The Fourth International Congress of Mexican History was held in Santa Monica, California, in October 1973. It was the first, in a series that had begun in Monterrey in 1949, to deal exclusively with Mexico itself (including, however, a new and significantly large section on Chicano studies); the first, likewise, to be opened to contributions from scholars in countries other than Mexico and the United States, though at Oaxtepec in 1969 European scholars had been invited as participants and discussants. Furthermore, though nine years had elapsed between the first and second congresses, and eleven between the second and third, the Santa Monica meeting took place only four years after its predecessor. In short, the history of Mexico has come of age as an established branch of academic study.

The present volume, then, is the definitive report of the Santa Monica meeting: comprehensive, well produced and informative. What are the trends of which it speaks?

First, surely, is the choice of subject of the Congress itself, the study of contemporary (i.e., recent) Mexico. This meant, essentially, the twentieth century, but in the spirit of previous meetings several contributions also recorded changes in the understanding of “the past behind the present.” The theme of spatial organization and reorganization, with its continuity from the Hispanic past to the historiography of the future, dominates the volume, but manifests itself in many different forms.

Second, the earlier preoccupation with the relationship between the United States and Mexico, which had stemmed naturally from the origins of the meetings, has waned. It is, indeed, balanced by greater emphasis on the position of Mexico in Latin America, and comparisons with it, as here in the contrast of its model for economic development with that of Brazil. The trends foreseen four years ago by Manuel Gollás and Adalberto García Rocha of El Colegio de México have, moreover, developed since, while the dilemmas of choice scrutinized by Clark W. Reynolds have remained. “Mexico’s currently paradoxical position which favors speeches about social reform without a carefully designed policy to accompany the rhetoric,” the latter wrote (p. 464), “causes destabilizing speculation and uncertainty approaching hysteria in some quarters. The result is a tendency towards capital flight, balance of payments problems, and a reduction in the economic policy space available either for growth or for social change.” The crisis of September 1976 and the resulting devaluation of the peso stand now as proof that those trends were accurately forecast, but not arrested.

The most striking thing about the crisis of 1976 was the extent of the panic that accompanied it, extending even to the rumor that military intervention was imminent. Since the incorporation of the Mexican army in its institutional framework, it certainly has not received the amount of attention from historians that it deserves, and the paper by David F. Ronfeldt on “The Mexican Army and Political Order since 1940” broke new ground. An equally timely departure, given the perhaps surprising results of the 1970 Census, was the overview of the church since 1926 by Alicia Olivera de Ronfil.

Rumor, it is often alleged, is the characteristic of political communication in a country where literacy is incomplete; a doubtful generalization. The record shows that the debate, opened at Oaxtepec, on the problems of the extension of education into areas where resources are limited, and the responsibility devolving on the authors of historical textbooks to incorporate the latest and most authentic research in their work, has borne fruit. It seems a sad irony that in such an exciting culture as the Mexican, the most severe limitation on the advancement of education is the very limited availability of the scholarly reference library.

Panic, on the other hand, is usually regarded as stemming from insecurity. Hence it is particularly interesting to reflect on the section on politics in the light of 1976. Certainly one could not easily challenge the views of several participants that the Mexican regime was basically stable, whether from the combination of rewards and sanctions of a successful political machine, as John F. H. Purcell and Susan Kaufmann Purcell argue, or because of an ability to satisfy demands effectively, as Roger D. Hansen persuasively upholds, or because of effective means of maintaining social order by force, as Martin Needier indicates. But a new note was struck by the argument of Caiman J. Cohen that, far from being a pathological factor in undermining individual confidence, the Mexican family is in fact a highly effective mechanism for socializing youth in a flexible pattern of adaptation to the hard realities of Mexican political life.

Finally, four papers on periodization as an aid to understanding Mexican history, by Albert J. Michaels and Marvin Bernstein, Jean Meyer, Eduardo Blanquel and Eugenia Meyer, inaugurate a task of historiography now just beginning for the twentieth century, for hitherto, and, indeed, in the new Historia Contemporánea Mexicana itself, the dividing lines have been drawn by presidential terms. A form of division which obtrudes itself, this should certainly not be accepted uncritically on that account. The presence at the Congress of the Secretary of Finance and future President José López Portillo is witness itself to the equal significance of continuity in Mexican history.