s own experience as a Revolutionary politician, an international jurist, and a prolific scholar. Having graduated from law school during the late Díaz regime, he participated in the foundation of the Ateneo de la Juventud in 1909, and after the overthrow of the porfiriato moved quickly from a career in higher education to one in politics. Serving in the 26th Mexican Congress under Francisco I. Madero, he resigned his seat shortly after the Huerta coup in February, 1913 and made his way north to join Venustiano Carranza and the Constitutionalist cause. From the position of Secretary of Gobernación in the provisional governments of Chihuahua and Sonora, the First Chief promoted him to the post of Acting Secretary of Foreign Relations (Oficial Mayor de la Secretaría de Relaciones Encargado del Despacho). When the Carrancistas consolidated their victory in 1915, Fabela was chosen to represent the new regime on a number of diplomatic missions in Europe. In the inter-war period he served as a Mexican representative to the League of Nations and as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. His international career peaked in 1952 when he was appointed a judge of the International Court of Justice. During his many years of service at home and abroad, Fabela found ample time for research, and in addition to innumerable articles and pamphlets produced twelve scholarly volumes, the majority treating topics in international relations and diplomatic history.2

Half a century of public life molded an intellect which was both nationalistic and legalistic, while the years of scholarly dedication conditioned an idealistic and humane erudition. But at least one additional ingredient is necessary to assess the intellectual baggage which Fabela carried to his multi-volume documentary history. He was very much a product of the early Revolution and, as many Mexican intellectuals of his generation, was never able to divorce himself entirely from the intense partisanship of that chaotic age. Venustiano Carranza was not only the First Chief of the Constitutionalist Army, but was also Fabela’s First Chief. Loyalty to Carranza and complete devotion to Carranza’s ideals permeate his entire scholarly career, not excepting the Documentos históricos.3

Licenciado Fabela stated his purpose for embarking upon such an enormous undertaking in the introduction to the first volume: “Publico esta obra . . . no con el ánimo de hacer la historia sino con el fin, que estimo patriótico, de que otros lo hagan.”4 The method he chose was to make available for the first time in published form manuscript sources which few historians had been able to consult previously. To be sure some of the most famous Revolutionary statements and plans (The Creelman Interview, the Plan de San Luis Potosí, the Plan de Guadalupe, and the Plan de Ayala), available in many published works, are here re-published, but the bulk of the documents consist of personal letters, telegrams and diplomatic correspondence of lesser magnitude and which never before have appeared in print. These thousands of sundry dispatches, almost all of which are cited in their entirety, give the set its special attraction.

Fabela participated actively in the preparation of the early volumes, and some of them contain, in addition to the documents themselves, extensive analytical notes by the editor. On occasion he directs the user to pertinent sections of his diplomatic history for further explication,5 and at times to other relevant works. Some of the annotations are extremely useful because they provide otherwise unavailable information on factors conditioning the promulgation of a decree or lying behind a specific piece of correspondence. The elucidation of the nuance in formal diplomatic communiques is of more than passing interest to the reader not comfortable with the idiosyncracies and special jargon of international notes. On other occasions, however, Fabela tried a little too hard to explain, especially on incoming correspondence to the Constitutionalist headquarters. In these cases the annotations appear contrived and the imprecision borders on outright inaccuracy. One is made uncomfortable when Carranza and his galaxy of correligionists invariably are taken at their word while the motives of those in the opposition camp are just as regularly impugned. The annotations treating Wilsonian policy to Mexico are discursive, and many constitute sermonettes on international ethics. Their conscious purpose is to be provocative rather than to be rigorously correct. But one should not make too much of the annotations since they are secondary to the reproduction of the documents themselves.

The format of the volumes is consistent throughout. The documents are arranged chronologically except for the exchange of personal letters, which are often grouped together even though another document might fall into the intervening time lapse. Each document is preceded by a summary statement of contents and by an abbreviated citation of the source from which it was taken. The summaries are generally adequate if one is content with learning the major theme of the corresponding document. But reliance on them can lead one into the trap of assessing the significance of a given dispatch on the basis of what was important to the person sending it or to the person receiving it. Within the context of a special historical problem, however, the casual comment made in passing, the innuendo, the tone, and even the nature of the salutation may be more important than the thematic data being relayed. Therefore for most beneficial use, the documents rather than the summaries should be examined one by one.

