Roundtable Panel—Christy Thornton’s Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy

Christy Thornton, Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (University of California Press, 2021)

Cross-posted from the Toynbee Prize Foundation

Christy Thornton’s Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (University of California Press, 2021) places Mexico at the center of histories of international economic governance. In the wake of Mexico’s exclusion from international capital markets following its 1914 default, she argues, Mexican economists and diplomats began to consider the nature of sovereignty, political and economic, and imagine a reconfiguration of international credit-debt relationships in order to foster development. Rather than envision autarky, Mexican leaders pursued a politics of both recognition and redistribution on the international stage from the interwar period to the crafting of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the 1970s. Recognition entailed equitable representation in multilateral institutions, while redistribution meant long-term, concessionary lending. According to Thornton, their reckonings with the existing international economic order presaged modernization and dependency theory and reached a climax when President Luis Echeverría Álvarez led the movement to author and pass the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States.

In offering a story of multiplicity and cooptation, Thornton reinterprets US hemispheric hegemony and provides an ambiguous, cautionary tale. Charting the interface of domestic and international politics, she traces the shift from a revolutionary social program to state developmentalism alongside Mexico’s advocacy for institutions aimed at international development. She assesses the rise and fall the project for an Inter-American Bank as first coopted by US planners, successfully resisted by US capitalists, and ultimately contributing to figures within the US government recognizing the importance of multilateral financial institutions as a pillar of hegemony.

Revolution in Development marks a major contribution to a wave of international history increasingly emphasizing the salience of the interwar period for economic thought (e.g. Jamie Martin, The Meddlers: Sovereignty, Empire, and the Birth of Global Economic Governance) and the role of thinkers from the Global South in shaping and challenging postcolonial and neo-colonial orders (e.g. Eric Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods; Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire). Revolution in Development bridges these bodies of scholarship by crossing the “decolonization divide.”

In this roundtable, historians of debt and development from Egypt to India and international political economy in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respond to Thornton’s insight-filled and thought-provoking work. We have invited three scholars with wide-ranging perspectives—Elizabeth Chatterjee, Aaron Jakes, and Marc-William Palen—to offer responses to Revolution in Development. Christy Thornton then replies to the roundtable contributions. We thank them all for their engagement.

—Liat Spiro, College of the Holy Cross

Participant Bios

Christy Thornton is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of the Program in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is also the Co-Director, with Quinn Slobodian, of the History and Political Economy Project. A scholar of global inequality and development, labor and social movements, and Latin American political economy, she is author of Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy (University of California Press, 2021). Before graduate school, she served as the Executive Director of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), a 50-year-old research and advocacy organization. Her current project, “To Reckon with the Riot: Global Economic Governance and Social Protest,” investigates the impact of social protest around the world on international financial institutions (IFIs), asking how widespread protest against policy implemented at the behest of organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization was understood inside those institutions. 

Elizabeth Chatterjee is Assistant Professor of Environmental History at the University of Chicago, where she specializes in energy history, critical infrastructure studies, and the history of capitalism in India. Her current book project, Electric Democracy, traces the flows of electricity to provide an energy-centered history of India’s transforming political economy since independence in 1947. Among other topics, her other recent and forthcoming publications explore the early history of solar energy and international development, the comparative political economy of “fuel riots,” and the place of Asia in the planetary history of the Anthropocene.

Aaron Jakes is Assistant Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History and the College at the University of Chicago. He is author of Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism (Stanford University Press, 2020), which explores both the political economy of the Egyptian state and the role of political-economic thought in the struggle over British rule in Egypt following the occupation of 1882. With interests in the historical geography of global capitalism, comparative studies of colonialism and empire, and environmental history, he has published articles in Comparative Studies of Society and HistoryCritical Historical StudiesAntipodeInternational Journal of Middle East Studies, and Arab Studies Journal. He is currently at work on a project tentatively titled Tilted Waters: The World the Suez Canal Made.

Marc-William Palen is Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter and a member of the Centre for Imperial and Global History. His research focuses on British and American empires, exploring how political economy, gender, humanitarianism, and ideology have shaped global imperial expansion. He is author of The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade (Cambridge University Press, 2016), which charts how the ideological conflict between free traders and economic nationalists reshaped Anglo-American party politics and imperial expansion in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. He is currently writing a history of the intersections of global capitalism, anti-imperialism, and peace activism from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

Continue reading “Roundtable Panel—Christy Thornton’s Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy”

Protectionism and Empire: A Toynbee Prize Foundation Interview with Marc-William Palen

Caption: ‘Free Trade England Wants the Earth.’ Pro-Republican Judge magazine depicts US protectionism shielding the country from the British free trade spider’s grasp, 27 Oct. 1888. Source: The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

The last twenty-four months have witnessed world-wide dissent against the current regime of trade liberalisation. The United States disengaged from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Britons renounced the EU, and in Tokyo, Sydney, Lima, and other cities across the Pacific Rim thousands protested a potential transpacific trade partnership. While the popularity of protectionism is not unexpected, its recent embrace by political elites everywhere is more surprising. This is particularly true of the United States, which one president ago was still steering the global economy towards freer trade.

