Matthew D. O'Hara, "The History of the Future in Colonial Mexico" (Yale UP, 2018)


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Latin America – especially colonial Latin America – is not particularly known for futurism. For popular audiences, the region’s history likely evokes images of book burning, the Inquisition, and other symbols of orthodoxy and fatalism. Specialists too tend to associate Latin America with a deep sense of historicism: the weight of memory – conquest, genocide, state violence – deeply marks the region’s politics and culture. On the other hand, in traditional historical narratives, a cognitive orientation towards the future is the province of northern Europe, the scientific revolution, liberalism, capitalism – in a word, modernity.

In The History of the Future in Colonial Mexico (Yale University Press, 2018), however, Matthew O’Hara uncovers a vast array of social practices in colonial Mexico that force us to reconsider who owns the future. Noted intellectuals were not the only ones planning ahead; instead, common people managed overlapping temporalities as they negotiated personal finance, heavenly salvation, health, and the climate. In addition to detailing the subjectivities such structures and practices produced, O’Hara also traces a long arc of change over three centuries of Spanish rule. Improvised financial mechanisms, revised modes of discerning natural truths, and personalized notions of spiritual self-improvement transformed the colonial experience of time. But rather than tracking these to European philosophes, O’Hara finds them emerging from the fabric of colonial experience and developing into a unique temporality in which tradition and change were mutually constructive. For any readers interested in time and temporality, The History of the Future in Colonial Mexico will give you much to think with.

Lance C. Thurner teaches history at Rutgers Newark. His research and writing address the production of knowledge, political subjectivities, and racial and national identities in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Mexico. He is broadly interested in the methods and politics of applying a global perspective to the history of science and medicine and the role of the humanities in the age of the Anthropocene. More at

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