It has been suggested on at least one occasion that not all of the documents have been faithfully reproduced.6 Having worked with hundreds of the originals and having compared many of them to the published versions, I have found no evidence to support the contention that the reproductions are not trustworthy. It is true that documentary classification numbers are sometimes at variance with those found in the originals, but this would appear to be more a product of changes in classifications systems by the archives, and the fact that many documents contain more than one number, than any concerted effort to deceive the user.

If bias is to be found, it is not in the nature of the reproduction or in the occasional extracting of a document, but in the selection process itself. It is both interesting and instructive to observe that several tomes are devoted to the régimen maderista, and even more to the régimen constitucionalista, but not a single one to the régimen huertista. It is as though the name itself is anathema and should therefore be excised from the spine of any historical work. To be sure, the Huerta regime is mentioned in thousands of individual documents, but almost always from the Constitutionalist point of view. Buried within the same archival collections which Fabela and the Comisión utilized is a wealth of documentation which can be used to question many of the pious injunctions and tired, sterile generalizations propounded for decades by the pro-Revolutionary school. In a volume of documents devoted to the petroleum question, why not offer evidence that the Huerta regime also had developed a plan for nationalizing the industry? When discussing the international posture that various groups of Mexicans assumed at the time of the invasion of Veracruz, why not provide documentation to indicate that Huerta’s response was essentially the same as the so-called Carranza doctrine? Unfortunately little of this type of information worked its way through the screening process to be selected for inclusion. I am not suggesting malice or a conscious policy of censorship, but simply that Fabela’s years of total immersion in the Revolutionary ethos conditioned the pro-Revolutionary configuration of the entire set.

To reject the volumes because they are Yankee-phobic at times, or consistently anti-Huerta and pro-Carranza, would be sheer folly. The historian of the military phase of the Revolution learns early that the overwhelming majority of the published literature can be so classified, adjusts, and uses it with a critical eye. Similarly, the value of the collection is perhaps vitiated but not negated because of the parochialism inherent in the selection process. The same documents will be used by different historians in different ways. And most importantly, the serious scholar will not consider the documents in any way a substitute for archival research. Rather they are a convenient starting point once the perimeters of a new project have been defined and the secondary literature perused.

In addition to the substantive data they contain, the Documentos históricos can be used to perform a number of important pedagogical functions in the traditional research seminar. They serve first to indicate the nature of the documentation the aspiring graduate student can expect to encounter when he leaves the secure confines of the classroom and ventures for the first time out into the field. Literally hundreds of documents can be selected to illustrate the nature of external and internal criticism, the occasional need for independent verification, and the elusive problems of credibility and plausibility. An equally large number are well suited to instruct in the type of questions that can be asked of the evidence. In addition they can be used to help identify topics that still beg investigation. And finally many graduate supervisors will find it more productive to direct their students to the Documentos históricos as a device for perfecting language competence than to the textbook edition of Amalia or La Navidad en las Montañas. A semester of using the Fabela set will help the doctoral candidate arrive at the archives confident that he is ready to work profitably with the documents as soon as his solicitud is processed.

As with much of the raw material from which history is made, the utility of the Fabela volumes grows proportionately with one’s knowledge and appreciation of the subject. The average undergraduate undoubtedly would consider them a bore, the fledgling Mexicanist a chore, while the more seasoned veteran will be able to pore over them for hours with both enjoyment and profit. It seems a pity that they are destined to be consulted almost exclusively in the search for specific answers to even more specific questions. But they should also be read with the larger historical questions in mind. What was it really like? What was the killing all about? Why did it drag on and on? Was it worth it after all? I suspect that the unknown dispatch detailing the hanging of three young boys from village trees, or one describing the aftermath of a battle, or depicting the migration of rural norteños to the United States border, tell us as much as do the more widely heralded Plan de San Luis Potosí, Plan Orozquista, or debates of the Convention. Almost any hundred documents selected at random will demand of the impartial reader that he at least re-examine some of his favorite preconceptions and his stock answers.

The greatest current obstacle to the expeditious use of the Documentos históricos is the absence of a cumulative index. Not a problem when the set was still small, the need became increasingly acute with continued growth, as the collection inevitably became unwieldy. An entire volume, at a minimum, should be devoted to a chronological register of all documents and a comprehensive listing of all names mentioned. A subject index would be still better but the document register and name index by themselves would facilitate the researcher’s task.

Without question Isidro Fabela and the Comisión have rendered a distinguished service. The set deserves the careful attention of Mexican scholars and belongs in every university research library. The abbreviation DHRM is destined to become a familiar one in the footnotes of Revolutionary scholarship in the next decade.