In The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle Over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Marc-William Palen traces the roots of this debate to the United States in the 1840s. There began a political and ideological battle between Victorian free trade cosmopolitanism and economic nationalism which lasted the remainder of the century and beyond. Talks about tariffs dominated American political life. Through them, Palen is able to tell a much broader story. The Republican and Democratic parties were transformed in the process. Debates about trade influenced the character of American imperial and commercial expansion, as well as the contours of the Anglo-American struggle for empire and globalisation. Palen’s argument that economic nationalism dominated the period also forces us to rethink received notions of the US Gilded Age, which is usually portrayed as an era dominated by laissez-faire and free trade.

We recently met with Marc-William Palen in Bristol, where he resides. He discussed nineteenth century American political thought, the political economy of Anglo-American globalisation and empire in the Victorian Era, and his future research plans. Dr Palen is a historian at the University of Exeter. The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade is his first book. You can follow him via Twitter: @MWPalen.

Martin Crevier


Can you tell us something about yourself? How did you transition from studying classics as an undergraduate to modern globalization and imperialism as a graduate student?


I was at the right place at the right time. In the summer of 2001, in the middle of my classics degree at the University of Texas at Austin, I registered in a spoken Latin program at the Vatican. At that time, anything after the Holy Roman Empire was journalism to me. However, while I was in Rome, the G8 was being held in Genoa. Rome was filled with anti-globalization protesters, as was the rest of Italy. Things turned violent. A protester in Genoa was even killed by the Carabinieri. This was one of my first encounters with anti-globalism. Then, a week after I came back home to the United States, 9-11 happened. All this awoke an interest in the history of modern globalization and how it had shaped the world today.

Jump forward a few years, after studying the classics I found myself working towards an actuarial science degree. I randomly signed up for a class on the British Empire with someone named A. G. Hopkins because I thought it sounded interesting. As I later discovered, Professor Hopkins had only recently arrived at the University of Texas (UT) by way of Cambridge, Geneva, and Harvard. His teaching, mentorship, and scholarship changed the way I viewed the history of empire and globalization. Sometime in the second semester, he pulled me aside and asked if I had ever considered a PhD in history. Professor Hopkins took me under his wing, and I joined the history PhD program at UT in 2007. There I also had the good fortune to be able to work closely with Wm. Roger Louis, as well as H.W. Brands and Mark Lawrence for the American side of things.

After finishing my PhD in 2011, I crossed the Pacific. I spent a year at the US Studies Center at the University of Sydney. It was a very exciting place to be in the midst of the 2012 presidential election. After Sydney, I briefly taught at Tufts before coming here to Exeter. At the time of my arrival, Andrew Thompson and the department were in the midst of launching the Centre for Imperial and Global History, which has since grown by leaps and bounds.


From this came your book. There you trace the tensions between two economic ideologies that shaped Anglo-American visions of empire and globalization. On the one hand are free traders influenced by Richard Cobden (1804-1865), the Victorian Era’s famed radical British free trade and peace advocate. On the other are ‘Listian nationalists,’ whom you characterize after the German intellectual Friedrich List (1789-1846). We know about Cobden, but List is not a household name. Can you tell us more about him and walk us through the broader debate?


List has actually made a bit of a comeback in recent decades. For example, Ha-Joon Chang, a heterodox economist, wrote a popular book in 2002 (Kicking Away the Ladder) borrowing from List’s 1841 National System of Political Economy. In the 1990s, James Fallows also wrote a fascinating piece about List in The Atlantic (‘How the World Works,’ December 1992) after he came across a Japanese translation of List’s critique of free trade, and Fallows used it to highlight debates about what I would call ‘Cobdenite cosmopolitanism’ and ‘Listian nationalism’ in Japan. But, essentially, List was a critic of free trade. He argued that states needed strong protectionist policies alongside strong national institutions and imperial expansion in order to develop ‘infant’ industries. This was very much the opposite of the hands-off, non-interventionist, anti-imperial, free trade arguments of Richard Cobden and his followers. Continue reading “Protectionism and Empire: A Toynbee Prize Foundation Interview with Marc-William Palen”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the memory of Soviet famine to how a Sioux chief was buried in Dresden, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

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Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the nationalization of global history to globalizing classical music, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

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Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the West’s decline to globalizing time, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Sleuthing the Origins of ‘Global History’

LinkedIn-Power-SleuthingMarc-William Palen
Cross-Posted from the New Global History Forum
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen


History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.

—Max Beerbohm, 1896.

Historians are often charged — sometimes correctly — with precipitously proclaiming a “new” field of study: a field that, upon further investigation, is shown to be remarkably similar to earlier turns in the historiographical timeline. The post-colonial and subaltern “turns” of the 1980s are cases in point, as they, however unwittingly, tended to ignore the prodigious and overlapping work within Area Studies that had appeared in preceding decades. I duly began to wonder if the term “global history” might prove to be yet another illustrative example. Continue reading “Sleuthing the Origins of ‘Global History’”