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History Head Start - Option 4

These readings and activities were chosen and designed by Dr Rosie DoyleLink opens in a new window, Assistant Professor in Latin American History. She is a historian of modern Mexico and has researched on nineteenth-century political culture and state formation after Mexican Independence. Her current project is about the relationship between indigenous Mexicans and followers of Liberation Theology in late twentieth-century Mexico. She teaches on a first-year module about Latin American history, a second-year module, 'A History of Modern Mexico' an a final-year module, 'A History of Human Rights in Latin America'. Sessions about the causes, influence and ideas of the Mexican Revolution are features of all of these modules as they are in most courses on modern Mexican and modern Latin American history.

The causes of the Mexican Revolution -
radio documentary and primary sources.


Firstly, please listen to the episode of the Radio 4 Programme In Our Time, “The Mexican Revolution” January 2011, featuring three leading scholars of Mexico, Alan Knight, Patience Schell and Paul Garner:

Before reading or listening to a secondary source, always be aware of the broader process of the work and the intended audience:

  • In Our Time is a long-running prime-time radio programme about history designed for a public audience. Scholars, historians and experts are invited on to talk about an area related to their historical expertise:
    • Alan Knight is a historian of the Mexican Revolution. He wrote an influential, two-tome academic monograph (single-authored book) on the subject, The Mexican Revolution (Vols 1 and 2). Lincoln/ London: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. He has also written a more recent reader aimed at University students, The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016 and many articles written for scholars and historians and published in academic journals about the causes of and processes involved in the revolution including, Alan Knight, "Popular Culture and the Revolutionary State in Mexico, 1910-1940" Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Aug., 1994), pp. 393-444, Alan Knight, "The Mexican Revolution: Bourgeois? Nationalist? Or Just a 'Great Rebellion'?", Bulletin of Latin American Research, , Vol 2. No.5 (1985), pp 1-37 and Alan Knight, "The Working Class and the Mexican Revolution, c. 1900-1920", Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 16, No.1 (May 1984), pp. 51-79.
    • Paul Garner is a historian of late nineteenth-century Mexico best known for a biography of Porfirio Díaz whose regime was overthrown by the revolution, Porfirio Díaz: A Profile in Power Harlow: Longman, 2001 aimed at students of Mexican history and other books about the period like, Regional Development in Oaxaca during the Porfiriato (1876-1911) Liverpool: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1995.
    • Patience Schell is a historian of Mexico and Chile whose work includes the monograph, Church, State and Education in Revolutionary Mexico City. Tucson: Arizona University Press, 2003. She is also co-editor of a number of volumes of research on Mexico, including, The Women’s Revolution in Mexico. Rowman and Littlefield, 2007 and New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico, 2012.

 Before listening to this episode, think about the following to help you prepare for what to expect:

  • The Mexican Revolution and subsequent state formation took place between 1910 and 1940. What was happening globally at this time? Were there any other major historical events and processes? What kind of ideas and ideologies were around at the time? Were there any major societal changes? Do you know anything about the history of Mexico? Where are the people of Mexico originally from? Thinking about the geography, where is Mexico and what is the landscape like?


As you listen, identify information and arguments that will help you to answer the following questions: 

  1. What were the immediate causes of the Mexican Revolution?
  2. Who participated in the Mexican Revolution?
  3. What was the impact of the Mexican Revolution in Mexico and beyond?



Primary sources:

Emiliano Zapata, Plan de Ayala (1911):

The Plan de Ayala was a political plan or proposal drawn up by the agrarian revolutionaries from Morelos led by Emiliano Zapata to announce their demands and reasons for participating in the Revolution. It has been much translated and is used as a classic primary source about the Mexican Revolution in most readers and textbooks about modern Mexico and Latin America.

Ricardo Flores Magón, “The Mexican Revolution”, in The Herald of Revolt (1912), pages 13-14:

This article by the Mexican Anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon was written in 1912 during the armed conflict. It was translated and published in the British Anarchist journal, The Herald of Revolt copies of which are held in the Sara-Maitland Collection at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick among the papers of Henry Sara, a British Trotskyist.


  1. What do you learn from these two primary sources about the causes of the Mexican Revolution and who participated in it?
  2. What more would you want to know?
  3. Where might you go about finding that information? What other primary or secondary sources might you want to read?


Analysing a primary source:

As you read, keep the following questions that you could ask of all primary sources, in mind:

  • Identification
    • What type of document is it?
    • Who produced it? Do you know anything about the author/creator?
    • When was it written/produced?
    • Why was it written/produced?
  • Understanding
    • What are the key words and their meaning?
    • What points or arguments are made?
    • What values or attitudes does the content reflect?
    • How does the content relate to a given historical situation?
    • Are there any clues about the intended audience?
    • What is the source useful for and what is it less useful for? (All sources are biased with makes them more useful for some things than others).

General Information:

To help you think about these sources in a historical way, use the list of questions to guide your thinking.

Tips for Using
Primary Sources: