Watering the Revolution

An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 26 illustrations Published: June 2017

Author: Mikael D. Wolfe

Environmental Studies, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In Watering the Revolution Mikael D. Wolfe transforms our understanding of Mexican agrarian reform through an environmental and technological history of water management in the emblematic Laguna region. Drawing on extensive archival research in Mexico and the United States, Wolfe shows how during the long Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) engineers’ distribution of water paradoxically undermined land distribution. In so doing, he highlights the intrinsic tension engineers faced between the urgent need for water conservation and the imperative for development during the contentious modernization of the Laguna's existing flood irrigation method into one regulated by high dams, concrete-lined canals, and motorized groundwater pumps. This tension generally resolved in favor of development, which unintentionally diminished and contaminated the water supply while deepening existing rural social inequalities by dividing people into water haves and have-nots, regardless of their access to land. By uncovering the varied motivations behind the Mexican government’s decision to use invasive and damaging technologies despite knowing they were ecologically unsustainable, Wolfe tells a cautionary tale of the long-term consequences of short-sighted development policies.


"[Watering the Revolution] will alter how scholars understand Mexico’s emblematic agrarian reform in La Laguna and, one would hope, how teachers teach it. . . . Without a doubt a major contribution to the field." — Matthew Vitz, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

"This book provides an almost entirely new disciplinary focus in Latin America by addressing the complex relationship between the environment and development: envirotech history. . . . Pioneering." — Gavin O'Toole, Latin American Review of Books

"Mikael Wolfe has delivered a pivotally important contribution to the ongoing transformation of our understanding of Mexico during its long, often conflictive, always contested twentieth century." — John Tutino, Journal of Social History

"Wolfe . . . meticulously unpack[s] the history of social conflict and revolutionary water management in northern Mexico’s La Laguna cotton heartland during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries." — Patrick Cosby, H-Water, H-Net Reviews

"Complete with in depth appendices and strong archival research, Wolfe’s book develops views of the land, centered on the most vital resource we have: water. While the intricacies of his research may help those interested in Mexican environmental history, he also appeals to a wider audience as he ventures beyond the land, recognizing water’s role in relation to the social, political, economic and most importantly the environmental and technological processes around it as it dictates the path of history." — Victoria Machado, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

"This book provides important insights into the tensions between the need to develop water resources sustainably and the need for socio-economic development. . . . A definite ‘must’ for scholars of Mexican agrarian history and scholars interested in understanding how politics, technology and the environment intertwine to shape the dynamics of water resources development and its impacts on society." — Jaime Hoogesteger, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"A revealing portrait of the difficulties that undergird the rapprochement of economic development and environmental conservation, Watering the Revolution is necessary reading for upper-level undergraduate and graduate environmental history courses across geographical boundaries." — Ela Miljkovic, Environment and History

"Wolfe brings a fresh perspective to the Mexican Revolution, and invites other scholars to re-examine this well-studied episode from an environmental starting point." — Kathleen Kole de Peralta, Canadian Journal of History

"A landmark study. . . . This fresh vision of Mexican history over the long twentieth century should be considered as required reading for historians of technology, the environment, agrarian politics, and society in Latin America and beyond." — Christopher Boyer, Environmental History

“A smart, well-crafted book.” — Casey Walsh, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“The publication of this book by Mikael D. Wolfe is very good news for all scholars concerned with the twentieth-century history of Mexico and Latin America. Highly commended.” — Luis Aboites Aguilar, Hispanic American Historical Review

“An impressive work of scholarship. Mikael D. Wolfe masterfully rewrites the history of Mexico’s arid north-central Laguna region.” — Helga Baitenmann, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Though Wolfe’s research must fit into a broad spectrum of studies of the Laguna, the book’s focus on environmental history and its relationship to the history of technology differentiate this work from a long list of other publications. Indeed, it takes its rightful place in a current of Mexicanist historiography that chooses not to separate hydraulic and agrarian issues when studying diverse social spaces." — Antonio Escobar Ohmstede, American Historical Review

"Watering the Revolution will be of interest to environmental historians, historians of technology, and others who have an orientation toward historiography. This book is required reading for anyone studying the politics and economics of agrarian reform in Latin America." — Lia Vella, Electronic Green Journal

"Wolfe’s book is interesting, convincing, and challenging. It is thorough, focused, and appropriately backed by statistical data." — Eitan Ginzberg, EIAL

"Mikael D. Wolfe's detailed and original analysis of Mexico's Laguna region and of the crucial question of water supply—from the armed Revolution of 1910 through the radical land reform of the 1930s and the Green Revolution—highlights the important role that environmental and technological issues have played in twentieth-century Mexico and, in doing so, fills a major historiographical gap." — Alan Knight, author of The Mexican Revolution

"Offering a new interpretation of a very famous event in Mexican revolutionary history, Mikael D. Wolfe shows this compelling story to be more than a drama; it is a tragedy—without lessons learned. Watering the Revolution is a piece of terrific scholarship and an important book." — Myrna I. Santiago, author of The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900–1938


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mikael D. Wolfe is Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Abbreviations  xi
Introduction  1
Part I. El Agua de la Revolución (The Water of the Revolution)
1. River of Revolution  23
2. The Debate over Damming and Pumping El Agua de la Revolución  59
3. Distributing El Agua de la Revolución  95
Part II. The Second Agrarian Reform
4. Life and Work on the Revolutionary Dam Site and Ejidos  131
5. (Counter)Revolutionary Dam, Pumps, and Pesticides  163
6. Rehabilitating El Agua de la Revolución  191
Epilogue. The Legacies of Water Use and Abuse in Neoliberal Mexico  219
Appendixes  231
Notes  239
Bibliography  287
Index  305
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, Elinor Melville Prize for Latin American Environmental History from the Conference on Latin American History (American Historical Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6374-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6359-0
Publicity material