Stack, Trevor. Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012. xv + 168 pages. Paperback, $30.00.
In Knowing History in Mexico: An Ethnography of Citizenship, anthropologist Trevor Stack examines the meaning of history and its influence on definitions of citizenship. Stack conducted ethnographic research in Mexico to answer some basic questions: What is history, and why do people seem to believe that knowing history creates good citizens? What is involved in knowing history and who is good at it? What do people gain from seeing themselves as good citizens? Stack spent five years living in towns and cities in Mexico, interacting daily with townspeople, listening to their stories, as well as studying academic and non-academic writings on the histories of towns, cities, and Mexico.
One of the strengths of the book is that history is a necessary element for understanding social interactions between society and people and for comprehending the impact of history on people's ideas about themselves and their construction of categories of difference. Stack examines the ways that people from various towns and cities see themselves as different, even as superior, to people from other places, even as all of the people are considered as citizens of Mexico and thought to have a shared national history.
A second strength of the book is that Stack understands the subjective nature of history as a way of knowing. He states, "I treat history as one kind of knowledge among many others, rather than setting it on a pedestal" (p. xiii). Through interviews with academic historians and people of many different occupations, he distinguishes between academic history and public history, and between state or national history versus the history of towns and cities, giving none of the various kinds of historical records precedence over the other. His focus on the differences between the various types of history strengthens his argument that "versions of history served to justify the interests of particular social groups" (p. 14).
Previous histories of America or other nations taught in schools at every level tend to give precedence to the history created by dominant groups or the most powerful groups in society. The content of these historical records often ignores the voices of marginalized and oppressed groups, and does not consider the individual histories of the various towns and cities. Stack values the...