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Michoacán, central-western Mexican state. Located between Mexico and Jalisco, it has a population of 3,966,073 (2005) and its capital is Morelia.

Originally populated by Nahuatl groups, the region was conquered in the twelfth century by the peoples who later came to be known as Tarascans. The Tarascan civilization, with centers in the Lake Pátzcuaro region and in the so-called Meseta Tarasca (the western highlands), produced builders and artists of some note, though it is most renowned for having repeatedly resisted conquest by the empire-building Mexicas.

The Tarascans resisted the Spanish conquest as well, especially after Nuño de Guzmán's assassination of their chief, Tangáxoan. Much of the responsibility for pacifying the region lay with ecclesiastical personnel, most notably the saintly humanitarian Vasco de Quiroga (1470–1565; bishop of Michoacán from 1538). "Tata Vasco," as he was kown among the Tarascans, epitomized both the church's defense of pre-Columbian peoples and its desire to mold them into Hispanized Christians. The artisanal skills that Quiroga taught the many communities in the Pátzcuaro region are, in many cases, still practiced.

After the Spanish Conquest, Michoacán's economy developed slowly but steadily, especially after 1650. Its most dynamic sectors were mining, in Tlalpujahua and Inguarán, and sugar production, in the Balsas river basin. By 1810 the fertile valleys in the northern part of the state were producing wheat for sale in out-of-region markets, and the tierra caliente (tropical lowlands) had also diversified into rice, indigo, and cotton production. The city of Valladolid (today Morelia) was an important commerical, financial, and administrative center; it was the seat of the bishopric of Michoacán.

Many of the leaders of the Mexican movement for independence came from Michoacán, including Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753–1811), José María Morelos y Pavón (1765–1815), and Ignacio López Rayón (1773–1832). The state was the principal battleground of the wars and it suffered considerable losses from which it took decades to recover. These losses and the patchy and unequal nature of the postwar recovery contributed to the fact that during the next significant challenge to the political status quo—the mid-century Reform—Michoacán again provided key leadership, most notably Melchor Ocampo.

Although the state underwent rapid economic modernization after 1890, a long process of marginalization from the mainstream of national economic life was already underway. In an economic sense, Michoacán had always done many things fairly well, and its diversity of resources, combined with an abundance of labor, had given the state economy a certain buoyancy. But the belated creation of a rail network in the late nineteenth century permitted other regions to compete nationally and even locally with the state's products.

In the twentieth century, Michoacán provided another of Mexico's great leaders, Lázaro Cárdenas (1895–1970), and became a testing ground for Cárdenas's social reformism in the 1930s. Yet, agrarian reform could not prevent the further erosion of the state's ability to support its population. Today Michoacán ranks among the top states in only one area: the number of its inhabitants who migrate to the United States. One result is that Michoacán was the only state to reject the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) candidate in the 1988 presidential elections (to support its native son Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas), and thus remains, as it has always been, in the vanguard of dissident political thought.

See alsoMining: Colonial Spanish America; Nahuatl; Tarascans.


Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, Problemas de la población indígena de la cuenca del Tepalcatepec (1952).

Paul Friedrich, Agrarian Revolt in a Mexican Village (1970).

Luis González y González, San José de Gracia: Mexican Village in Transition (1974).

Elinore M. Barrett, La cuenca de Tepalcatepec, 2 vols. (1975).

Claude Morin, Michoacán en la Nueva España del siglo XVIII: Crecimiento y desigualdad en una economía colonial (1979).

Enrique Florescano, ed., Historia general de Michoacán, 4 vols. (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Boyer, Christopher R. Becoming Campesinos: Politics, Identity, and Agrarian Struggle in Postrevolutionary Michoacán, 1920–1935. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Krippner-Martínez, James. Rereading the Conquest: Power, Politics, and the History of Early Colonial Michoacán, Mexico, 1521–1565. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2001.

Warren, Fintan B., OFM. Vasco de Quiroga and his Pueblo-Hospitals of Santa Fe. Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1963.

                              Margaret Chowning

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