Each of the volumes appears under the general title of Documentos historíeos de la Revolución Mexicana, but because of a complicated numbering system the subtitles should also be used when ordering specific volumes. It is also important to note the change in publishers after the appearance of the first five volumes. The pertinent citation data are as follows: I. Revolución y régimen constitucionalista, T. I (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1960); II. La intervención norteamericana en Veracruz (1914) (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1962); III. Carranza, Wilson y el ABC (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1962); IV. El Plan de Guadalupe (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1963); V. Revolución y régimen Maderista, T. I (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1964); VI. Revolución y régimen Maderista, T. II (México: Editorial Jus, 1965); VII. Revolución y régimen Maderista, T. III (México: Editorial Jus, 1965);VIII. Revolución y régimen Maderista, T. IV (México: Editorial Jus, 1965);IX. Revolución y régimenMaderista, T. V (México: Editorial Jus, 1965); X. Actividades políticas y revolucionarias de los hermanos Flores Magón (México: Editorial Jus, 1966); XI. Precursores de la Revolución Mexicana, 1906-1910 (México: Editorial Jus, 1966); XII. Expedición punitiva, I (México:Editorial Jus, 1967); XII. Expedición punitiva, II (México: Editorial Jus, 1968); XIV. Revolución y régimen constitucionalista, Volumen 20 del Tomo I (México: Editorial Jus, 1968); XV. Revolución y régimen constitucionalista, Volumen 30 del Tomo I (México: Editorial Jus, 1969); XVI. Revolución y régimen constitucionalista, Volumen 40 del Tomo I (México: Editorial Jus,1969); XVII. Revolución y régimen constitucionalista, Volumen 50 del Tomo I (México:Editorial Jus, 1969); XVIII. Revolución y régimen constitucionalista, Volumen 60 del Tomo I (México: Editorial Jus, 1970); XIX. Testimonios sobre los asesinatos de Don Venustiano y Jesús Carranza (México: Editorial Jus, 1971); XX. Las relaciones internacionales en la Revolución Constitucionalista y la cuestión petrolera, 1913-1919, Tomo I (México: Editorial Jus, 1970); Las relaciones internacionales en la Revolución y régimen constitucionalista y la cuestión petrolera, Tomo II (México:Editorial Jus, in press); XXL Emiliano Zapata, el Plan de Ayala y su política agraria (México: Editorial Jus, 1970); XXII. La convención: debates de las sesiones de la soberana convención Revolucionaria, Tomo I (México: Editorial Jus, in press).


Fabela’s bibliography includes: Los precursores de la diplomacia mexicana (México: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 1926); Neutralidad: estudio histórico, jurídico y político. La sociedad de las naciones y el continente americano ante la guerra, 1939-1940 (México: n.p., 1940); Por un mundo libre (México: Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1943); Belíce: defensa de los derechos de México (México: Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1944); Las doctrinas de Monroe y Drago (México: Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1957); Historia diplomática de la Revolución Mexicana, 1912-1917 (2 vols.; México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1958-1959); Estados Unidos contra la libertad: estudios de historia diplomática americana (Barcelona: Talleres Gráficos Luz, 1927); Buena y mala vecindad (México:Editorial América Nueva, 1958); Paladines de la libertad (México: Populibros La Prensa, 1958); Intervención (México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1959); and Maestros y amigos (México: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1962).


Fabela is the subject of a current doctoral dissertation, Francisco A. Balmaceda, “Isidro Fabela: Intellectual Mexican Diplomat” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Case Western Reserve, in progress).




Historia diplomática de la Revolución, 1912-1917 (2 vols.; México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1958-1959).


Louis M. Teitelbaum, Woodrow Wilson and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1916 (New York: Exposition Press, 1967), pp. 331, 346, n. 56. The explanation for the irregularity Mr. Teitelbaum cites will readily occur to anyone who has worked in the Archivo de Relaciones Exteriores. It is not unusual to uncover several versions of the same document under different classification numbers. Some of these represent early drafts and others the final product. The document Teitelbaum found in the Wilson papers is undoubtedly the final draft of a communique while the slightly varying one which Fabela published might well have been a preliminary version. To substantiate the strong implication of bad faith, Teitelbaum would have to demonstrate that Fabela tampered with the actual manuscript he worked from.

Author notes


The author is Professor of History at the University of Nebraska.