Cover of From the Grounds Up by Casey Marina Lurtz
From the Grounds Up
Building an Export Economy in Southern Mexico
Casey Marina Lurtz


April 2019
296 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503603899
Ebook ISBN: 9781503608474

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In the late nineteenth century, Latin American exports boomed. From Chihuahua to Patagonia, producers sent industrial fibers, tropical fruits, and staple goods across oceans to satisfy the ever-increasing demand from foreign markets. In southern Mexico's Soconusco district, the coffee trade would transform rural life. A regional history of the Soconusco as well as a study in commodity capitalism, From the Grounds Up places indigenous and mestizo villagers, migrant workers, and local politicians at the center of our understanding of the export boom.

An isolated, impoverished backwater for most of the nineteenth century, by 1920, the Soconusco had transformed into a small but vibrant node in the web of global commerce. Alongside plantation owners and foreign investors, a dense but little-explored web of small-time producers, shopowners, and laborers played key roles in the rapid expansion of export production. Their deep engagement with rural development challenges the standard top-down narrative of market integration led by economic elites allied with a strong state. Here, Casey Marina Lurtz argues that the export boom owed its success to a diverse body of players whose choices had profound impacts on Latin America's export-driven economy during the first era of globalization.

About the author

Casey Marina Lurtz is Assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University.

"Casey Lurtz's book is a remarkable contribution to our understanding of capitalist development in Mexico through the last 150 years. Her subject is the coffee business in Chiapas, not in the much studied highlands, but down on the coast, where the stakes were in cash and credit. Her research is original, her discoveries new, her arguments clear, sharp, and strong, and her exemplary stories a joy to read."

—John Womack, Jr., Harvard University

"A creatively conceived, meticulously researched, beautifully written, and cogently argued fusion of environmental, socioeconomic, and political history. Lurtz combines local specificity and global perspective in a fascinating account of how a region in Chiapas that went from cradle of the cacao trade to forgotten backwater became Mexico's main exporter of coffee and a multinational hub of local and Guatemalan farmers, German colonists, Chinese merchants, and others."

—José C. Moya, Barnard College, Columbia University

"[From the Grounds Up] is a remarkable scholarly achievement. It is a model of careful and patient archival work with dense and often quantitative sources....Graduate students in all kinds of seminars should dissect the book not only for its content but also as a study in how to transform unwieldy archival material into a digestible monograph."

—Timothy W. Lorek, H-Environment

"Lurtz's central contribution is her focus on bringing Latin Americans, not large-scale plantation owners, but villagers and locals, to the fore of this economic history....From the Grounds Up has sweeping implications on how historians think about the connection between Latin American export economies of the 19th century and state-building more broadly."

—Jennifer Eaglin, H-Environment

"From the Grounds Up is a compelling history of the ways in which individuals in one isolated region of Mexico both used and shaped institutions as it became a dynamic coffee exporter at the end of the nineteenth century....Lurtz's perspective offers important correctives to many top-down historiographic traditions."

—Gail Triner, H-Environment

"[From the Grounds Up] paints a compelling picture of a region with its own multivalent geographic personality. To Lurtz's great credit, that sensibility of place suffuses the rest of the book....In Lurtz's hands, the Soconusco becomes a social landscape every bit as complex as its ecological one."

—Christopher Boyer, H-Environment