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Michael K. Bess

The building of motor roads in Latin America, as elsewhere, was an activity essential to the history of modernization and state formation in the twentieth century. Governments, private companies, and regional boosters launched construction efforts with the goal of reducing travel times, linking cities and towns together, and stimulating economic development. In the process, these initiatives also changed the way citizens thought about the nation-state. New highways helped give shape to national identity, not only by making more of the countryside traversable, but also by putting citizens and foreigners in greater contact. Likewise, motor tourism identified and reified regional cultural symbols, transforming them into representations of that nation, and packaging them for easy consumption by travelers on weekend getaways.

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Michael K. Bess

The historical literature on mobility and transport in Mexico reveals the impact of infrastructure development on the country’s economic and political modernization in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From 1876, when Porfirio Díaz first ascended to the presidency, until the eve of the 1910 revolution, Mexico built nearly twenty-five thousand kilometers of railroads. Initially launched by foreign-dominated consortiums, and later centralized under the state-owned Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (Mexican National Railways), the burgeoning rail network linked the country’s major cities and ports together, facilitating regional industrial development and export-oriented economic growth. Following a decade of armed conflict, the postrevolutionary state faced the task of rebuilding devastated transportation infrastructure. Beginning under President Plutarco Elías Calles (1924–28), the national government repaired and built thousands of miles of railroads and motor highways, relying on a combination of domestic taxes and foreign-direct investment to fund the work. This policy improved regional and national mobility and contributed to a thirty-year period of robust economic growth, called the “Mexican Miracle,” from 1940 to 1970.

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Michael K. Bess, David Lipset, Kudzai Matereke, Stève Bernardin, Katharine Bartsch, Harry Oosterhuis, Samuel Müller, Frank Schipper, Benjamin D’Harlingue and Katherine Roeder