Anthropology • History • Latin America

$30.00 ( Paperback )

Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship

Trevor Stack

What is history? And why do people value it? Basing his inquiry on fieldwork near Guadalajara in west Mexico, anthropologist Trevor Stack focuses on one reason for which people commonly value history—knowing history is said to make for better citizens, which helps to explain why history is taught at schools worldwide and history questions are included in citizenship tests. Stack combines his Mexican fieldwork with his personal experience of history in Scottish schools and at Oxford University to try to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes people who know history seem like better citizens.
Much has been written about national history and citizenship; Stack concentrates instead on the history and citizenship of towns and cities. His Mexican informants talked (and wrote) not only of Mexican history but of their towns’ histories, too. They acted, at the same time, as citizens of their towns as well as of Mexico. Urban history and citizenship are, the book shows, important yet neglected phenomena in Mexico and beyond.
Rather than setting history on a pedestal, Stack treats it as one kind of knowledge among many others, comparing it not just to legend but also to gossip. Instead of focusing on academic historians, he interviewed people from all walks of life—bricklayers, priests, teachers, politicians, peasant farmers, lawyers, laborers, and migrants—as well as drawing on a talk about history by the famous Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo.
As an ethnography, Knowing History in Mexico provides a vivid portrait of ethnicity, lands, migration, tourism, education, religion, and government in a dynamic region of west Mexico that straddles the urban and rural, modern and traditional.


Trevor Stack is director of the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at the University of Aberdeen, where he is also program coordinator of the Department of Hispanic Studies.


"Trevor Stack gives us a textured and sensitive ethnography of what history is for the residents of a Mexican town, revealing the multiple ways that popular notions of local history diverge from ideas about what constitutes national history, as well as how history as it is understood by townspeople is different from the history written by academics. Wielding a keen ethnographic eye and a lucid pen, Stack has written a book that is at once theoretically sophisticated and highly accessible, bridging anthropology and history in imaginative ways."—Joanne Rappaport, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Georgetown University, author of  Cumbe Reborn: An Andean Ethnography of HistoryIntercultural Utopias: Public Intellectuals, Cultural Experimentation, and Ethnic Pluralism in Colombia and The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Colombian Andes

“Trevor Stack has written a deceptively simple yet important book that is a delight to read. Focusing on several small communities in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, he sets out to answer two basic questions: what is history? And why do people find it interesting? Bringing the eye and ear of an expert ethnographer to these questions, he shows a genuine, but critical, respect for history and in a crucial move relates the different notions of history he finds in his Mexican communities to the construction of citizenship at both local and national levels. Historians, anthropologists, political scientists and those from many other disciplines will find much to ponder in this finely written account that manages to avoid professional jargon while making an important and complex set of arguments.”—Daniel James, Bernardo Mendel Chair of Latin American History, Indiana University, author of Doña María’s Story: Life History, Memory, and Political Identity

4 drawings, 29 halftones, 1 map

6 x 9 184 pages